Saturday, June 28, 2008

Helping my 6 year-old learn to read

Long-time readers of this blog may remember the less-than-smooth toddler years my son Robby enjoyed. There were the febrile seizures (now outgrown, thankfully), the strabismus in his left eye requiring eye surgery in both eyes, and the speech and developmental delays that were thankfully diagnosed early (and for which he received regular speech and physical therapy). Compared to the more extreme situations many parents have faced, we considered ourselves quite lucky – and having recently completed kindergarten here in San Ramon, we’re quite proud of his progress. (Particularly on the speech: he was briefly in speech therapy here, only to be told after a month or so that he was sufficiently progressed that he no longer needed ongoing therapy.)

Every child is different, and the fact that his older brother was reading fluently by the middle of kindergarten was not in and of itself troubling. But we knew that entering first grade without reading comfortably would make first grade more stressful for him – so this morning I set out to see if I could find a good computer-based aide to help him read. (Tutoring was going to be tricky – we have a lengthy trip back east next month that’ll have the kids out of town for almost a month – so that seemed to be a non-starter.)

I quickly found two web-based solutions – ClickN KIDS and Starfall. The former was a sponsored link at Google in my early queries; the latter showed up in a couple blog posts I found from teachers talking about various in-class tools they used.

ClickN KIDS is $60 for one student, but it gave us a couple sample lessons, which I let Robby try. The interface was quite straightforward – it’s a Flash-based app, which means that we can do the lessons from anywhere we have a browser. (Given next month’s trip, this was a huge plus over installed software, which I’d have to install on multiple computers.) It acts as more of a self-guided program – which I like not because I don’t want to help Robby, but because I want him to learn to use the computer without me (or his oh-so-helpful brother!) guiding him along. We read to Robby quite a bit, and I wanted this to be something he could do on his own and feel a sense of accomplishment with.

Starfall, it turns out, was what Ricky used in his kindergarten. It’s free, but seems to work best in a teacher-led (or parent-led) environment. Early interactions were good – Robby enjoyed the stories and did well at the tests. We may refer to it occasionally as additional material, but ultimately I chose to sign up for ClickN KIDS instead.

What sold me on ClickN KIDS were a couple things: the lesson-based interface gives Robby discrete tasks to accomplish, and each one focuses on progressively more advanced phonics, sight words and letter combinations (the program goes from K-3rd grade levels). And it gives me a comprehensive report to show how he’s doing individually and compared against all users on the system, along with indications for each lesson of particular words or sounds that he struggled with.

He’s already done 3 lessons today – and he loves it. I’ll report back after we’ve been at it for a couple weeks to see how much progress he’s made – but I’m pretty optimistic so far.

BTW – if you’re interested, you can get $10 off the sign-up (and they’ll give me $5 too, for what that’s worth) if you use my e-mail address ( as your promotion code.

Anyone else have recommendations for computer-based reading programs? Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments.

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