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Friday, June 7, 2013

Reading Eggs Review: Starting Up and a Walk Though Lesson 88

10 days ago I signed the boys up for a free trial of ReadingEggs.com. I had heard of it mentioned before on homeschooling blogs, forums, and sites, and heard other parents mention it. I knew you had to pay for it, and since we had already paid $35 for a year's subscription to MoreStarfall.com, I wasn't looking for something else to buy. Early Bird was perfectly content with MoreStarfall, even though he wasn't learning anything new reading wise (it only goes through a 1st grade level, but it stops teaching after the basics) and I wasn't really sure how much he was getting out of the math games he played.

It's the past six months of this pregnancy a lot of schoolwork has gotten dropped; more than I'd like to admit. That has slowed the kids' reading progress down, though they keep picking things up. Then two weeks ago a friend posted a screenshot of one of her son's Reading Eggs lessons, and I was impressed because not only did it have much higher level words than I had ever seen on Starfall, but it had her kid matching the words to picture, working on understanding what the word meant and not just the ability to be able to read it. So I messaged her for a link and she had Reading Eggs send me an e-mail with a 14 day free trial (you can get the free trial on your own, but by doing it through her she got to "earn" a few more free weeks herself.) She also sent me some codes she had found around the internet that got me to 70 days free before I'm going to have to decided to pay or not. (I'll post those codes at the bottom of the post.)

I don't like starting the kids on something that I don't know if I'm going to want them to continue. What if they get super excited about it, but I'm really unhappy with it, and then it has to go away? I know disappointments are a part of life, but that's not a situation I put my kids in if I can at all help it. So I'm going to write a review (actually, I'm going to write several since there are a lot of parts to this website) that is the kind of review I would have liked to see before signing up.

I started the process with Early Bird. It was a simple sign up and did not require a credit card number to get the free trial. It offered to let Early Bird start at the beginning (which I'm assuming is learning letters and sounds) or if I wanted to I could let him take a placement test. Early Bird has never done anything like that before, but I let him try. The multiple choice test that says the question progressively got harder as he went along. At any time once you got three questions wrong the test would stop and it would place you accordingly. Early Bird made it through all 40 questions, getting only one wrong and needing me to re-phrase the question (we've never used the term "word family" before) three times. Out of 120 lessons that placed him at lesson 71. (Builder Boy took the test later, missed two, and it put him on the same lesson, so I'm assuming that's the ceiling level for the test.) There is a picture map for every ten lessons. Lesson 71 was the first lesson on Map 8. At the end of the path on each map there is a 15 question quiz that goes over what was covered in that map. You must get (I think) 11 correct to move on to the next map. Because they tested ahead on the path, all the other lessons and maps that came before 71 were unlocked, but your child has to finish a lesson before continuing on.

Each lesson is made up of several smaller parts that are interactive instructions or practice type games. Each part has to be completed with a certain level of accuracy (I really like that condition) before the next part of the lesson can be unlocked, but you can go back and play/work on anything that you have unlocked. The below is Early Bird working through Lesson 88 (the last lesson he did today.)

Part 1


Part 1 of Lesson 88 introduced the "th" blend. First it had him just click on "th" as it said the sound. Then it had him select the "th" out of three blend options. Then it had him take turns clicking on Shelley Shark and then Charlie Chimp to push the two parts of the word together to make a word. It did that with several 'th-' words. When Builder Boy did this lesson a few days ago (he's going a bit faster than Early Bird, for reasons I'll mention in another Reading Eggs review) he was annoyed about how many times he had to click on both of them to make them come together. But for a new reader, I can see how that's an important step.



Part 2


Part 2 of Lesson 88 is a simple matching the word to the picture game. Once they have done it correctly the words are taken back and mix them up and the kids do it two more times so they are putting the words up because they know it, not just because they guessed right. Kids are not expected to be able to read these words (I think?) When the mouse is over the word it does say it out loud for the kid.

If my kids were not already able to read these words, I would have a problem with this. I am very strict about systematic phonic instruction and have a fear of just memorizing words as "sight words. Now knowing that they introduce words this way long before the kids know the "rules" for why these words are pronounced the way they are, I would not use Reading Eggs as my main means of instruction, and I am glad I did not put my kids on Reading Eggs before they were already reading these words on their own. But I know that not all parents are as ridged about this as I am. (Jen over at Teaching My Baby to Read wrote a great blog post about it if you'd like to read more about why people think the mixed approach that Reading Eggs is using works well.)



Part 3

Part 3 of Lesson 88 had Early Bird read a word and then decide which letter blend lane the word belongs in. Early Bird had a hard time with this game the first time because he clicked on the sign above the lane instead of the lane with the pins, so sometimes it went wrong; and if you get too many wrong, you have to re-do it. So, being only 4 years old, he insists he needs help on this one, even though all I do is remind him to click on the pins.

This game is an example of why I decided that even though the test didn't get the full extent of the boys' reading abilities, I'm glad it placed them where it did. When they first stated playing the Reading Egg lesson games, the instructions were a short description at the beginning, and that's it. They assume that you've gone through all the maps to get to this point and that this is not the first time you're doing them, so you should know what to do. The first day they boys played Reading Eggs I sat with them and helped them figure out what they were suppose to do. There are a lot of different practice formats and there was at least one that took me a long time to figure out what exactly they were looking for. But ten days in the kids have got it all figured out, mostly.



Part 4

Part 4 of Lesson 88 did not impress me. Early Bird was given a word that I knew he could read, but Reading Eggs had no reason to think he could. They told him what it was, then had him pick it out of a group with two other words that, again, I knew he could read, but they had no reason to think he could. 16 different times with different, all complex, big words around "his" word. I'm not going to write anything more about this because I don't want to come off like a ranting psycho-mom, but there is no way this is the way I would chose to teach reading to a child.



Part 5

Part 5 of Lesson 88 once again had kids working with words that they had not been taught the "rules" for. In this practice game they were given a word one at a time and were suppose to match it to the available words. It did not expect kids to be able to read them; when you hovered over a word it said it for you. That was the extent of the "teaching" in this part of the lesson.



Part 6

Part 6 of Lesson 88 has an activity that I can't quiet make up my mind about. It starts with a book that they have read/had read to them at the end of a recent lesson before this. The lower maps/lessons have books with less options of words to choose from. As the kids have only heard/read this book once before, they seem to expect them to remember a lot, or else be able to infer a lot. This is one of the lessons/games that I get called over to help with the most. I had really hoped that the boys could use Reading Eggs completely on their own; maybe after another ten days they won't "need" me anymore.



Part 7

Part 7 of Lesson 88 I really like. It's a gentle way to introduce dictation, which is something that the boys are going to be encountering in later levels of our planned writing curriculum, but isn't something they have done before. The words (sometimes they're owls on a fence, I've also see them as bricks in a wall) start up and in the correct order. The game slowly reads the words, highlighting each word as it's being read. It then asks the kid to read the words as it slowly highlights them. Then they scramble the words and take them down and ask the child to put the words back in the correct order. Here is where the kids really needed to pay attention because it expects you to remember the correct order. Like many of the other games/lesson in Reading Eggs, and unlike the games in Starfall, there is no repeat/say again button for the kids to press. So if they weren't paying attention, they're going to have a more difficult time. I think this has been good for the boys, and over the past ten days they have gotten better at this game. They are given several sentences, one after another, and some of the sentences are longer than the one pictured.



Part 8
Part 8 of Lesson 88 tests kids' words per minute speed (actually, it's words per two minutes.) Here they only use words that have had the phonetic rules explained and practiced before. They also use a limited number of words, repeating words and changing around the picture placements as you go along. Nether of my boys had any timed reading or speed pressure put on them before, but they do very well. Sometimes Early Bird panics if he can't find the picture right away and insists he needs help, but he does fine. I like that once again they are connecting the words that they are reading to a picture of it, improving comprehension.  

On a previous lesson I had noticed that they had the word "peg" and the picture they matched it to was of a wooden clothes pin. I was confused by that, but I explained that that was the picture they were looking for, and after a few reminders the kids correctly select that picture for the word "peg" from then on. On this lesson they had the word "chips" but the picture they wanted was a picture of what we in America know as "french fries." Thankfully I am a Doctor Who fan, so I had an idea of where that came from. I looked it up and apparently Reading Eggs was originally created in Australia, which explains the chips/french fries and their British accent option. This is only the second time in twenty lessons I have encountered a British/Australian/American discrepancy that had to be explained to the boys, though I don't watch every lesson.



Part 9

Part 9 of Lesson 88 was the last part of the lesson. Lessons in Map 8 (where we started) tended to have shorter lesson parts, but more of them. Lessons from Map 9 and 10 seem to have fewer lesson parts, but they take longer. All lessons end with a book. You can choose to turn the audio off, or have it "read" it to you.



Egg Hatching
Along the path for each lesson is an unhatched egg. Once the child has completed the whole lesson there is a short animation of a creature hatching from the egg . When you go back to the map the creature is there instead of the egg. If you hover over it it will move a little bit, but as far as I can tell, they don't do anything else.


So that's a walk through a whole lesson at Level 3. From Reading Eggs' website:

"The Stepping Stones Reading lessons are the core of the Reading Eggs learn-to-read program. Each lesson builds on the previous one to build skills in the five key areas needed to become a good reader: phonemic awareness and phonics, sight words, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension. The lessons are presented in three broad levels with 40 lessons in each level.
Level 1 Starting Out for absolute beginners, lesson 1-40.
Level 2 Beginning to Read for emerging readers, lessons 41-80.
Level 3 Building confidence for early readers, lessons 81-120."

I have not seen any of the lessons for the Level 1, so I do not know how well it would work for a young beginner. While searching for more information for this review (after I has almost completed this post) I found the "Try Sample Lesson" option on ReadingEggs.com. It offers two lessons from Level 1 and one from Level 2.

Overall, I personally would not use this program as the only source of instruction; and I would not sign up a beginner reader who I did not want being exposed to complex words with no instruction context. For example, in a previous lesson I watched them introduce -ide words, but no explanation of the Silent E Rule. So kids would memorize the "ide" sound, but not apply that an "e" at the end of the word makes the "i" say it's name and that's why. But I can also see how this would work for other parents and kids who don't have the same learning to read philosophy as I do.

We are ten days into our free trial and I am still not sure if I am going to pay for it once our time is up. The kids love it, there's no getting around that. But they want $50 for a 6 month subscription, just for one kid! And another $25 for a second kid. That's $75 for just 6 months! There are a lot of other features that Reading Eggs offer that comes with that price that I will review in other posts (I've worked on this post long enough, I want to get this up already.) Here are the codes I used that got me the extra 7 weeks free on top of the original 2 week trial. (You can only use two codes a year.) 5ABCSHOP & ABC88EGG. (ETA: these codes are now expired.)

ETA: My friend who got us started with Reading Eggs over at We're All Mad Here wrote a Reading Eggs review, too! Since she uses it as primary instruction and the whole-words memorization works really well for her son, I thought it would be interesting for people to see another side of this.

__________________________________________________________________________
I was not asked to review Reading Eggs and was not compensated to do so. I put the time and effort into this review because I wish I could have read something like this before I started it with my kids. All opinions are my own. 

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