Many kids struggle with reading, and that can have a serious impact on their academic success and their lives in general. In fact, 3 out of 5 people in American prisons can’t read.
Kids who are not reading by the third grade are 500% more likely to not graduate high school.
It’s hard to overstate how important it is for kids to be able to read. Not being able to read can hold them back in school and beyond.
As a school teacher, one of the areas I focus on is early reading skills. I see many parents who feel lost and confused about this part of their child’s development. As a result, 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.
What follows is my full Headsprout Reading Program Review. I will also reveal my favorite tool for teaching children how to read, and it’s a fraction of the price of Headsprout…
Before we start, I would like to say that this is a full and honest review. I received access to the program and tried it out for an extended period of time. This is my opinion as someone who 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 Even back then I found this service outdated and ‘just OK’, so it will be interesting to see how Headsprout stacks up and if they have made improvements.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. In 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 it might be a bit confusing.
The Headsprout system is a curriculum for teaching children about reading and phonetic awareness through online interactive episodes. 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 e-books and lessons.
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 Does Headsprout Cost?
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 Headsprout).
However, you may only see the cost when you decide to purchase the product and view the checkout page. Then you will discover that using Headsprout will cost you $216 per year.
Pros and Things 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. They do not require a credit card, 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 its related episodes and online tests. This would be handy if 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’ 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!
Cons and Things I Dislike 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 will teach the sounds SATPIN first so that my students can quickly make and practice blending words such as….at, in, pin, sit, etc. However, this program teaches the phonic sounds in a weird order.
You can 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, and it could result in frustration.
Not For Toddlers
If you are looking for a phonics program for toddlers, this is not it. You would need something way more 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 90s and early 2000s when it comes to the online component of its program. Remember those 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, apart from this, it is all very old-looking and outdated. This is really not up to what I would expect today.
As a parent, when you log onto this program for the first time, it can be confusing. They have so many 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 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. It was simply marketed to parents, as they know there is a growing market there.
They are using far 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!
Most parents don’t have a teaching strategy, and the information given by Headsprout does not make up for this.
Hidden Money Back Guarantee
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 teach my classes to read every year entirely through hands-on games. 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, but today I would say 100% no. The program is too old-fashioned and frankly boring for children to run through.
Headsprouts has 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.
Perhaps a school might find this program useful, but for parents, it’s a big no-no. 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 are 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 Children Learning Reading program I recommend above:
Headsprout Reading Program Review FAQ:
What age is Headsprout for?
Headsprout mentions on their site that the program is for kids from K to 5th grade. I, personally, find this program more for 2nd-grade children who already have some experience reading because of Headsprout’s emphasis on teaching through stories and worlds.
Which reading program is best for children?
I have tried and experimented with several programs with my students and have worked with many parents on this subject before.
In my personal experience, there is no perfect program but the best one we have found to date, and so far, the most effective is the Children Learning Reading program.
You can read my full review of this program here.
How many lessons do you get with Headsprout?
As part of the Headsprout program, you get 100 online lessons and 110 printable. This includes workbooks, videos, and e-books.
How many levels are there in Headsprout?
Just like the number of lessons, Headsprout has 5 levels. Each level teaches a different set of skills and includes all 100 online lessons plus 110 printables. Each lesson within each level lasts around 10-15 minutes.
Can Headsprout help adults learn to read?
Headsprout is not designed to help adults learn to read, but it should be fine for children and teens until roughly the age of 16-years-old. You can potentially use Headsprout after this but should consider Headsprouts replacement, Teach Your Monster to Read instead.
How long does Headsprout take?
It’s important to note just how long Headsprout takes. While Headsprout does consider each lesson, including introduction and review time, roughly about 30 hours of work for each level, or around 5-7 weeks’ worth of lessons on Headsprouts’ schedule.
Does Headsprout have printable sheets?
Yes, Headsprout has printable sheets. Headsprout has included printable worksheets for students to complete, in addition to their lessons.
Are Headsprout’s courses available across multiple platforms?
Yes, Headsprout is available on both iOS and Android devices. Headsprout can also be used on your personal computer if you want to stream it or would like to use the Headsprout program offline.
How Does Headsprout Work?
Headsprout works by having students work on each lesson through clicking and dragging with their mouse, drag-and-drop activities, listening to audio instructions, watching videos, filling in blanks with letter tiles after hearing the phonics sound they make, and reading passages.
Headsprout also includes a home version.