Welcome back to Best Case Parenting. I started this website to give advice to parents as someone that has been a qualified early childhood teacher for over a decade. One of the areas I focus on is early reading skills, as I see a lot of parents out there that seem lost and confused about this part of their child’s development. As a result of this, a lot of parents turn to reading programs such as Headsprout to help with this. But are they any good? More specifically, is Headsprout any good? Let’s find out together 🙂
Before we start, I would like to say that this is a full and honest review. I actually got access to the program and tried it out for an extended period of time. Now I want to give you my opinion as someone that has literally helped hundreds of children learn to read.
What is HeadSprout Reading Program?
Headsprout is a part of the LearningA-Z.com website, which is in turn owned by the Cambium Learning Group Company. Thankfully, this company is based out of Dallas, so you have the peace of mind that you are dealing with an American company.
I have had contact with LearningA-Z.com as a teacher, as one of my previous schools had a subscription to their associated ReadingA-Z.com program. Even back then I found this service outdated and ‘just OK’, so it will be interesting to see how Headsprout stacks up and if they have made improvements.
Headsprout itself is described as a way for every child to become a capable and consistent reader. It the ‘About Headsprout’ section of their website they talk about Headsprout being for K-5 students, but I have found lessons for K-2 students, so that is confusing right off the bat!
The Headsprout system is essentially a set of online interactive episodes which help teach a young child the basics of reading and phonetic awareness. You can see an example below of the very first episode where the child is learning the phonic sound ‘s’.
This is then backed up by accompanying ebooks and lessons that can be accopmany the online lessons, combining to teach a child to read.
Headsprout also has a testing structure included which can help you test your child and see whether they have picked up what they were supposed to from the lessons.
How Much is HeadSprout Reading Program?
For some reason, the Headsprout pricing is quite hard to find. I would usually expect a big company like this to have a pricing page where they detail all of your pricing options (especially as they have so many other programs you could pay for outside of Headsprout).
However, you only see the price when you opt to buy the product and see the checkout page. Then you will see that you will be charged $216 a year for using Headsprout.
What I Like about HeadSprout Reading Program
It is good to see that Headsprout has a no questions asked 14 day free trial that will help you delve into the program and see what is on offer in detail. This tells me that they have confidence in their offering. And no credit card if required, which is great for such a trial.
I like how you can add your child as a student and track their progress through the program and all it’s related episodes and online tests. This would be handy is you had several children in your family that you wanted to put through the program.
Making a Story
There is some effort by Headsprouts to make their reading program around a fun story narrative for the children using it. They center their online lessons around the idea of different worlds, for example. The children will start off in the ‘Space World’ for example, and move on to the ‘Dino World’. This is far from perfect, but at least they are trying to add some kind of fun element to the lessons for the children on the program!
What I Hate about Headsprout Reading Program
I Don’t Like the Theory
As a teacher myself, I like the idea of teaching young children phonic sounds in an order in which they can quickly play around with making short words (such as CVC words cat, hat etc.). I myself will teach the sounds SATPIN first so that my children can quickly make and practice blending words such as….at, in, pin, sit etc. However, this program teaching the phonic sounds it what I would say is a weird order.
You would see above that they start in the Space World learning phonic sounds such as an/ee/n/s/v, which doesn’t make sense to me as a teacher and the approach I like to use. They start adding in digraphs and trigraphs way too quickly as well. I don’t think this is the best process for most children.
Not For Toddlers
If you are looking for a phonics program for toddlers, this is not it. You would need something way for fun and hands on when teaching very young children phonic knowledge, and Headsprouts is 100% not it. In fact, I feel this program is better aimed at older elementary age children (6 years plus) who already have some foundation in phonics.
Headsprout looks like a product of the late 90’s and early 2000’s when it comes to the online component of its program. Remember those crappy flash games that were all over the internet teaching children phonics, that is pretty much what you have here.
The only good design I see if the homepage of the Headsprout program on their website, other than this it is all very old looking and outdated. This is really not up to what I would expect in this day and age!
As a parent, when you log onto this program for the first time it will be very confusing. They have so many different teaching resources available, but they are not presented in a clear and coherent way. You will see early reading episodes, scope and sequence, placement tests and strategy lessons, but with no clear way to bring these all together as parents. They need to write out some kind of master document that shows parents how each of the different elements fit together and a step by step program to follow.
Yes, they do have something like this for some of the individual elements, but nothing that brings every element together. This will leave many parents wondering what they should be doing at which point.
And this confusion is amplified by the fact they have so many other programs housed on the same website. For example, I looked at their live webinars section hoping they would have webinars to introduce Headsprout to parents, but instead they were buried below many other webinars to all of their other products (such as Raz Kids). This is simply information overload for many parents!
Made for Teachers
Like so many of these online reading programs I have reviewed so far, Headsprout feels like something that was originally designed for teachers in a classroom, and was simply marketed to parents as they know there is a growing market there. They are using way too many teaching terms and language that would be confusing to parents (in my humble opinion). Read this opening lesson plan below and see what you think for yourself!
As a teacher myself, I can decipher this program and work out how I can use it within my teaching strategy. Most parents don’t have a teaching strategy, and the information given by Headsprout does not make up for this.
Hidden Money Back Guaruntee
Yes, Headsprout does have a 30 day money-back guarantee, but for some reason it is somewhat hidden. When I was on the order page shown above, it was nowhere to be seen. You have to enter the support section of the website and find the policy for yourself. If they really believe they have a quality reading system, they should have their money-back guarantee loud and proud on that order page!
In a world where our young children often feel naturally compelled to use screens, I don’t feel that a reading program should add to this. I teach many students that talk to me about having an iPad and playing this or that game. I fear that for these students, adding more screen time in the form of a reading program is not good. I myself teach my classes to read every year entirely through hands on game. I feel this is the best way to learn phonics, especially for very young children.
Should You Buy Headsprout Reading Program?
Would I recommend you pay $216 a year for Headsprouts? Maybe ten or twenty years ago I might have done, but in this day and age I would say 100% no. The program is too old-fashioned and frankly boring for children to run through.
I will give you an example. Headsprouts have tried to go for this whole story based lesson approach with worlds to immerse the children into. Frankly, they do a pretty bad job of this. Go look at my Teach Your Monster to Read review on this site, and you will see that they are way behind the curve. And Teach Your Monster to Read is often free or only a handful of dollars to buy the app.
Maybe a school might find this program useful, but for parents it’s a big no go. Just try out the trial for yourself and see how long it takes you to get confused. Most parents would find it impossible to come up with a coherent strategy for their child’s reading progression using this system!
So NO, don’t buy it if you are a parent wanting to support their child with phonics! Trust me, there is way better options out there!
What Should I Buy Instead?
Unfortunately, there is a real shortage of high quality courses out there designed to help parents teach their children to read at home. Luckily, there is one that I reviewed on this site called Children Learning Reading. This program is a one-off payment of roughly around a quarter of the price of one year’s access to Headsprout. For that, you will get a non-screen based hands on (and more importantly a step by step) reading program that parents can easily follow.
If you want to add a screen element to this, you can simply use the Teach Your Monster to Read program alongside. This would be a much better solution than Headsprouts and WAY cheaper.
Headsprout is dated and stuck in the past. They really need to improve and update their offering if they want parents to use it!
Use the buttons below to check out the official websites of the two programs I recommend above: