Unlock Your Child's Reading Potential: 7 Tips for Choosing a Comprehensive Reading Program

In today's fast-paced world, literacy is one of the golden keys that unlocks a child's potential for academic success and lifelong learning. However, not all children find it easy to master the art of reading. If your child is between the ages of 4 to 8 and struggling to navigate the world of reading, it's crucial to choose a literacy program that's based on the science of reading.

As a parent, you want to give your child the best possible foundation for reading success. With an excess of reading programs available, and now many online options, it can be challenging to find the right one that fits your child's needs and aligns with current research on effectiveness. The most effective programs are those that follow the science of reading and are often labeled as structured literacy1. But simply being labeled as such is not enough, you also need to know what to look out for when choosing a program.

In the following sections, we will provide valuable tips to help you navigate the world of reading programs and identify the most effective ones. We will discuss the key features to look for in a comprehensive reading program, as well as the warning signs that a program may not be as effective as it claims. This information will empower you to make informed decisions and ensure your child's academic success and overall well-being.

7 tips to help you choose a comprehensive reading program

If you're looking for a science-based reading program, there are a few key aspects you should keep in mind. With a little guidance, you can find the perfect program for your needs. Let's explore the top 7 guidelines to help you choose the right science-based literacy program with confidence!2, 3

  1. Systematic and explicit instruction: The program should offer a step-by-step, cumulative approach, with each skill building on the previous one. Instructions should be clear and direct, with ample opportunities for practice and review.
  2. Phonemic awareness: The program should develop to an advanced degree your child's ability to identify, manipulate, and blend individual speech sounds (phonemes) in spoken words.
  3. Phonics instruction: The program should teach the relationship between letters (graphemes) and their corresponding sounds (phonemes), ensuring your child can decode words accurately and fluently.
  4. Fluency: The program should help your child read accurately, quickly, and with expression, by providing guided practice and opportunities for repeated reading.
  5. Vocabulary development: The program should build your child's vocabulary through direct instruction, reading connected text, and word analysis.
  6. Advanced phonics and decoding: Look for a program with clear, systematic instruction that includes the teaching of common sound-letter relationships, how to use those to decode regular words and strategies for tackling irregular words.
  7. Ongoing monitoring: The program should include regular monitoring to track your child's progress and identify areas that need additional support.

How to identify less effective programs

Be cautious of reading programs that:
  • Lack research-based evidence: Programs that are not grounded in scientific research are less likely to help your child overcome reading difficulties.
  • Rely heavily on the three cueing method: This method encourages children to guess words using context, syntax, and partial phonetic cues, rather than teaching them to decode words accurately. Research has shown that the three cueing method is less effective than structured literacy approaches.
  • Ignore the importance of phonics: Programs that downplay or omit phonics instruction will not provide the necessary foundation for your child to become a proficient reader.
  • Promote a "whole language" approach: While a balanced literacy approach that combines whole language and phonics may work for some children, those with reading difficulties often need more explicit and systematic instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics.

Identifying and implementing an effective science-based reading program for children with reading difficulties is crucial for their academic success and overall well-being. Here at Sharpen, we are dedicated to ensuring that every child has the opportunity to read at grade-level. That’s why we built the Sharpen Reading Program, an evidence-based, highly effective, personalized online reading program that's fun and engaging for both you and your child. Most students who complete the Level A and Level B sequence of Sharpen Reading will be able to read second grade level material fluently and be on their way to reading chapter books.

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1: Snowling, M. J., & Hulme, C. E. (2005). The science of reading: A handbook. Blackwell Publishing.

2: Seidenberg, M. (2017). Language at the speed of sight: How we read, why so many can’t, and what can be done about it. Basic Books.

3: Moats, L. C. (2000). Speech to print: Language essentials for teachers. Paul H. Brookes Publishing.