Throughout her childhood, I’ve been a little conflicted about when to begin teaching Mia to read. When I was a kid, I read very early — I was reading at 3 years old. My daughter is a very sharp kid, and I’ve always just assumed that she would read as early as I did. This is a pretty tall assumption, though; 3 years old is damned early for a kid to be reading, and I didn’t want to be overbearing and force her to read before she was ready, or to place expectations on her that were based on nothing more than what I did as a 3-year-old. Then again, if the kid was ready to roll, then I definitely didn’t want to hold her back. Decisions, decisions.

A couple months after turning 3, she started twice-a-week preschool, and after a few months of that, she knows all of the letters of the alphabet and what sounds they make. If you know all those, you’re pretty much ready to start learning to read, so I asked her if she was ready. She said yes, so we now have our hats in the ring.

Something occurred to me shortly thereafter: I didn’t really have a clue how the hell to teach anybody to read, let alone a 3-year-old. I just pick stuff up and read it — I don’t remember the steps involved in getting to this point. This realization alarmed me, and not only for Mia’s sake. In the back of my mind, I always figured that if I ended up in prison somehow, I’d survive and earn protection from the tougher inmates by teaching them to read. What was I going to do now if I ended up on the inside? Back to the present, though — where would I start with Mia? (Note to self, though — buy a good radar detector, and check for warrants in other states)

That’s when I started checking around for software that could maybe help me out. Interactive stuff wasn’t really a part of the game when I was learning to read (although my Speak & Spell enabled me to lay several ass-whoopings on the other kids in spelling bees throughout my youth). Educational CD-ROMs starting coming out in the 80s and 90s, and they’ve given away to full-blown online learning programs. The first one I came across was
ClickN’Read Phonics
, and I must say, I’ve been extremely happy with it so far, so I thought I would share with all you parents out there who are contemplating teaching your child to read.

First, a warning: You’ll be less than impressed when you first see the website. Its design is cluttered and primitive and, generally speaking, very unattractive. But don’t give up on it; this is one site whose product is much more valuable and impressive than the marketing which surrounds it. The company provides 100 reading lessons, and you can lead your child through them at his/her own pace. The lessons I’ve been doing with Mia (we’re on Lesson 17 right now) take about 15 minutes apiece, and that’s with Mia running the touchpad and keyboard. One hundred lessons, then, is a lot of material. All the lessons are done online, so there’s no software to download, and you can do lessons from any Internet-connected computer in the world (so long as you remember your password).

A lifetime membership will cost you a one-time payment of $59.85, or three monthly payments of $19.95 (which equals exactly $59.85, so you don’t pay any extra for spreading it out over three months). There’s a 60-day, no-questions-asked refund policy, and the site says it’s never refused a home-use refund request (they also sell to schools, and claim to have never even received a request for a school-use refund). I can’t personally touch for any of that, of course, but I’ll just say that I won’t be asking for a refund.

So, about the software and curriculum itself: Simply put, Mia really loves it, and enjoys her lessons. Again, the sophistication of the graphics, audio and animation is definitely NOT up to the quality that you may be used to seeing on Nick Jr., Noggin, but the fact is, you don’t need bleeding-edge multimedia to teach a kid to read. You don’t need any, actually. Everyone from the beginning of time until now seems to have done just fine without it, and so will your kid.

The lessons are broken up into about 6 or 7 different different sections, so Mia’s attention span isn’t at all put to the test. The lessons ask her to:

  • identify the letters that make certain sounds
  • identify the words that start with certain letters
  • identify the words that end with certain letters
  • identify certain words by sight (sightwords)
  • Identify certain letters, and find them on the keyboard
  • Identify very basic words on the screen, just by hearing them

For Mia, some parts are easy, and some are very challenging, and that’s exactly how it’s supposed to go, in my opinion. We’ll do each lesson two or three times, and I usually see marked improvement from her with each repeat of the lesson. (Fair warning: Mia was good with a touchpad before she ever started this program, and she uses the touchpad throughout the lesson. If your kid doesn’t use a touchpad or a mouse yet, that’ll probably need to come first. Or, you can just have your kid point to the letters on the screen, and you can run the mouse/touchpad for him/her. In my opinion, you don’t want to hold up your kid’s reading development just because his/her skills with a computer mouse aren’t up to snuff yet).

The most important measure of the ClicknRead Phonics software is, of course, whether it really helps Mia learn to read. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I really think it will. Also critically important here is that she enjoys doing the lessons. She actually asks me if we can go do a reading lesson — I don’t have to pressure her, or even ask her, to do it. Time will tell, and I’ll update you as she progresses. I’m optimistic, though.

Another thing I have to note in the review. I purchased the software subscription from my work computer, and when I got home to do the lessons with Mia, I didn’t have the password. I used the “forgotten password” process, but the email was caught by our corporate spam filter and could not get to me. So, it was Saturday afternoon, Mia was ready to do a lesson, and I was SOL. On a whim, I called the help number, expecting absolutely nothing, since it’s a miracle to find customer-service folks working on the weekends just about anywhere. But I called the number, got the automated greeting, and pressed the customer service extension. Sure enough, a guy just picks up the phone and says “ClicknKids, may I help you?” No wait time, no nothing. I was amazed. I told the guy my problem, and he looked me up and gave me my password. The whole ordeal took about 60 seconds flat. I’m still amazed. I’d like to hug that guy if I could find him.

Overall, then, the program gets my hearty, if early, endorsement. Happy reading, and feel free to weigh in if you have comments or experiences to share.