The Free Reading Program Review
Welcome back to Best Case Parenting and welcome back to another literacy based review. Today, I want to look at and review 'The Free Reading Program', an American based free reading program that I thought would interest a lot of my readers!
My current favourite free reading resource would have to be "Teach Your Monster to Read". Put simply, that is a slick and well thought out free reading program that will be tough to beat. I have also reviewed some really well made paid phonic/reading programs, such as Children Learning Reading (I know, it's a weird name!).
It will be interesting to see where this Free Reading Program Fits in!
I would like to preface this review by saying that I have been a teacher of kindergarten age children for over ten years, so I will be using this experience when reviewing this resource. Whether this will have a good or bad effect on my review, who knows! I just wanted to make it clear at the start!
What is The Free Reading Program?
Well from the not so imaginative name, you can quickly tell that this is a free reading program. This is a fully online reading program, which has over 3000 lessons to cover all kinds of phonics and literacy learning for children. On their website, they proclaim they have over 200,000 kids enrolled in this program so far, which is quite impressive.
Who is behind it?
This program was first started by a teacher in America, who kindly shared these methods with his fellow teachers. Word of mouth helped this program (known as Super Phonics) to spread throughout that teacher's district. These methods then got picked up and developed further by the Education and Community Learning Center Inc. a non profit organisation hailing out of Florida in America.
The Ethos of this organisation is pretty simple. To offer the best quality free educational resources to children all over the world. A valid and worthy cause, if you ask me!
What does it offer?
As stated above, this is an online only reading course that you can access through their website. I haven't found any resources that you can print out and use, so it really is an online only program.
With that in mind, you might want to read this article about online safety for kids, so that you can make sure (if you decide to use this program) you are doing everything you can to make sure your child is using this technology appropriately.
To get started with The Free Reading Program, all you have to do is make a free account and you are good to go!
When first logging in, the first thing you will see is the screen below.
As this tool was originally designed for teachers, you then need to create a profile for your "student". If you are a parent, just add your child as a student. You then click on this profile to log in. This will put you into the student account, where you can access the course content.
As mentioned above, this program has over 3000 online lessons for your child to take.
These are divided up into 7 main levels. If you look at the orange tab in the screen shot above, you will see we are currently in the Foundations Kindergarten Phonics level. When this is complete, they also have 6 reading levels above that. Basically, enough material for most children's journey through kindergarten and elementary school.
As you click on each level, the orange tab shows you all of the available sections within that level.
When inside a section, you are greeted with a list of all the different types of activities available. You can see above, that within this section the first two types are Readiness Skills and Sight Words. When you click through to this activity, you will see a screen like this....
Then, if you click on the icon with the straight lines within a circle (on the top right of the screen), you will be able to see each activity within this activity type. Such as the one below.
So, it is clear that this reading program has a lot of content available. You will find all kinds of activities, from those to help children remember phonic sounds to reading comprehension games for progressing readers. There are way too many to list here, so if you are interested I recommend you go play around with the program yourself to get a better feel for all the details.
Is it any good?
Now, this is the moment of truth, whether you should actually spend the time to get your child on this free program. Some people mind think that a program being free means it's an instant recommend, but these days it is not the case. There are a growing amount of quality free resources in this space, so you actually have to be pretty decent to get a look in!
What do I like about this program?
Obviously, I like the fact that the Education and Community Learning Center has made the effort to make this resource free and easily accessible online. They make it easy for anyone from all over the world to join this program, which is definitely a positive thing.
I also like the fact that The Free Reading Program offers so much content. There are activities for all types of situations and needs, and would suit many different stages of a child's reading journey. To have this amount of content for free is amazing!
I am afraid this is about where it ends though.
What don't I like about this program?
This website and it's associated tools and resources are very old fashioned. It looks like a system from the early 2000's at best. It has a very old school and confusing menu system and a lot of the activities are simple and almost boring. Granted, this should still hold the interest of younger children well, but as they get older you will likely find them loosing interest.
The way this content is presented smacks of a tool for teachers (because that is what is was originally designed for). Best Case Parenting focuses mainly on tools for parents, and I am afraid a lot of parents would be left confused by this program and it's website.
This program is divided up into sections and each section is like a bucket filled with a lot of activities. The problem is, they are not always presented in an easy to understand flow for the children to run through. A trained teacher can pick and choose activities for a child to do and make sure the order of activities is appropriate. This is much harder for a parent to do.
A child's online time is precious. Most younger children should only be online for ten or so minutes, for example. I fear parents using this program will end up wasting a lot of this time getting their children to do activities that are not well organised or presented in a good order.
There is also alot of teacher speak in this program, which a lot of parents will struggle to understand. Apart from short unit descriptions, the website makes no other attempt to explain this further.
The Final Conclusion
Don't get me wrong, I really appreciate any free phonic and reading resources that are put out there for people to use. However, in this day and age there are other free programs that have set the bar pretty high.
This Free Reading Program would be great for trained teachers or people with a background in teaching phonics and reading. Although a little dated, these people could find all kinds of good activities to use alongside the other teaching they are doing offline.
However, for parents this program will probably do more bad than good. Probably left confused, a lot of parents will end up putting their children through more bad experiences than good with this program. They would be better off finding something more parent friendly. A free resource, such as Teach Your Monster to Read would be great paired with an offline phonic course such as Children Learning Reading. These two programs will guide parents through the process and make the whole thing much less stressful for everyone involved.
Of course, this is my opinion. If you have your own experience with the Free Reading Program, we would love to hear all about it in the comments section below.
The Free Reading Program
The verdict from Best Case Parenting
Simply put, if you are a teacher or someone familiar with teaching phonics and reading, then go for it! Everyone else, go find something more user friendly, that can guide you through the process.