As a reading specialist and university instructor I am often asked to find and evaluate the best phonics programs as well as to locate those with the best free phonics lessons for families.
Here is a comparison of five of the largest sites which claim to have the best free phonics lessons (some have both free and paid phonics programs included) and I have rated each as follows:
One star is given for the websites with the best free phonics lessons which are least effective and five stars represents the websites with the best overall phonics program who also have the best free phonics lessons.
There are pros and cons to each of these websites with the best free phonics lessons but ultimately one phonics program stands out as the clear leader.
This phonics program ranks five out of five stars because it is the most comprehensive, has most scientifically evidence-based phonics instructional method, uses sequentially guided instruction and has several of the best free phonics lessons as well.
Here are the sites with the best free phonics lessons and their ratings:
1. PrintableReadingGames.com ? 1 of 5 stars for Best Free Phonics Lessons
I visited this site expecting to find the best free phonics lessons that I searched for online.
While I did find a few phonics and reading games such as Printable Magic E phonics game in Reading Room One, there is no instructor, nothing sequential, and no comprehensive program to direct me, a parent or a teacher through the lessons one sees in any bonafide phonics program with free lessons.
There were a few printables on this site along with their version of the best free phonics lessons and a store.
As I searched around the site I came to Reading Room Two hoping to find a the best free phonics lessons and some type of guided program which told me where to begin and how this would best help a child. I also wanted some of of the best free phonics lessons which would align with any state’s curriculum standards, but could find no evidence of the comprehensive beginning, middle and ending lessons in phonics.
Unfortunately, what I did find was a page full of what appeared to be clickable links to what were supposed to be the best free phonics lessons, but instead were actual clickable advertising words disguised as best free phonics lessons and they led to unrelated sites.
For example, on this page, http://www.printablereadinggames.com/room2/index.html I clicked on the word printable and clicked through to a technology site with an electronic tablet on it from Samsung.
Overall, this site has a few best free phonics lessons which you can use for practice, but generally it is a site which places contextual ads on their key words leading off site to unrelated websites when you click on them.
This is certainly not a site I would recommend with the best free phonics lessons.
2. Starfall.com ? ? 2 of 5 Stars for Best Free Phonics Lessons
Starfall has a myriad of pages with the best free phonics lessons for each grade and is the brainchild of the Polis-Schutz family, i.e. BlueMountain Greeting cards, etc.
Admittedly, this is a good site with many of the best free phonics lessons, but as a reading specialist I found the lack of a personalized instructor and generalized instructions to be inappropriate to teach children to learn to read as it claims.
The biggest question I had was where to begin once on the site. In other words, how would I know where to find the best free phonics lessons for my child and which of those lessons is the best place to begin?
I found something akin to chaotic instruction on this site claiming to have the best free phonics lessons. There were no sequential reading instructions which I would expect to find as a parent or a reading specialist. I could not locate any type of diagnostic tools which a a site claiming to teach children to read would have.
Unfortunately, there is no way to keep track of your child’s progress, no way to determine which letters or sounds your child has difficulty on or masters, and little input except for a short set of instructions for the parent or teacher.
Parents are told to start their children on the ABC’s and when you click on any letter, such as A, you see the letter “A”, with the long sound like “a” store, in both upper and lower case, as well as an arrow which also gives you the corresponding short “a” sound as in apple.
The act of putting the names and sounds of a single letter together (A, a) during the same exercise with both short and long sounds, can actually hinder a child’s progress in reading because it is confusing.
Higher quality instruction programs with the best free phonics lessons use the sound of the single letters until the child knows that sun, sound, silly, snake, etc. begin with the sound “sssss” and the child begins to make the connection that “S” makes the “ssss” sound. This is called sound-symbol association.
In addition, once a child masters one letter sound and moves on to the next, you want to build on and reinforce the previous instruction with more of the best free phonics lessons. This does not occur on Starfall’s website that I could find.
As a reading specialist, I would not use this site because of the clear lack of scientifically programmed lessons and the confusion that this type of unguided instruction generates. Unfortunately, I cannot say it has the best free phonics lessons.
The specific instructions on the page say, “Have your child click on any letter. The order (of the letters) doesn't matter. Your child will come to recognize the relationship between letters and sounds. “This is called the "Alphabetic Principle," the foundation of phonics,” claims the website.
In my experience as a reading specialist, children need specific guidance with on or offline programs and assuming they will simply ‘come to understand’ the relationship between letters and sounds by playing around at will on a site, is nothing short of poor quality and inadequate advice for learning phonics in a guided, precise method.
The best free phonics lessons on Starfall’s site may in fact be free, but in the end, your child will not master phonics in a research based or scientifically backed program. In this case, free is simply free and certainly not the best free phonics lessons available.
3. Jumpstart.com ? ? ? 3 of 5 Stars for Best Free Phonics Lessons
Jumpstart is a membership site with virtual games for teaching learning with 3D adventures in the process.
In the demo for the best free phonics lessons there is a section with multiple real world learning possibilities.
Using the newspaper, your child chooses a letter of the day, circles as many as he or she can find on a page, then moves on to flash cards, matching upper and lower case letters, uses food to paste onto the letters, heads for the mall to find that letter in signs, and finds even more of that letter along the drive to the mall.
Each child gets to choose their own “Jumpy” character, dressing the character with clothing, eye and hair color of their choice. This character leads them through the different adventures in learning on the site.
While I could not go further into the site without purchasing a monthly membership for between $7.99 and $149.00 for a life-time membership it is obvious that the site makes use of fun and games with technology to help kids learn which is certainly positive in the world of the best free phonics lessons.
I had a lot more questions and discovered that the site does have email and telephone support. Although I tried calling on July 5th during normal business hours to find out more about the foundations and science behind their phonics program, I was told they were closed.
The fact that there are a number of "expert names" written on the site connected to the best free phonics lessons is good, but none of those names had background information which did not inspire my confidence so this site does not get my highest recommendation for the best free phonics lessons.
4. Time4Learning.com ? ? ? ? 4 of 5 Stars for Best Free Phonics Lessons
Time4Learning website offers what they refer to as the best free phonics lessons in their demo.
The software they use on the site is excellent, and the lessons that I previewed showed me a green snake slithering along, seeing a mouse, monkey and moose saying that he had stumbled upon the “m” sound.
The lesson demo was a letter-sound correspondence, which is a great start in the best free phonics lessons but I was unable to determine how the rest of the phonics program functioned without becoming a paying monthly member of their site.
What I did see in place on the site for best free phonics lessons was Compass Learning Odyssey software which I am familiar with as a teacher for keeping track of student progress and test scores.
This means there is automated grading to each lesson and printable reports, thus telling me that their best free phonics lessons, which lead to a monthly membership site for which you pay $19.95 per month is most likely a quality program which has most or all of the features and benefits you want from a phonics program as well as some of the best free phonics lessons.
5. ClickNKIDS.com ? ? ? ? ? 5 of 5 Stars for Best Free Phonics Lessons
In my opinion as a reading specialist, learning expert and University Instructor, ClickN READ Phonics® is by far the best phonics program which also happens to come with the best free phonics lessons in order to try the program out before purchase.
This phonics program and best free phonics lessons is head and shoulders above all the others I evaluated and certainly has the best free phonics lessons along with the best phonics program.
What is very telling to me in terms of validity is that is ClickN READ® Phonics has teamed up with Warner Bros. and created Looney Tunes™ ClickN READ Phonics®, based on the original ClickN READ Phonics® program.
This is the only time in history that Warner Bros. has allowed a licensee to create a new Looney Tunes Character, Professor Wizbot.
Wizbot is created to speak in perfect English in both the best free phonics lessons which are introductory as well as in the paid version.
ClickN READ Phonics® online phonics program has what no other program with the best free phonics lessons has:
1. There is a sequentially based and very detailed set of phonics lessons in the proper order, so any parent or teacher will know where to begin. The entire K-3 curriculum in phonics is covered making it comprehensive.
2. The parent or teacher gets progress reports after each lesson and unlike other interactive phonics programs, no answers are given away. Your child must discover the correct answer on his own while the instructor says things like, “Try again.” This is certainly the best of the best free phonics lessons, and the best any parent or teacher would want in the best phonics program for their child.
3. Each child is compared with other children using the program giving a standardized ranking. This helps whether the child is homeschooled or in a regular classroom. Other phonics programs with the best free phonics lessons cannot come close to this.
4. The parent or teacher is notified precisely where the child may be struggling – such as on the silent letter “e”. This is especially important when your child is learning phonics.
5. Since the program is online the child may want to score a 100% rather than a 70% or 80% and thus can repeat any lesson until they achieve the score they want.
6. Remarkably, ClickN READ Phonics® is used in over 5,000 schools. Online phonics programs have an advantage over paper and pencil programs in that children are learning to use technology at the same time. In this program both a virtual keyboard and regular computer keyboard is used.
According to the ClickN KIDS website the program qualifies for both No Child Left Behind and Reading First Funding as well. This speaks volumes and means a site really does have not only the best free phonics lessons, but the highest quality phonics program as well.
ClickN READ Phonics® has a sound scientific basis and is was derived by J. Ron Nelson, Ph.D. from the extant research literature on effective reading instruction as reviewed and summarized by the National Reading Panel (NICHD, 2000), and qualifies for NCLB and Reading First funding.
7. There are no cd’s to break, pages to tear out, and the program is completely online. Your child progresses at his or her own rate. You can use ClickN READ Phonics® or Looney Tunes ClickN READ Phonics® from any computer in the world.
8. There are support forums and quick customer support. I called their office on July 5th, and spoke with Denise who was very knowledgeable and easily answered all my questions about the background on the phonics curriculum, how the instructors handle right and wrong answers, as well as more information about Looney Tunes™ ClickN READ Phonics® which utilizes the ClickN READ Phonics® programs, and much more.
9. ClickN READ Phonics® keeps kids entertained in an exciting and fun environment, while directing their learning at the same time.
For example, the character ClickN KIDS dog is the teacher who provides not only fun and laughter, but interactive instruction at the same time. I was completed engaged in the best free phonics lessons!
10. Finally, the instruction in this program was created by a reading expert, Ron Nelson, Ph.D. with complete information about his background. On this site, it was easy to determine who created the best free phonics lessons as well as the entire program, and on other sites claiming to have the best free phonics lessons this information was missing or very hard to locate.
As a parent, teacher or reading specialist it is critical that you have an expert guiding your child through phonics. Dr. Nelson is precisely the person you want teaching your child phonics because he set the program up to guide users in a logical and scientifically-based method.
Your child is guided just as if there is a live instructor in the room, and every word the instructor speaks both in ClickN READ Phonics® and Looney Tunes™ ClickN READ Phonics® is in perfect English.
What’s more there are user guides available in multiple languages so both the best free phonics lessons and the regular phonics programs can also be used in ESL classes to help children learn to speak English.
The old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ certainly applies in the online world of best free phonics lessons.
For the most part, the best free phonics lessons were not really the “best” at all until I reviewed high quality sites like ClickNKids.com, at which point it was obvious even their best free phonics lessons were indicative of the best online phonics program.
While parents and teachers can certainly make use of some of the best free phonics lessons available online, it is important to know that there are no best free phonics lessons which cover the entire K-3 curriculum in phonics.
As a reading specialist who has taught thousands of children to read, I recommend that you give your child the best phonics program when teaching them to read.
A comprehensive and scientifically proven program, which has the backing of the US Department of Education and Reading First such as ClickN READ Phonics® or Looney Tunes™ ClickN READ Phonics® gets my highest recommendation and you can skip over those who claim to have the best free phonics lessons.
Pat Wyman is America’s Most Trusted Learning Expert, University Instructor of Education at California State University, East Bay in California, best selling author, an award-winning Delta Kappa Gamma Society International reading specialist for 30 years and founder of HowToLearn.com
She specializes in learning styles, learning strategies for a lifetime as well as evaluating numerous educational and reading programs including online and offline phonics programs, and the best free phonics lessons.
Posted by +Pat Wyman, author and founder of HowToLearn.com