Check reading kits carefully

Ask the experts

May 09, 1999

Question:

I'm thinking about purchasing the Phonics Game. Is this worth the $280 price, in particular to help a first grader?

Answer:

This is a pertinent question, especially since so many new reading kits are being marketed to use at home with children. Many parents and caregivers feel compelled to buy such packages, and they wonder, as you do, about their value. Moreover, commercial packages vary in many ways. The components in the Phonics Game consist of card games and phonetic readers that depend on traditional print, as well as other media, including video and audio tapes and a CD rom. See the Web site at www.phonicsgame.com. But the real value lies in how effective the program is for your child. In an effort to examine this growing industry, the International Reading Association analyzed more than 20 phonics packages and found some disturbing trends discussed in "Teacher's Guidelines for Evaluating Commercial Phonics Packages."

First, advertising claims are often confusing and misleading. For example, the Phonics Game promises "One full letter grade improvement in reading or spelling on your child's next report card, or your money back." This sounds more like a refund policy than a testimonial since there are no objective measures of progress. If you just want to provide your child with additional experiences with letters and sounds, there are less expensive books, games and toys that may meet your needs. If your child is struggling with reading, then be wary of unrealistic claims.

Also, the materials are often difficult to evaluate. The term "phonics instruction" refers to only one aspect of the reading process. In addition to learning how to recognize and sound out words accurately, children need to comprehend what they read, enjoy reading, learn from what they read and begin to feel competent as good readers and writers. Many reading skills are not covered in the materials provided in the Phonics Game. Since it is not all-inclusive, you may want to buy materials in sequences that match your child's present reading skills, rather than a whole package at once. Some children take off in reading well before a parent is able to cover everything in a kit.

Finally, claims of effectiveness are almost impossible to verify. Call the company and listen to its assertion. Then try to talk with families that have used this particular program to see if they have had success. Whether or not you decide to buy the program, remember, it is time well spent when you take the time to read aloud to your child, talk about books and stories and encourage writing activities.

-- Susan Rapp

Village Reading Center

Pub Date: 05/09/99

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