Reading is an essential skill for your child's success in life. Giving your youngster the opportunity to learn to read early on can provide a head start when it comes time to enter school or begin home schooling, or even after your child has started any type of formal education. Learning to read also makes a world of difference when it comes to learning other subjects. If your child is behind in academics or needs extra help to keep up, learn to read applications can help him or her learn the basics and have fun at the same time. 

There are many reading programs on the market. You can choose from the discs that still are available for reading programs, but you also can select software as a service or downloads from manufacturers' websites.

Applications that teach your child to read can be helpful if you are not there to instruct your child as often as you would like. While online education certainly does not take the place of that affectionate and effective one-on-one reading time with a child, it can supplement it. Learn to read applications provide your child with guides for proper pronunciation so he or she can learn to read and speak words correctly. The applications can also give you progress reports to let you know how your child is doing.

Programs that teach children how to read can make reading fun, especially if they are equipped with reading games and activities to reinforce the concepts presented in lessons. Learn to read applications can take your children on adventures with animated characters who patiently repeat sounds and give positive feedback to build their confidence. We found that ClickN Read PhonicsTNT Reading Tutor and the Red Apple Reading Complete Package are the best tools to effectively assist your children in learning how to read. For additional information, we also have articles about learning to read.

Learn to Read Applications: What to Look For

It is a good idea to choose learn to read applications designed for preschool and early elementary. You want the navigation to be simple and the lessons to be progressive, building logically and methodically on concepts that were presented previously. It also is fun to have a virtual narrator – who often is an animated character – guiding your child through the lessons with simple and straightforward instructions.

Another key feature to look for is audio that pronounces letters and words so your child can learn if he or she is using the application independently. With headphones or the computer's speakers, students can hear how letters and words are pronounced. Some applications set their volume levels higher than others do, so you should try out the headphones with the applications to test the volume before your child uses the headphones to avoid any hearing damage to young ears. If the application does not have volume control, you can adjust the volume on the computer.

Below are the criteria that we used to rate the learn to read applications we reviewed:

Learning Tools
For most children, reading lessons should begin with comprehensive coverage of the alphabet, with an emphasis on associating letters with words and letter sounds. A good curriculum then moves on to simple words and eventually sentences.

Interactive lessons keep your child involved in the process, and progressive lessons build on the concepts that the application has presented previously. Some applications also include keyboard instruction, though some children have trouble learning to read at the same time they learn to type.

Reading applications should have at least 15 lessons. Exceptional reading programs include more than 50 and cover at least preschool to first-grade reading levels.

Additional Features
The applications should be easy for children as young as 3 or 4 to use. An animated reading coach or narrator should guide students through exercises with straightforward instructions so your child can use the reading program with little supervision. Learn to read applications should be fun to interact with as well as educational.

Games and activities can supplement lessons nicely by offering extra practice as well as enjoyable animated characters. Children love to participate in adventures or help solve a problem in a story, and if they are doing this as a reading exercise, it makes learning a delight. It also helps when the application offers audible encouragement and even printable certificates that you can proudly display on the refrigerator door.

Parent Resources
It is always useful to see some kind of progress report so you as a parent can help your child where he or she is struggling and offer some cheery praise for accomplishments. It also helps to have printable materials to supplement whatever work your child does on the screen. The best applications have online communities where you can discuss reading-related matters with other parents.

Help & Support
The application's website should provide telephone and email support for answers to general questions about the application or help with technical problems. It also is good to have an online list of FAQs. Some applications offer tutorials and a user guide, which provide extra help.

Your child can learn how to read or improve his or her skills by using quality reading applications. These applications are designed with the user in mind: your child. While one-on-one reading between you and your child is still paramount to your child's success, this type of application can help him or her increase essential skills and gain confidence in his or her ability to learn to read.

ClickN Read Phonics

ClickN Read Phonics is a fun online application for learning to read that you can access from any computer with an internet connection. All you need is your username and password. This application teaches kindergarten through third grade phonics-based reading, but it does not offer preschool instruction.

With 100 lessons, your children can practice all the letter sounds and many combinations of sounds. They can learn words that use those sounds and practice them, then progress to sentences.

Since ClickN Read Phonics is intended for young children, the navigation is simple, the screen is filled with brightly colored characters and the instructions are clear.

ClickN Read Phonics divides each lesson into four segments: the Letter Sound Chamber, the Listening Cube, the Reading Room and the Speed Chamber. Each exercise introduces new material and reviews key concepts from previous lessons. After a series of correct responses, the application allows your child to move to the next exercise in the lesson. Each successful exercise garners praise for your child, and the fun animation makes the lessons seem more like games than chores.

After it introduces new material in each exercise, ClickN Read Phonics becomes interactive. The reading program prompts your child to click on or type correct responses for the remainder of the exercise. The software instructs your children on where letters are located on the keyboard and provide hints if they have trouble during a particular exercise. Another nice feature about ClickN Read Phonics is that your children can repeat lessons whenever they want.

The Letter Sound Chamber introduces new letters and their sounds or combinations of sounds. In this section, your child learns visual recognition and proper pronunciation. Children also learn where the letters are on a virtual keyboard, using the mouse to click on the keyboard buttons that show up on the screen.

The Listening Cube incorporates the newly introduced letter sounds into words, where they appear at the beginning, middle and end of those words. These reading activities teach children how the same letter can sound different depending where it appears in a word. The software also reads some words with you. For example, if your child is learning the word "rag," this learn to read application sounds out each letter: "rrrr-aaaa-gggg, rag." This allows your child to see how letters come together to form each of the sounds in a word.

The Reading Room focuses on spelling and sounding out words that contain the newly introduced letter sounds and incorporates the words into sentences. It teaches sight words such as "a" and "the." It also gives your child more opportunities to find the letters on the keyboard on the screen. It also teaches children about families of words. For example, it shows which words you can make from "an," such as "can" and "ran."

To progress, your child must point and click on sounds and words that ClickN Kid says in the Speed Chamber. This allows children to practice the new letter sounds and words at higher speeds. They must respond with correct answers within a specific amount of time to pass this last level and move on to the next lesson.

To make things entertaining as well as educational, your children work with a space dog guide named ClickN Kid, who leads them through the lessons by first offering some helpful instructions.

When your child clicks on the correct sounds and letters or words, this animated pal voices enthusiastic praise. If your child makes an error, there is a pleasant "oops!" and a gentle suggestion to try again. By hearing ClickN Kid say things correctly, your child can learn how to say letters, words and sentences properly when reading aloud.

ClickN Read Phonics has high-quality graphics and animation. The sound effects make the entire activity enjoyable for small children. As your child moves from exercise to exercise, the colorful backgrounds change and the characters move around the screen. ClickN Kid and a character named TV Screen talk to one another, have races and help each other from time to time.

The parent company, ClickN Kids, has entered into a partnership with Warner Brothers to create an additional application, Looney Tunes ClickN Read Phonics. This is the same instructional curriculum with different animated guides, and the reading activities are interspersed with short cartoon clips of famous Looney Tunes characters.

The Looney Tunes application runs on an iPad; the original ClickN Read Phonics works on a Kindle but is less powerful on it. Both applications run on Windows and Mac computers. Other than the entertainment value of the Looney Tunes segments, there is no difference between the two applications.

After each lesson, you can see a progress report, which you can print if you want. On it, you can see how your child did at selecting letter sounds on the screen, spelling letter sounds on the screen keyboard and identifying the last letter sounds in words.

The report also tells you how your child did on word blends, identifying sight words, working with the lesson's word family, and identifying words and sounds in less than one minute. If you want your child to retake a lesson, you can select that on the screen that shows the report.

You also have access to the ClickN Read online community of parents, where you can learn more about reading and education in general, read useful blog articles and post comments, and chat with other parents about your shared interest in helping children to read.

The ClickN Kids website has a list of FAQs and an online user guide. You can also contact the company by telephone or email. The parent community forum also can be a great source of information if you have general questions.

ClickN Read Phonics is an entertaining application that effectively teaches kindergarten to third-grade reading. It offers a clear and simple design, a well-planned progressive curriculum, the ability to repeat lessons, and some fun graphics. This learn to read application provides systematic instruction that moves your child from letter sounds to words to sentences in 100 lessons, and you as the parent get progress reports along the way. ClickN Read is the best software in our lineup for helping your child learn to read.

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TNT Reading Tutor

TNT Reading is a phonics-based learn to read application for children that starts at the beginning with the basics of the alphabet. It then moves on in a logical progression to teaching words and then sentences. It provides instruction for children in kindergarten through third grade, teaching them how to identify consonant sounds, informing them about rhyming words and letting them associate words with pictures. As your child's capabilities improve, the exercises become more difficult, but they are always fun. This application is packed with animated creatures, colorful reading activities, and some visual and verbal encouragement for successful work.

With the TNT Reading exercises, you can adjust the reading level from preschool to the third grade and beyond. This is a useful feature because, instead of having separate applications for each reading level, you can access all these levels as you need them. This makes it less expensive and more convenient than products that require separate purchases.

Your child can take an evaluation test when you first set up this learning to read application. This initial test helps you determine which reading level your child should use as a starting point. That way, your child can immediately focus on what he or she needs, and it also provides an atmosphere where your child feels adequately challenged.

The TNT Reading exercises are easy to understand. The narrator speaks clearly, doing such things as asking the student to click on all the balloons with the letter B and so on. As the exercises change, so do the instructions. They are short and clear enough that youngsters can understand and follow them.

The learn to read exercises include such things as encouraging children to find particular letters before they move from the left side of the screen over to the right side, where they disappear. TNT Reading also rotates letters sometimes, which can increase the difficulty level for children as they progress.

Within the reading test menu, your child can practice identifying letters and their sounds, long and short vowels, consonant sounds, beginning blends, long vowel rhymes and vowel digraphs. A digraph is two letters that combine to make one sound, such as "ch."

There is a separate menu for the TNT Reading tests. Children can take reading and memory tests and access reading and memory skills programs. One of the tests includes several words that rhyme and one that does not that your child must identify.

After children successfully complete an exercise, they can play a two-minute game as a reward. While the games provide a pleasant interlude, they do not focus on reading. In these reading games, your child can fight fires, help a mouse travel through a maze, put together a puzzle and more.

Some of the games in this learn to read application are a little more complicated to understand than others. Your child might need additional direction from you in order to comprehend how to play the games. However, the games still provide a fun break where your child can compete against the computer, though it would be helpful if they worked in the principles of the lessons.

This application offers certificates you can print for your youngster as a reward for achieving certain milestones. Your child also gets some cheery online motivation for doing well, including gold stars and verbal praise when he or she does such things as clicking the correct word in an exercise.

You can access online lists of exercises your child has completed to see how things are coming along. You can see all reading exercises or narrow the search to see only the reading activities that your child passed or the ones where he or she did poorly and needs to focus on a particular concept a bit more to master it.

These reports are quite detailed, with bar graphs and data tables that pinpoint exactly where your child might not be doing well, giving you necessary information about what areas to focus on to help your child improve. You also can print the reports.

You can call or email the manufacturer, BrainTrain, for technical support or general inquiries. The tech support telephone hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday. You can find additional information in the online FAQs section.

TNT Reading has an extensive online user manual that consists of more than 300 searchable PDF pages. However, it recently was not working on the company website. You can learn a great deal about how this reading program works and what you can do with it to help your child learn to read or improve reading skills by watching one of the many online video tutorials on its website.

TNT Reading is one of the best applications for learning to read that we tested. It helps you find which reading level your child is most comfortable with and strengthen his or her skills from there. Through lessons, activities and tests, your child can learn the alphabet, letter sounds and more. The manufacturer offers multiple help and support options, with the online video tutorials being particularly helpful. Through phonetics and TNT Reading, your child will be able to identify letters, sound out words and read.

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Red Apple Reading Complete System

The Red Apple Reading Complete Package is a visually exciting set of two learn to read programs, one for kindergarten to first-grade children and the other for children in second and third grade. There currently is no pre-kindergarten application, although the manufacturer is in the process of preparing one.

Red Apple Reading is a lively online learn to read program that incorporates both phonics and sight words into a series of lessons that build upon the educational concepts presented in previous lessons. The ideas presented to your child are reinforced by fun activities and reading games, colorful animation and generous praise for success. You as a parent also benefit, since you can manage your child's learning plan through a parental dashboard that offers progress reports. You also can download and print workbooks and flash cards to supplement what your child is learning online. For these and other reasons, Red Apple Reading wins our Top Ten Reviews Bronze Award for learn to read software.

Red Apple Reading currently comes in two packages, one for children ages 5 to 7 called "Park Planet" with 76 lessons and another for ages 6 to 9 called "Island Adventure" that contains 75 lessons. You can buy the Complete Package for both age groups if you have youngsters spanning the ages of 5 to 9. A third learning to read program for preschool children is under development.

If you have a younger child, she starts with the alphabet and an emphasis on phonics, with instruction in how letters sound and in putting sounds together to make words. She gets instruction in short vowel sounds and word families. As the lessons move along, the curriculum embraces sight words and such concepts as long vowel sounds. The more advanced "Island Adventure" incorporates a combination of phonics and sight words, and the work becomes more difficult as your child learns about compound words, contradictions, abbreviations, homophones and more.

The lessons are progressive, so your child moves from one concept to the next. After each lesson, he can participate in some reading games and activities that reinforce the ideas he has learned. Although the child clicks a mouse or drags and drops items as part of these reading activities, there is no formal instruction in how to use a keyboard.

The lessons, games and activities are brightly colored, fun, and filled with entertaining commentary and sounds. A drawback is that they move at a fast pace, which might be a problem for some children.

This is an exciting application for children, as it employs a series of adventures and challenges that your child needs to complete to help a dolphin get to his friends or build an elaborate sand castle bit by bit. Mistakes get a game-show "eeeeh!" sound, and accurate choices get an upbeat "bing!"

One excellent benefit of this learn to read application is its repeated efforts to get your child to vocalize sounds and read aloud after a reading concept is presented. This sets it apart from many learn to read products that offer the chance to hear a word pronounced correctly but do not require your child to imitate it.

If your child stops participating while this web-based learning to read program is on the screen, a pleasant voice asks, "Are you still there?" When your child successfully completes a lesson, there are rewards such as a big red apple displayed on the screen showing how many correct answers she got during an exercise. With the games in "Island Adventure," if your child does well, something fun happens: A volcano erupts or fireworks burst in the sky.

You can see how your child is doing through progress reports on a parental dashboard. If your youngster is doing really well and wants to move forward more quickly, you can use this area to unlock the progression of lessons. That way, your child does not need to complete one lesson before starting the next one in the series.

You also can print workbooks and flash cards, view and print a PDF user guide, read a blog and get tips on learning to read. However, there is no manufacturer-sponsored online community for parents, which can be a helpful resource for ideas and discussion.

Red Apple Reading offers a remarkable benefit: financial assistance determined on a case-by-case basis for parents who have trouble covering the cost of this application.

This company provides email support, an online user guide and an online FAQs section. You also can view sample video lessons. One glaring omission on the website of this otherwise excellent learn to read application is a general phone number for you to call if you want to ask questions before buying or get technical help.

This modern and entertaining online application can help your child with learning to read with its well-prepared lessons, activities and games. The curriculum is extensive, the presentation is child-friendly and the educational concepts are sound. Its only drawbacks are the lack of a phone number for consumers and the potential difficulty of some of the lessons. However, this application is still one of the best resources to help your child learn to read.

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Reading Kingdom

Reading Kingdom offers a unique teaching style to help kids learn to read. It does not use phonics in the traditional sense or whole language. This reading program includes some phonics in the sense that it employs word sounds, but it does not use the typical phonics instruction approach of having your child sound out words. This approach also uses sight words, but again, it is built around its own instructional model.

What this application does use is an exclusive method created by Marion Blank, director of the A Light on Literacy program at Columbia University. Her six-point approach uses a combination of sequencing, motor skills, sounds, meaning, grammar and reading comprehension. Although she has done a great deal of research on this approach, it does present quite a few tasks for young children to master all at once. Even from the beginning stage of skills tests, your child needs or will learn some knowledge of how to use a keyboard, either a real one or virtual one.

A strong point in this application's favor is that it can be customized to your child's needs. After your youngster takes an assessment test, you can see where she is doing well and where she needs extra help. Then she can start at the appropriate level and not waste time reviewing material that she already knows. You get regular emails telling you how your child did and offering recommendations for how to proceed.

This application starts by showing individual letters, and your child must click on the correct one. Then she progresses to seeing letters mixed into a group and must click on the proper letters that form a sequence or pattern. From there, she can begin to build words.

There is a substantial emphasis on sequencing, or seeing how the letters are arranged in the key word of an exercise. The idea is to have your child click on the right ones in the right order, which is the sequence that matches the key word. Even if the right letter appears but is out of sequence, your child is taught to click on the letters as they appear in a pattern in order to match the keyword. This approach looks good to an adult, but it might be quite a lot of work for a child who is encountering these concepts for the first time.

Reading Kingdom does focus on how words sound, which is the keystone of phonics, but your child is not taught to simply sound out words, since Blank's research shows that this approach, used by itself, tends to fail in the case of substantial numbers of children. Instead, your child is introduced to letter sounds, and a good deal of attention is placed on blending the sounds together to make complete words.

The interface is entertaining and colorful in this learn to read program and, in many respects, the reading activities seem more like games than instructional work. After successfully completing an exercise, your child gets rewards than include such things as fun sounds and visual effects, such as cartoon animals cheering and smiling, balloons and confetti. Another helpful visual is the image your child sees of what a word represents. For example, if she types the R to represent the word "run," she gets the praise first and then the image of someone running.

The application contains six different sets of storybooks, each having five levels of difficulty, or 30 stories in all. Your child learns all the words in a book before receiving it to read.

Reading Kingdom extends a remarkable benefit to low-income parents – a scholarship program. You can sign up for a 30-day trial and, after submitting some information to see if you qualify, you can use the application for free.

This patented and one-of-a-kind reading program is not suited for everyone. It does not take the traditional phonics-based, whole-language or sight-words approach. However, Reading Kingdom and Blank's nontraditional instructional methods can still work well for youngsters. As a parent, you might want to evaluate whether this application would be just the right choice for your child's learning style. Although style of learning to read is well researched, the program does require a child to do several tasks at once – understanding the letter sequences, handling a keyboard, etc. – and that could be problematic for some children. Overall, though, Reading Kingdom presents an enjoyable and unique way to learn to read.

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Reading Eggs Mega Book Pack

Reading Eggs is a charming animated learn to read program originally developed in Australia that can instruct youngsters who have little or no reading experience up through those who are 7 years old. Although it can stand alone as a good learning tool, it functions best as a supplement to traditional school or homeschooling instruction.

The animated lessons, reading activities and games are modern, brightly colored and well designed. Reading Eggs presents a five-pronged approach to its educational method, teaching children phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. Sight words are part of the overall approach. Younger children get a guide who helps them move through a series of colorful lessons, reading activities and tests.

The lessons progress in an orderly way and are locked so that one must be completed before the next one is begun. Your child can stop a lesson at any point and then resume working on it, and if she has not been on the computer for a week, she is encouraged to repeat the previous lesson before returning to the original one.

There are a couple unorthodox features in this learning to read program. For example, it does not teach the alphabet from A to Z as most reading programs do. Instead, Reading Eggs uses letter sounds to show how letters make words and then sentences, which Reading Egg states emphasizes strategies that make reading meaningful. For example, in an early lesson, your child does not begin with the letter A, but instead is instructed to click on the letter N upon hearing its sound. That progresses to items that start with the letter N, then words that contain that particular letter. This might be too out of the ordinary for some children.

Your child can win golden eggs with correctly done activities to buy items to furnish his personal house with items from Reggie's Shop or to get more reading games. He also can collect online critters for fun and hear amusing sounds and songs.

There are plenty of fun reading games and activities in this application. Your child can choose an avatar and embellish it with sunglasses, silly feet or a funny hat and other things, which adds to a certain sense of ownership in her work, which sweetens the efforts needed to apply herself to learn.

The animated characters offer chipper praise for doing something well and encourage your child to try again if he makes a mistake. The rewards, reading games and praise all provide useful motivation for your child to correct mistakes and go forward in this learning to read program.

As a parent, you can get reports that identify how well your child is doing, and you can print certificates of achievement to show how proud you are and to motivate your child when she does well. You also get 80 reading books, 400 stickers, eight activity books, eight mini posters and two packages of flashcards with this learn to read application to supplement the online teaching.

Reading Eggs presents solid academic concepts cleverly hidden under an exterior of silly songs, entertaining characters and enjoyable reading activities. Not every parent will approve of its unusual approach to phonics, but the overall educational value of this application is solid.

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Read, Write & Type Learning System

The Read, Write & Type Learning System from Talking Fingers tries to help children learn to read at the same time they are being taught to type. The animated computer villain, Vexor the Virus, steals alphabet letters from their homes in a colorful, fictional community. This application focuses heavily on how letters sound (phonemes) and having your child connect the sounds to letters. The idea is that once your child can put sounds and letters together, she can progress toward employing the alphabet to type words on a keyboard.

This is an intriguing approach, though the double emphasis on learning to read and to type could make this program less accessible to young children who might have difficulty mastering two different tasks at the same time.

Lefty and Right Way, the two talking Helping Hands at the bottom of the screen, are there to help your child succeed. Lefty represents the left side of the keyboard, while Right Way, not surprisingly, stands for the right. They both offer directions and encouragement, which can make a positive experience for your child as he or she moves forward with an exercise. Once your child types all the letters that Vexor requires, the character that represents the letter performs for you and then returns home. An example is Ann the Ant, who performs acrobatics.

This learning to read software offers 40 lessons. These lessons start by teaching the letters F, A, T and C. By the time your child is halfway through the lessons, he or she will be learning the letters O, L, P and U. Some of the last lessons combine letters for sounds such as "oo," "aw," "ou" and "ng." The lessons are progressive and help children move from learning letter sounds to reading simple words and sentences.

In addition to the exercises, this reading program helps children remember the things they learned by playing reading games. Some of the reading activities include I Spy, alphabet titles, and reading games involving rhyming and dictation. Halfway through a lesson, it prompts your child to type simple words and sentences using the letters introduced at the beginning of the lesson.

The length of the lessons does not give much time to reinforce the newly learned words. This may make it difficult for young children to remember and apply the information they just learned. Additionally, the sentence flashes rapidly on the screen, which may make it more difficult for younger kids to absorb than it is for older children. However, when children need the narrator to repeat the instructions, they can click on the helpers that appear on the screen.

With each lesson, the Read, Write & Type Learning System includes a graphic showing the approximate location of keys on a keyboard. This is an integral part of this application since it helps children learn not only to read, but also the concept of putting words together to write and how to type as well. The Helping Hands show students how to use the keyboard. The program also includes a user guide. The Talking Fingers website has a list of FAQs. You can contact customer service by email or by phone, and the support is quite prompt. Although Talking Fingers still does sell discs, these do not work with Windows 7 or Mac OSX 10.6. However, the online version works with any computer with a high-speed internet connection and a browser with Flash.

The Read, Write & Type Learning System is a good interactive application that helps children learn to read. It offers 40 lessons that cover letters, letter sounds, words and sentences. However, when students begin the program, they may need some help working through the lessons.

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StudyDog is an online learn to read program that offers formal instruction for pre-K through first-grade children and custom reading help for second-graders, but it does not offer reading instruction beyond that level. The lessons are intuitive and the audible instructions are clear, so your child can work independently on learning to read. The animation is colorful and lively, and you get some sing-along segments, so much of this seems like just a fun series of reading games and activities.

Pre-K lessons emphasize letter recognition and getting ready for phonics. The kindergarten plan presents such things as phonics, vocabulary and reading comprehension. The first-grade lessons continue these concepts but add more advanced ideas, such as contractions, complex words and vowel sounds. You do not get a formal lesson plan for second-grade reading. Instead, StudyDog creates a customized lesson plan for concepts that your child might not have fully learned before. There is no third-grade level. One welcome aspect of StudyDog is that it adapts lessons for your child's needs based on how he is progressing.

StudyDog also offers a free ebooks each week and can customize a book to meet your child's reading level. You can choose whether to get a book at your child's current level or get one that is a bit more difficult so your youngster has to work a bit harder to read the story.

One set of lessons starts with exercises to help a domestically impaired – and always rhyming – princess clean up her castle and then straighten her closet. These lessons focus on short vowel sounds and consonants. The lessons present your child with a keyword and then two or three other words. Your youngster must click on the word that sounds like the keyword and has a similar vowel and consonant arrangement to make them sound alike.

Royal trumpets sound when your child does this successfully, and the princess says something encouraging and then moves on to the next task. There is a considerable amount of repetition in her rhyming speech and instructions, as well as the actual reading activities. For fast learners, this could get boring. However, for youngsters who are a bit behind or who have a learning style that requires time to process information, this repetition is useful.

StudyDog meets the criteria of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts. There is a blog filled with informative articles on which you and other parents can post comments, although it is not strictly a parent communication forum. However, the material included is informative and clearly written for parents of children this age as they are learning to read.

You can see progress reports that show how well your child is doing and arrange for daily updates in the Parent Center. You also have access to some written PDF materials to print that can augment the onscreen process of learning to read. StudyDog also offers a terrific benefit to low-income parents or school districts – free access to its reading program through the National Center for Family Literacy.

StudyDog is a comprehensive, phonics-based learn to read program that gets your child working on interactive lessons involving fun stories. The application can adjust subsequent lessons to meet your child's skill level and focus on areas where he or she needs more practice. Some of the lessons and reading activities contain considerable repetition, which could help slower learners but turn off those children who learn faster. Overall, though, this comes close to the best reading programs in our lineup.

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Samson's Classroom

Samson's Classroom is an online learn to read application that is more geared toward helping pupils from kindergarten through fifth grade become better readers, rather than teaching them to read. This is a great resource to supplement school or homeschool instruction. However, it does not include instruction in phonics, instead emphasizing a sight-based learning style that does not work for all children.

This application is actually a combination of three products to help children learn to read and, along with that, to recognize words and spell them correctly. These three products are Reading with Samson, Sight Words with Samson and Spelling with Samson. Samson is an animated dog who engages in all manner of adventures and serves as a helpful guide who offers directions and praise.

You get helpful video tutorials that explain this reading program and reports on how your child is doing, including notations of specific areas that could use a bit more work. There are varied reading activities, reading games and rewards built into these program segments that put some fun and pizzazz into the educational process and keep your child interested.

In the Sight Words with Samson segment, your child begins by learning the English language's 224 most commonly used words. As your child moves through various reading activities, he hears and sees each word several times. This learning to read program is designed to help your child identify words, spell them and move to the point of completing sentences by filling in a particular word. As a parent, you can print flashcards and worksheets for additional review, as well as proudly reward your youngster with printed certificates to put on display. This is fun motivation for your child to take pride in his work on the application.

With the Reading with Samson segment, you or your child can choose a level of difficulty. Your child can then read a passage of text and must click on one of four possible answers to questions. If she chooses the correct one, she gets a green checkmark and can go on to the next passage. If she makes a mistake, she gets a red X, and the section of the passage that needs review immediately changes from black text to red so she can read it again.

Correct answers help your child win chances to let Samson do things like swing a hammer at an onscreen carnival game. The better your child does, the more time he or she can spend at the carnival. This is another fun incentive for children to strive to do well in the lessons.

Spelling with Samson involves more than 7,000 words. Your child works in the Study Zone, filling letters in to spell words correctly, and then is rewarded with a reading game, the Karate Chop Challenge. That is followed by the Spelling Scramble and then the most challenging, the Crunch Time Quiz, in which your child hears a word and must spell it.

One unique aspect of this learning to read program is that it does not include phonics, instead emphasizing sight words. The potential problem with this is that it puts a greater emphasis on memorization, admittedly as part of a comprehensive approach to learning, over learning how words are sounded out.

Unlike many learn to read applications on the market, Samson's Classroom does not emphasize phonics but uses its own instructional method instead. The sight words, spelling and reading comprehension approach no doubt work wonderfully well for many children. In this case, it's a matter of knowing your child's learning style, because Samson's Classroom is not the best choice for learning how to sound out words.

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Mia's Reading Adventure Bugaboo Bugs

The animation in Mia's Reading Adventure is first-rate, the story is endearing and the characters are fun, but this is less of a learn to read program than it is a fun reading game. That is not to say that there are no academic touches to this reading program. It is designed to augment the reading curriculum in school and offers 12 reading activities with four levels of complexity. The reading games involve adventures or activities on colorful and well-designed screens. However, the entertainment aspects of this reading program still outweigh the educational components to a tremendous degree.

Mia's Reading Adventure is a delightful animated tale of Mia the mouse and her friends who have to contend with the Bugaboo Bugs invading the house where she lives. The problem is that the Bigfeet (humans) who share the house will call the exterminator if they detect Bugaboo Bugs, so Mia and her friends must avert a crisis.

To do this, your child goes through enjoyable reading activities and, in the process, gets a nice dose of phonics, word recognition, rhyming, sentence structure, reading comprehension and more. Your child gets praise when she selects correct answers and encouragement to try again if the answers are wrong. As a parent, you also can get progress reports on how your child is doing in learning to read. However, this application does not have the scholastic depth to stand by itself as a homeschool reading curriculum or a substantial addition to traditional school reading instruction.

For an enjoyable extra touch to your child's basic reading program, Mia's Reading Adventure is a beautifully animated and fun application that offers plenty of entertainment. However, it is just a bit short on the academic side. For better or worse, Mia's Reading Adventure has more games and fun time than actual instruction.

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