The 10 Best Online Reading Programs

By sara / December 21, 2016

The availability of online study materials has transformed not only how students learn in the classroom, but also the ways in which their parents can help them learn at home. Whether it's teaching or reviewing the basics in the evening, or seeking out the best resources for homeschooling, online resources are a game changer in child literacy and instruction. Indeed, recent studies have shown that students who work on basic literacy skills at home, during the earliest years of their pre-school and elementary school education, are up to 56 percent more successful on standardized literacy tests during their late elementary school years and during middle school.

In fact, students whose parents played an active role in their literacy education were more likely to read at least 10 books per year and more likely to show high levels of comprehension and literacy in other subject areas, including mathematics. These results help to clarify the importance of working with young students on reading and comprehension from an early age, and there are many online tools available that make this process even easier and more exciting. The best tools have been ranked below.

Though there are hundreds of helpful resources online that encourage greater literacy in pre-school and elementary students, only ten were chosen for this ranking. These tools were selected based on a combination of factors. First and foremost, the tools chosen had to be developed either by a coalition of parents and teachers or by a group of teachers who work with real students on reading and literacy in their professional careers. Online reading programs were also chosen, and ranked, based on their affordability, their appeal to parents of homeschooled children, and their use of fully immersive web technologies that appeal directly to young learners. More immersive and interactive programs, like those with slide shows, videos, and interactive games, rank as some of the best and most productive resources today. This reality is reflected in their placement within the ranking.

ABCMouse Early Learning Academy is widely regarded as one of the best online tools for early learners grasping the most basic concepts of reading and other subjects. Founded in 2010, the company was a leader in the immersive, web-based and app-based education boom at the beginning of the decade. In the nearly seven years since its founding, the company has focused on fully immersive experiences on an array of mobile devices, as well as an adaptive and immersive website that allows students to progress at their own pace through basic lessons in sight words, phonetics, and the letters of the alphabet.

As a bonus, a license for the company's website portal, and all of its mobile apps is made available for free to virtually every public school, public library, and noted community organization. This wide accessibility makes the ABCMouse system widely accessible to both public schools and home schooling environments.

CNK Digital is a leader in making learning fun. Since first offering its gaming platform early in the present decade, CNK Digital has become a leader in game-based learning, with a variety of leveled games that work with students from pre-school through the beginning of middle school. The company's games are fun, but also instructive, with lessons in phonics, sight words, the alphabet, sentence structure, and much more.

While fun to early learners, the CNK Digital service is also a robust analytical tool for teachers and parents. Every action taken in one of the company's many literacy games records data about the student's comprehension, including the lessons and games that they either struggled or excelled in the most. This allows teachers and parents to focus their efforts on critical weak points in their student's literacy education, addressing major issues early on.​

Designed based on core principles of the National Reading Panel and peer-reviewed research on childhood literacy, StudyDog is primarily an independent learning tool that encourages students to work on their own, with minimal parent or teacher supervision. The service incorporates several immersive games, videos, slideshows, and lessons from the "StudyDog" himself, to teach students the fundamentals of the alphabet, phonics, vocabulary, and even sentence structure, based on the student's age and level of proficiency in core literacy concepts. The StudyDog approach is backed by scholarly research, as well as documented outcomes via standardized testing under the former No Child Left Behind Act, making it one of the most documented and reviewed approaches to reading education online.

Suitable for students in grades K-8, Book Adventure has a dual mission in the world of online reading education. First, the service is designed to help early learners master the basic concepts of reading comprehension and the principles of literacy. This is accomplished through a series of games and "adventures" that require input from students, corresponding with literacy lessons, to progress through the "adventure" and reach its conclusion.

Each adventure also promotes the company’s second mission: To encourage a lifelong passion for learning. The company's mission statement notes that many people will only read if they are motivated to do so by an enjoyment of books and a commitment to literacy. Each "adventure" excites children about reading and books and gives them a new goal that will push them toward more independent reading outside the bounds of each lesson.

Kiz Phonics draws a great deal of its instructional inspiration from programs like Hooked on Phonics, which was one of the first programs to emphasize phonics and phonetics in literacy education. With that being said, the program is also differentiated in several key ways. First and foremost, Kiz Phonics is developed by a 27-member panel of teachers who work daily in reading and language arts education. The program also has the support of several tenured professors of language from around the country.

The Kiz Phonics program, unlike Hooked on Phonics, is available entirely online or through mobile applications. Because the program was developed by people who teach English or ESL to young and adult learners, heavy emphasis is placed on the proper progression through fundamentals, like the alphabet, phonics, pronunciation, sentence structure, and reading techniques. Digital letter, word, and pronunciation charts are also available online and can be printed, making this a great instructional tool for a homeschooling environment as well.

Mr. Nussbaum is a real person with years of experience in childhood literacy education, and the MrNussbaum.com website is a testament to this. The approach taken by this unique online tool, appropriate for children in grades K-8 that combines lessons in reading and literacy with a zeal for research. The Nussbaum approach to literacy education strongly believes that students need to not only learn the basic principles of reading but also employ those principles in everyday tasks.

To that end, students will put their skills to use as they scour real scholarly materials, researching concepts and actively reading in pursuit of a final goal. It's a practical approach that helps students connect theory with practice in a meaningful way for the rest of their lives.

Dating back to 1987, Hooked on Phonics is both one of the oldest and one of the most successful programs for people of all ages who are learning to read. The program has historically focused on early learners, from preschool through the early middle school years, when developing most of its books, DVDs, and other materials. To that end, Hooked on Phonics today is the single most comprehensive tool for parents and teachers who are assisting early learners with phonetics and the most basic concepts of literacy.

Though Hooked on Phonics was started by a father who wanted to teach his son to read, the company has evolved over 30 years into one that involves both parents and teachers. Lessons are designed and revised by a panel of literacy experts, early childhood educators, and actual classroom teachers, in an effort to make them immersive, interactive, and fun. The company most recently turned its series of successful books and DVDs into an interactive web portal and a mobile app, giving students and parents a vast number of digital lessons on virtually every portable device. It remains one of the most highly effective teaching tools in early literacy.

Part of the Learning A-Z family of learning tools, which has been providing at-home and in-school instruction to students since 2002, Headsprout is known for its adaptive approach to early childhood literacy. Unlike many of the company's competitors, which apply a one-size-fits-all approach to learning basic phonetics and reading comprehension methods, Headsprout's software uses an adaptive approach that responds to student answers. If the student needs more time on a concept, Headsprout detects this fact and acts accordingly. Likewise, the software can speed students through concepts that they already know or are grasping with ease.

Headsprout's unique, adaptive approach to teaching reading has produced real results for students both in the home and at school. Furthermore, the company's approach has been validated by peer-reviewed studies, published in many major journals of education, since the software first hit the market over a decade ago. The company's consistent approach to student learning, and its use of algorithms and lesson adaptation, make it a great fit for independent study times and all levels of early learners.

There is one problem that has almost always stopped homeschoolers and budget-weary parents in their tracks: licensing fees for literacy programs. Many of the most popular literacy programs, even those offered primarily for home use, require steep subscription and licensing fees that can eat into family budgets. This makes it hard to review, or to teach, the most basic literacy and reading comprehension concepts with early learners. Reading Bear was founded to put a stop to this problem. All of its literacy and reading comprehension lessons are completely free for home use, making this tool the best option for parents on a tight budget.

Reading Bear, like many other tools, understands the importance of "leveling" its learning programs and providing numerous instructional options to parents. The free service offers its early childhood reading lessons in both video and slideshow formats. In addition, the service offers seven different levels of instruction for each lesson, ranging from a short "review" of the lesson's concepts to a longer, fully immersive lesson for young learners who are either new to the concept or need more time to review before moving on. The ability to choose different instructional methods and levels, in addition to its free price tag, makes Reading Bear a top choice for parents who prefer flexibility and have a tight budget for instructional tools.

One of the things that originally made K5 Learning unique was its founding members: parents. When the company was founded, virtually all literacy tools were marketed exclusively to schools and sold on a "volume license basis," making it nearly impossible for parents and homeschoolers to take advantage. The company’s original mission was to democratize this process, bringing high-end, highly effective phonics and literacy tools to early learners across the country, whether they were at home or at school.

In the two decades that have elapsed since the founding of K5 Learning, the company's reading and basic literacy program has become one of the best options on the market for both schools and homes around the world. In fact, the K5 Learning program in reading was recently named the best such program in the country by a leading educational publication. The program is designed by a coalition of parents, ESL teachers, and literacy experts, along with early childhood educators who design interactive lessons compatible with Internet browsers and mobile devices. As a result, it easily tops the rankings for the best at-home literacy and reading program available to parents in the United States and around the world.