As parents, we always put all our trust into schools for teaching our kids and giving them the knowledge they need to grow but what if the schools aren’t doing their jobs?
This is where Phonics Programs come into play. I often used these to help teach my child letters and sounds when I felt like the school wasn’t doing enough. And sometimes the way your school teaches them isn’t always the best way.
I have curated a list of programs that I have used and ones that have good reviews to help other parents with their journey of teaching their kids the English alphabet!
Although there isn’t a one-fits-all phonics program, I have done my best to list the best ones for each age group along with any specific categories. Please do read through it and find one that suits your child the best.
If you came to this article because someone told you that you should teach your baby using phonics but you have absolutely no idea what phonics is. Well, do not worry because that’s why I’m here!
The basics of phonics are that it is a way to teach children the simplest alphabetic principles, such as pronouncing them and recognizing their sounds in certain conditions, to help pronounce larger words or letter combinations.
Luckily, most of us can tell when a letter has different sounds as we have been speaking English our whole life but newborns don’t have that privilege. If you’ve noticed, each letter also has different pronunciations when used in different words.
Letters such as “P”, that have an “F” sound when used with an “H” like this “PH”. For example, alphabet or graph or phone or even phobia. A child might be confused and might even struggle when pronouncing these words due to the “PH”.
This is what phonics programs help with. They provide a learning structure to help your baby understand and remember words and pronunciations like this.
Words like “read” which is pronounced “reed” but also pronounced “red” in a different tense. Another example is “tear” which is pronounced in two different ways and can mean two different things.
A phonics program will help your child better their reading skills which is an essential part of their early development. If their reading skill isn’t developed by third grade, they will face a lot of problems later on in life. (source)
Top 5 Best Phonics Programs!
Hooked On Phonics Review
The reason we chose this program is because of its ease of accessibility. You can access the program through a physical book or a digital version.
They also have an app for your phone that allows your child to utilise games, videos, and other interactive material that is quite helpful in speeding up their learning development.
The program also comes with various levels so you can teach your child until they grow up to be around 8 years old. It also includes 4 stages for each level which are
Understand new concepts
Try new sound combinations
Short stories reading
Rewards to motivate more progress
The stories that are included offer lots of colors to help stimulate your baby’s brain and are laid out really well. The pictures can also help your baby to relate words with objects which is a really good way to learn the language.
Although the program has many good sides to it, the few bad things are that the new version doesn’t seem to work with every child. Some parents have reported that their child doesn’t seem to learn much from the new versions.
However, that does seem to be a small issue among a small group of kids. As every kid is different, I would suggest you give this program a try and see how it works for you.
Zoo Phonics Review
This is one of the most detailed programs you can find related to phonics and it really is well received. The insane amount of material in it allows any type of learner to take advantage of it.
The program itself does seem quite messy and unorganized at first which might scare off many parents but eventually you do get used to it.
One of the good things about this program is that the makers of it are all experts in the field of education which really helps to back up the methodology they have used to structure their program.
Another unique part of this program is related to its kinesthetic approach where each letter has a body movement attached to it. This plays a double feature as it also helps to keep your kid moving and active.
Even parents can have fun while teaching this program as they get to move with their kids and spend some quality time with them.
The Zoo phonics program really does make learning the language a fun experience for your child especially if they are extremely energetic and always moving around.
Saxon Phonics Review
The Saxon phonics program has a bunch of little parts that can help your kid learn way better. It was made for readers that really struggle which is why it uses a lot of repetition to help kids remember better.
The program also contains a lot of games to keep your children motivated and help them learn at the same time.
The feature that I liked the most was how each skill was reviewed at each level. This allowed my child to remember each thing they learned and if they didn’t remember it, we could just make sure they learned it again.
The program does start out quite slow but it does speed up and you can even adjust how fast you go depending on your baby’s skill. The manuals are really huge and scripted which is good for the parent as this program is parent heavy.
The major downsides are that this method of teaching might not work for all kids. Some kids prefer learning different things rather than repetitions.
This program also doesn’t have much color in it which is a bummer for most kids. Along with that, the paper quality isn’t that great which doesn’t make for a great product.
Explode The Code Review
The Explode The Code phonics program is something that you don’t expect to be good but it turns out to be really good. The start of this program is really tough and slow for most children which often leaves you and your baby frustrated.
However, I noticed as the lessons went on that they got more fun and my child was actually learning something.
Another thing I noticed that is different from the other programs is the development of critical thinking. There are a few activities where my child has to figure out which is the right spelling or pronunciation which really engages the critical thinking part of the brain.
One thing that was really nice is that my baby could do all the work himself! This phonics program is completely hands-off for the parent which is a nice relaxing touch!
This program also has a lot of handwriting exercises which I skipped as it did get quite repetitive and boring for my child but this might be something that works well with other kids.
Another great thing about the program was that, often, my kid even asked me to do more work! That’s how much they enjoyed it and it’s something that is really impressive as it motivates your baby to learn more.
The one thing that turned me down was the confusing illustrations. They weren’t always super clear and were hard to understand at times. However, there were descriptions to help understand which made it a bit better.
There are also some words where they use older language that your kid might not understand so that’s something you might have to watch out for.
Overall, the Explode The Code phonics program is relatively strong and has proven itself to be a good learning tool even after 30 years.
Reading Eggs Review
The Reading Eggs phonics program is one of the more well-built programs that you can find online. It’s even used by many teachers which goes to show you how useful it is.
To start off, the program makes your child do a placement test to help decide what level they should start on. This was quite helpful as I didn’t have to guess or start from the beginning which would take up a lot more time.
The online games are quite fun and made my kid excited to learn more about them. The one issue was that if you are using a computer, your child’s mouse skills might not be that great which makes the games hard. However, using a touchscreen device fixed this easily.
The program also rewards kids with certificates to keep their motivation going which is a nice touch. Some kids might get tired of the repetition but seeing the reward surely keeps them going.
If you have more than one kid using the program, you can set up a teacher account and check the progress of each of your kids. This saves a lot of time and is quite useful when you are dealing with multiple kids. However, the program does cost more for each kid that you enroll.
One of the biggest downsides of the program is the fact that it is based out of Australia. The problem with this is that the actors in the videos have an Australian accent and they try to hide it which leads to some weird pronunciation of words.
Overall this is quite a well-built program but it is not something that can be used by itself. This program is meant to be used alongside other programs or teaching methods. However, for what it does, it is quite good.
Phonics Programs For Dyslexic Kids
Most programs will not work for dyslexic kids as their brain works much more differently. You need special programs that focus on certain learning methods to help your child out.
One of the best programs for this is the Barton System phonics program. It follows multiple steps that are suitable for kids with dyslexia.
If you want a full review of the program and more about teaching kids with dyslexia, then please send me an email and I’d be happy to make a post just for you!
Free Phonics Programs
Not every parent can go out and drop 100s of dollars to teach their kid as money might be tight sometimes. If you fall into that category, worry not as there is also something for you.
In the world of the internet, there are various free phonics programs that you can find and some of them are relatively good.
Of course, you won’t find something that is better than the top paid phonics programs as they do offer a lot more for your money but this is good as long as free goes.
The Progressive Phonics Program is one of the best phonics programs that you can find on the internet. You might also be able to find other free alternatives at your local library!
The program itself is quite engaging and fun for the user and starts off pretty slow. It has quite an interesting storyline to keep your kid engaged for a longer amount of time.
They use a certain method that involves an adult reading black colored words while the child reads red colored words. This also contributes to some teamwork that helps you to bond with your child.
Their website isn’t really the best for navigation but if you are a teacher or an experienced parent then it will be quite easy. What you get for it being a free program is quite impressive and is worth it if this is your only choice.
There is no need to go into debt to buy a phonics program as you can find many free alternatives and many libraries offer free services to help teach kids.
Buying Guide For The Best Phonics Program
Choosing the right phonics program for your child can be quite a daunting task especially for first-time parents. There are many factors you need to consider along with looking at reviews for each type of program.
Finding the factors for each program and what they offer is quite tiring. So, I have compiled a list of things that you should be looking for to help make your task easier.
I Hope this buying guide is useful to parents around the world and if you want me to add anything, please do leave a comment or send me an email. Thank you!
What To Consider For The Best Phonics Program?
There is no short list of items that you need to consider as each item has many more categories in it. You really need to consider each of them and see which one suits your child the most.
There really isn’t a one fits all type of phonics program but by looking at what each program offers and the reviews for it, you can make a good purchasing decision!
The few things to consider with phonics programs are:
Type of program
There are many types of phonics programs to consider and they each have their own way to teach your child.
This is how the program decides to structure their lessons and some of them can be quite effective while others not so much.
Research-based or not
Oftentimes programs are based on years of research which really shows the dedication of the company to make a good product.
However, some phonics programs aren’t based on research but rather on beliefs which usually isn’t the greatest way to help a child advance.
What type of learner is it meant for?
Every kid has their own style of learning such as visual, active, reading, or hearing. Some programs cater to many types of learning styles but they mainly focus on a few.
You need to find a phonics program that best suits your child and the way they learn. This can help speed up the learning process and keep your child engaged.
Is it accessible for you?
Some programs are only usable through a computer which might be hard for a kid to use at first. Some require touchscreen devices that you might not have.
Some programs even offer paper-based versions which are a nice touch and personally, I prefer paper versions for lessons.
Some programs are priced higher than others but they might not offer as much or maybe they offer a different learning style. You need to set a strict budget to help you decide which program will be more suitable for your wallet.
Easier or harder levels
Some kids might learn faster or slower which could cause them to advance really quickly. This isn’t always a good thing as it gives your child a sense of being able to do things with no effort which isn’t good in the long run.
Try finding a program suitable for their level so they can learn an adequate amount.
Do you want tests?
Many programs will offer tests to help evaluate your kid’s progress. This is generally a good thing, however, some kids might not like this or it might make them discouraged if they don’t do good.
Do you want a hands-off or more involved program?
Many phonics programs are structured in a way where there needs to be an adult to help guide the child. However, some programs will allow your kid to work independently.
Types Of Phonics Programs
There are 4 types of phonics programs that are commonly used. We could sit here and debate as to which one is the best but scientifically there is only one that stands on the top.
That one is synthetic phonics also known as explicit phonics. It is one of the best methods used to teach children and works for the majority of kids. I go into more detail about each program down below.
This is one of the best ways to teach your children how to read words better.
It involves starting with basic build blocks of sounds that are commonly used in the English language. Then they move onto full words and how to connect sounds together.
As children get better at sounds, more focus is put on how to integrate sounds together. This is the required method of teaching in countries such as Australia, Germany and England.
It is quite a structured method of teaching which helps to make sure a kid learns everything there is to learn.
The downside with this method is that sounds are learnt out of context which isn’t great for children who learn better visually. (source)
This type of teaching and the next one have a similar teaching structure. This program focuses on using words the kid already knows and breaking them down.
Something this program does that is unique is it also teaches new words that rhyme with the ones they previously knew. For example, if your kid already knew the word ‘Fun’, then a new word they would be taught is ‘Run’.
This program also uses word families to help group words and focus on certain types of words. Word families are words with similar endings.
This program does help to build a child’s vocabulary but it isn’t helpful in constructing words. A kid who goes through this program will struggle to read new words or even make new words.
This is also known as integrated or implicit phonics. These types of programs have a different type of method to them that includes building on the words they already know.
Familiar words are used to understand the sounds that make them up by breaking down the words. Generally, this method helps kids to break down words and recognize the patterns that make up the words.
Oftentimes kids will guess words rather than actually using their knowledge to pronounce the word. Obviously, this can lead to problems later in life which is why this isn’t a good method.
Embedded phonics is also known as incidental phonics. It works by teaching through stories and contexts of these stories.
Generally, kids are given stories to read and if they reach a word they cannot read, the adult will help them through it. Oftentimes the adult will first read the story out loud to help the kid read it more smoothly.
This method allows the kid to learn words and their pronunciations in a more contextualized form as it helps them to use images to remember the word and how to say it.
However, there is still a lot of guesswork that will take place in this method which is harmful for the future development of kids. This method also cannot be used alone as there has to be an adult to guide the kid.
Characteristics Of An Effective Phonics Program
There are a few factors that will indicate a phonics program is effective. These things do vary from child to child as everyone is a different learner.
Try to look for programs that will help your child the best and the best way to do this is by reading reviews of other parents.
Here are the main characteristics to look out for when picking out a phonics program for your child:
Programs based on research rather than ideology
Supported by professional development
Makes use of instructional time by providing tests and reading opportunities to evaluate your baby (source)
How Is Phonics Taught?
Just like there are types of programs, there are also ways each program is taught. Many programs will use multiple methods to be effective, however, some will use only a few.
These are methods that work better with some kids and not so much with other kids. You need to use your instinct as to how your kid learns and make sure the program you pick utilises that method.
Here are the common ways these methods are taught:
This method teaches kids the most common sounds first and then proceeds to less common sounds. This builds a strong foundation for the kid to learn future sounds.
As the word suggests, this is when things build on what they already know to help them progress to the next lesson. It helps to make a bubble of knowledge that the kid can relate to the next time when they see the word.
Kids can learn through many senses such as touching, writing, moving, saying, thinking and even drawing. Using all these senses at once can really help drill a lesson into your kid’s brain. Science has also proven that this method works best and keeps kids engaged.
Not every kid will remember the first time they are taught something. Even adults will often forget if they are told something once but if they keep repeating a thing it’ll stay in their brain much better. This also works for kids where if they repeat a certain sound or write a letter enough times, they will remember it better.
Frequently Asked Questions About Phonics
Do Phonics Programs Actually Work?
The answer to this will vary from parent to parent as every kid is different. This is something I want you to really put deep in your brain because many parents think that what works for other kids will work for theirs.
However, never is this the case. Every kid will learn differently and you need to find what works best for your kid.
Will every phonics program work for your kid? Nope. If you find the right one that is suited for your baby’s learning style, then it will surely work.
Is it possible that there are no programs that will work with my kid? Unfortunately, yes. This isn’t meant to discourage you but it’s to let you know that maybe your kid has some disability that prevents them from learning through these methods.
In these cases, it is best to get help from a specialist who can surely help your child learn and guide your child towards a bright future.
Do I Even Need A Phonics Program?
Usually, your child’s school will take care of this process. Many schools have subscriptions to phonics programs that they use to teach your child.
However, this isn’t always effective for every child. Some children need a little bit more help or maybe they have a different learning style.
In these cases, you might need to buy your own phonics program to help teach your child English so they don’t struggle in the future.
What Is A Schwa Sound In Phonics?
The schwa sound is something many parents might have trouble teaching even though they can say it themselves quite easily. This is because most people don’t recognize sounds like this as they just join them with other sounds.
Schwa is one of the most common vowel sounds that you will hear in your day to day life, so it is important that you teach your child it!
It has a short ‘u’ sound and is very soft unlike the ‘uh’ sound. Some words where you encounter this sound are ‘about’ in the first vowel sound, also the vowel sound in ‘but’ and finally the last sound in ‘the’.
This sound is also the only one with its own name which makes it pretty special.
Hopefully this guide is useful to the parents around the world reading it. It was truly a hassle for me to choose my first phonics program and I have listed some of my concern above.
If you have any more questions or something to add to this article, please leave it down below for everyone to read.
What has your experience been like with phonics programs? Are there any good ones not listed here? Share them with us!