Reading Friends

Website review by
Mieke VanderBorght, Common Sense Media
Reading Friends Website Poster Image
Gradually leveled letter journey is repetitive but thorough.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this website.

Educational value

Kids can learn letter names, sounds, the role letters play in simple words, sight words, and word families. Activities have kids learn the name and sound of each new letter. Then they work on identifying the letter, picking the letter out of a group of letters, learning uppercase and lowercase versions, and using the letter in words that start with it. Kids will also construct rhyming words by pairing beginning sounds with a word family (for example, pairing "c," "t," and "f" with "-an"), and they'll practice identifying sight words. At the end of each lesson, kids get some practice reading a short book. Reading Friends could be the best friend your kids have when it comes to acquiring reading skills.

Positive messages

Kid-friendly theme, positive feedback for correct answers help kids feel comfortable about learning to read. Sometimes feedback for incorrect answers isn't particularly gentle.

Violence & scariness
Sexy stuff
Language
Consumerism

Kids earn coins to buy items in a virtual store.

Drinking, drugs & smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Reading Friends is a subscription-based site that covers the fundamentals of learning to read. Parents can sign up for a free 14-day trial, for which they'll need to provide their first and last name and an email address. Once in, parents can create accounts for multiple kids, and all text throughout the site can be set to a special dyslexic font. The visitor's center lets parents get a sense of the kinds of games their kids will play. When kids play, they collect coins, which they can use to "buy" items in a "store" including downloading images as PDF files. Parents can access progress reports that give some basic information about how kids are doing with the activities. Technical difficulties may pop up occasionally, and unfortunately, it can be hard to contact the site administrator. For more details on the kinds of information collected and shared, read the site's privacy policy.

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What's it about?

READING FRIENDS introduces letters, letter sounds, letters in simple words, high-frequency sight words, and word families (rhyming words). Kids progress, in order, through levels that introduce letters one by one and increase in difficulty and complexity. Most questions are multiple-choice -- for example, kids must find the letter that makes a "ffff" sound. Kids earn coins for each completed level, and they spend these in a virtual store. In the parent account are basic progress reports, and parents can "assign" certain levels if they think kids need extra practice.

Is it any good?

With lots of repetition, kids gradually build on their reading know-how on this kid-friendly site. The Reading Friends approach is slow and thorough as it introduces each letter of the alphabet, one by one. Activities move from recognizing and picking out the target letter by name and sound, to working with words that begin with that letter to watching how the letter is written. The repetition can be good for learning, but it may also start to feel boring as kids find the lowercase letter f for the 10th time and then do it all over again 10 times with an uppercase F.

More variety in activity type would make the user experience much better. Similarly, slow loading times and other technical problems sometimes interfere with smooth play. The rest of the learning content -- word families and sight words -- is somewhat secondary to the primary focus of letter learning but adds a nice peek at other aspects of learning to read. Though some material is not of the highest quality (such as the "books" that kids read at the end of each level), Reading Friends does a nice job of guiding kids through the alphabet and toward the world of reading.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the letters and words that surround our daily lives. How are these words made? Point out signs, spell words together, and find letters all around you.

  • Encourage a love of reading. What's the most enjoyable part of reading? Read to your kids often and make trips to the library when you can.

  • Play letter games with your kids. Get letter tiles, magnets, or blocks or write letters on card stock. Move the letters around and spell familiar words, such as your kid's name, and simple words -- think "cat," "bat," "hat," and so on. You can even have fun making more challenging words.

Website details

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For kids who love reading

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