By Chris Colin
Not all reading software must be installed on your computer — more and more websites are popping up, letting kids do their reading online. Starfall.com offers four separate programs, each with their own activities to facilitate reading in kindergarten-age children. In "Ten Little Snowmen," kids follow written instructions for building an animated snowman. In "Four Leaf Clover," they click on animals when prompted.
The bottom line: Starfall's fun, free games can help teach reading.
Clifford Interactive Storybooks
When you're exploring a new realm — like reading — there's sometimes comfort in a familiar face. If your kids are Clifford the Big Red Dog fans, they'll enjoy this straightforward series of online, interactive stories. By selecting a word, choosing a missing letter, or matching a sound, the reader gets to advance the plot of these simple Clifford tales. They're brief but well done.
The bottom line: Clifford's big, lovable mug guides kids in online word games.
Reader Rabbit: Learn to Read With Phonics
Windows & Mac, $20
An early-reading program populated by a handful of animated characters dedicated to making phonics fun. Kids can follow a regimented word-for-every-letter routine or else explore a variety of activities at their own pace. Reading is taught via sounding words out and memorizing sight words.
The bottom line: Don't like dogs? Try a rabbit.
Phonics & Reading Excelerator
Windows & Mac, $20
The four-disc CD-ROM set weaves phonic rules, consonant sounds, short and long vowels, and other key concepts into a collection of entertaining activities. Kids eventually move up to synonyms and homonyms, creative thinking skills, and writing proficiency.
The bottom line: An extensive collection of phonics-based activities.
Language Tune-Up Kit
Windows, $79 to $129
This multimedia CD-ROM was designed for children 6 and older, reading at a preschool to fourth-grade reading level. Phonics is at the heart of the approach, using the so-called Orton-Gillingham method. Users automatically start at the appropriate first lesson after taking a simple placement test.
The bottom line: This scrappy software package can boost your youngster's reading skills.
Online, $80 for classroom license
Interactive e-books have proven useful for some new and struggling readers, and this website offers a wide array of titles — kids can listen to an audio reading while making their way through the text. Online quizzes are available too. You must subscribe to access the books.
The bottom line: A hefty subscription fee gets you access to instructional content.