When we have kids, above all else, we want to give them the best possible start so they can go on to lead happy, successful and fulfilling lives.
When our children are born, there is no way of telling what the future may hold, but one of the most important things we can do to do to prepare them for later life is to ensure they do well in school and receive a good education.
There are many skills young kids need to pick up and probably the most fundamental and vital of these is the skill of reading and writing. Competence in literacy is the foundation upon which all further academic development is based.
Many parents are willing to go to great lengths to give their kids any advantage in their young lives, and for lots of parents, this means teaching them to read and write at home before they learn at school.
This allows them to start one step ahead of their classmates and gives them a little head start in life.
On the other hand, many kids, unfortunately, fall behind in basic literacy, and this can prove to be a major disadvantage to them, right from the beginning.
Kids who struggle to pick up the essential skills of reading and writing can lose confidence, may fall behind as their peers progress and may even be labelled as “dumb” by their classmates.
For these strong reasons, it is entirely understandable that many parents suffer from stress and anxiety over their little ones’ progress at school.
There are many courses and methods online that offer help and solutions, all of varying quality and effectiveness. Here, we look at the popular Children Learning Reading course to decide whether it’s worth the money and if it really does what it claims.
Broadly speaking, there are two schools of thought. One is the “whole language method”, most favored in the US and Canada, and the phonic method, popular in the UK and Australia among others.
In the US, most kids are likely to be taught using the whole language method, using the related concept of “sight words”. This is where learners are taught to recognize whole words rather than using individual letters to “sound out” words.
The whole language method is supposed to be more intuitive. Since kids are less able to “decode” words they don’t know, they are encouraged to guess at or skip over any words they haven’t yet learned. This is also supposed to make it a livelier and more engaging way to learn to read.
One of the major flaws with this technique is that the rules of reading and writing are not so explicitly explained, and children are expected to infer these rules from themselves. Some kids are able to do this; many are not.
The result is that the ability to decode words from the letters and proficiency in spelling may suffer. For kids who struggle at the beginning, it can be difficult to make up ground and they may quickly find themselves falling behind the rest of their class.
The Children Learning Reading course champions the other approach. By focusing on individual letters, kids start by learning how to decode words letter by letter and sound by sound. This boosts their confidence early on and leaves them far better equipped to work out unfamiliar words.
The authors of the course claim that, by using the techniques based on the phonic method as outlined in this course, your kids can make spectacular progress.
Kids as young as two can be taught to read with astonishing results. Older kids who have been taught with this method develop reading abilities grades higher than their age.
And kids who had real difficulty learning to read before using traditional techniques can begin to improve rapidly.
Background – who are the authors and what are their credentials?
When he was trying to teach his own kids to read, Jim noticed that things were not progressing quite as he hoped. This spurred him into doing some of his own research into the theory of how we learn to read.
As he delved into the topic, he discovered the difference between the whole language method that is most commonly used in the US and the phonic method. The authors spend time explaining the scientific theory behind their method at length within the course.
Although the authors don’t give their surnames and they don’t appear to have any concrete qualifications besides being experienced parents themselves, they claim to have already successfully taught over 38,700 parents using this method. These numbers speak for themselves.
Now let’s have a look in a bit more detail at what’s in the course and how it works.
What’s in the course?
The main part of the course consists of two modules, Stage 1 and Stage 2, that are delivered digitally in PDF format. These two Stages give you 50 step-by-step lessons on how to teach your kids to read.
This method relies on parents being willing and able to devote some of their time every day to teaching their kids to read; the contact between parent and child is an important aspect of the course.
With this in mind, and being busy parents themselves, the authors have designed this course so that it will fit into the schedule of even the busiest parents.
Each daily lesson can be completed in around 10-15 minutes. These lessons are also easy for a young child to digest and are short enough to retain their attention for the whole duration of the session. While it is best to try to do one per day, it is not too serious if you miss a day from time to time.
In Stage 1, kids acquire the foundations they need to begin reading. The authors describe this as learning the “basic code”. Essentially, this means learning the names and sounds of the letters of the alphabet and how to use them to sound out simple words that follow the rules.
Examples of words like this could be “bat” (buh, ah, tuh) or “dog” (duh, oh, guh,), words that can be sounded out easily and are pronounced the way they look.
Stage 2 is about advanced learning and introduces the “complex code”. This includes combinations or letters that have their own sounds (ar, sh, ee, oo etc.) as well as some exceptions to the rules.
As with many online courses, a whole lot of extra material is bundled in to make the package more attractive to potential buyers. Bonus material (estimated to be worth $389.65) includes the following:
- Lesson stories for Stage 1 and Stage 2: As your child works through the course it is important for them – and you – to see the progress they are making. This will help them see just how much they are improving. The lesson stories are a selection of simple stories that are adapted to their level, so they can practice what they have learned.
- Letter-sound audio clip MP3s: A collection of audio files of the 44 phonemes (sounds) of the English language. These may help if you have any doubt over the correct sound of any of the phonemes the course wants your child to learn.
- Most common sight words: While this whole course is based on learning phonically rather than by learning sight words, English contains an unusually high number of words that don’t follow the rules – think of “who”, “women” or “night”. There are a number of very high-frequency words that kids simply have to learn to recognize, and this tool is designed to help.
- Common favorite nursery rhymes: A very important part of learning to read is to distinguish sounds within words and a good way to increase awareness of this is through nursery rhymes. This tool is designed to help with that.
- Lifetime program upgrades: Once you buy the course, since it is delivered digitally, you automatically receive future upgrades for as long as you want them.
- 12-week one-on-one consultation: For the first twelve weeks after purchasing the course, you are granted access to the authors and their team who are on hand to answer any questions and advise you if any problems arise.
All the above bonus materials are available for $49.95. A premium package also exists for $69.95, which includes the following extra bonus materials:
- Lesson videos and workshop: A 12-week video documentary of a child progressing through the course. These videos demonstrate exactly how the course should be used.
- Children Learning Reading video edition: A video explaining the course in more detail, highlighting the most important aspects.
- Printouts for all Stage 1 and Stage 2 lessons
- Stage 2 Rhymes: A book of illustrations for the rhymes in Stage 2.
Is it worth it?
The authors make some big claims for the effectiveness of this course, but if they are true, this could prove to be just what so many parents out there have been searching for. Let’s have a look at the merits and drawbacks of the course
- Short, manageable lessons: 10-15-minute lessons designed so you can easily fit them into your busy schedule.
- Easy for child and parent to understand: Lessons are written to be easy for parents to teach and simple for kids to understand. The length is also ideal for young kids with short attention spans.
- Fun lessons with a clear sense of progress: Most kids will enjoy doing the lessons and will probably even look forward to them. Since learners can clearly see the progress they are making, it will help build their confidence.
- Logical sequence: The lessons start from the very basics of learning the names and sounds of the letters and build from there. Kids will increase their knowledge and skills in a logical way.
- Benefits of phonic method: The phonic method has many benefits, including teaching kids to decode and decipher new words for themselves. If they learn to read by the whole language method, this can be a much more difficult skill for them to pick up.
- Backed by science: The method has some serious science behind it, these are not simply made-up ideas from unqualified authors. The authors take time to explain this explicitly, ensuring you have full confidence in their method.
- Bonus materials add to the course: Many online courses throw in a load of freebies to encourage people to buy the product. Unfortunately, in many cases, the extras have little or no value and add nothing to the effectiveness of the course. That’s certainly not the case here, however. The bonus material complements the main two modules very well. The bonus material included in the premium package is also very much worth having.
- One-to-one support: Perhaps the outstanding aspect of the bonus material is the one-to-one support element offered for the first 12 weeks. This gives you access to the authors for help with any problems that may arise.
- Reasonable price: Many other courses promising to help you teach your kids to read can cost much more, in the region $200-$450. This course is much more reasonable, costing roughly the equivalent of one short private session with a professional specialist.
- Money-back guarantee: With the 60-day, no-questions-asked money-back guarantee, there really is no risk. If you decide to try and later decide that the course is not for you, you can simply ask for a refund within the first two months.
- Almost entirely rejects whole language method: While the science behind the phonic method is sound, there are some who still consider that the whole language method has some value. Some would argue that a blend of the two is more powerful. However, since your kids will have a certain amount of whole language instruction at school, this is not so much of a problem.
- Requires time from the parent: If you don’t have 10-15 minutes to dedicate to your child on a daily basis, this method might not be suitable.
- One-to-one support is limited to the first 12 weeks: Although we fully understand why they can’t offer longer support to the thousands of parents who invest in the product, we think it’s a shame since this really is a great aspect of the course.
Here are some comments posted online by parents who decided to try the course:
By the time he was 18 months, we completed stage one. Now at 2 years and 4 months, he can read an entire book by himself! Curious of his reading level, I did a reading assessment on him and he is reading at a 2nd grade level!
My husband is so proud he’s been telling everyone about our son’s reading skills.
Diane C. Irvine, CA.
My son was picked up for reading support services in first grade. I completed your program and his reading teacher said that his reading abilities exploded and he is on grade level! I wish the teacher had used this program in school. I am now starting with my pre-schooler so that he is on track for kindergarten!
Thanks to the program she is able to read out most of the books her level with minor guidance on some words that can’t be sounded out.
Bottom line: should I try?
We’ve seen more than our fair share of online courses – many of dubious quality – so we approached this one with a healthy dose of skepticism. However, we must admit that we were pleasantly surprised.
The course is well written, the materials are easy to understand and fun for kids to use, and the methodology is backed up by hard science.
While the method is no magic cure for all your kids’ struggles with reading and writing – these are skills that will always require a certain amount of dedication and perseverance to master – this is a tool that can certainly help you reach your goals.
It must be understood that parents need to commit to spending a certain amount of time on this – but what responsible parent wouldn’t be ready to commit to only 15 minutes per day to help their child get the best start in life?
We genuinely believe that this product works as claimed. If you want to help your preschooler start off one step ahead of his or her classmates or if you are worried your slightly older child is already showing worrying signs of falling behind, this could be the answer.
Every child is different and responds differently, so like any course, this might not be the perfect fit for everyone. However, with the safety net of the 60-day guarantee, we have absolutely no hesitation in recommending this course to help you teach your kids to read.