Can Parents Use Computer Programs for Struggling Readers?

March 19, 2021

Computer Programs for Struggling Readers

There are many ways parents can help struggling readers at home. However, some parents may want professional resources to better guide their child’s lessons and help them progress. While some children may qualify for additional reading intervention at school, others might not. This may lead parents to try to help narrow the perceived learning gap for their child.

Private tutors and reading specialists may be an option for parents, but the cost of private intervention may be financially restrictive for those on a tighter budget. Parents may consider online reading programs. Can parents use computer programs for struggling readers?

Yes! Reading programs could be beneficial for children who have reading struggles and who need extra guidance at home. Here are features that parents might consider when researching online reading programs and apps that are marketed for struggling readers.

Is the Program Research-Based?

Parents should feel confident that the program they choose for their child will help them with their reading struggles. Some children have difficulty sounding out words (phonics), but others struggle to understand the meanings behind the story (comprehension). A reading program could be designed for readers struggling with one or both of these areas of reading.

However, parents shouldn’t assume that the app or program will meet their child’s needs. Programs should be research-based and many programs adhere to structured literacy, which was designed as “…phonics-based, systematic, explicit, and highly structured, with multisensory elements to help learners retain the concepts that eluded them.”

Computer Programs for Struggling Readers

Is the Program Engaging?

When children end their school time, they typically want to have some down time. Many kids have some homework at night, and teachers often assign reading as a nightly assignment. Reading for 15 to 20 minutes at home is not an uncommon request from teachers. Reading programs on the computer or via a device may count towards these minutes.

However, children may be more motivated to log onto these programs if the content is engaging. When reading at home, many children select books they love or those in which they have interest. Reading programs have stories geared towards lessons; that is, stories are meant to help children gain proficiency.

These stories should still be engaging, though. Look for programs that keep kids interested in lessons with interactive features, colorful illustrations and compelling content. When children struggle to read, they still want books that are interesting and that feature their interests. A 9-year-old, for example, probably doesn’t want to read a story that was written for a child in first grade. Stories should be at the child’s reading level but written for the appropriate age of the child.  

What is the Family Rule on Screen Time?

Some families have hard limitations regarding screen time outside of school. Today’s kids spend hours staring at a screen, and many school districts utilize one-to-one computing with every child having their own laptop. Lessons are via online portals, and physical textbooks may be nonexistent.

As so much time now revolves around screens and devices, parents may be hesitant to sign up for a program that requires the child to spend more time online or looking at a screen. Screen time limitations vary by each family. Some may be fine with additional screen time if it’s for educational purposes. Other families may feel that more screen time is not in the child’s best interest.

Families who are concerned about screen time may do more research about online reading programs. Find out how much time the child will be using the app or program each day. While the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t offer precise limitations on the screen time for older children, staring at the screen shouldn’t get in the way of other healthy activities like eating, physical activity and sleep.

What’s the Cost?

Some families may look into computer programs for struggling readers as they may be more affordable than hiring a private tutor or a reading specialist. Parents may look at their monthly budget to see how much they can allocate for a reading program.

When researching programs that are a good fit for a child, parents need to understand all the costs associated with the program. Some may be a monthly subscription. Others could be a one-time fee. Understand cancellation policies, too. Parents may discover that the program isn’t a good fit or maybe the program just isn’t easy to navigate.

Parents also may need to attach a payment method to their account as some programs may automatically debit the fees each month.  Be sure to research the payment obligations of each program before signing up.

Look for Measurable Results

When signing up for a computer reading program for their child, parents will want to know if it’s working. How can parents view their child’s progress?

Understanding the effectiveness of a program helps parents understand if it’s helping their child. Ideally, reading programs should offer a tool within the program where parents can view their child’s progress and program data.

Readability, for example, provides a Parent Dashboard. This tool can only be viewed by parents and includes data on the child’s reading level, program progress and information on how long their child used the app. Parents can use this data to better understand the impact of the program on their child’s reading progress.

Parents may want to keep in contact with the child’s teacher to check in about progress at school. While seeing progress on the reading program can help ensure parents that the program is beneficial, ultimately parents want to see their child improve at school, too. Many schools test reading skills regularly via standardized tests; parents can talk to their child’s teacher about their child’s scores.

What About Free Programs?

Some apps or programs may cost nothing to download. Parents may use these programs to help their child. As with all programs, though, parents may wish to research the program to understand features and if it is a good fit for their child’s needs.

Free apps or programs also could have other costs. If the program is a game format, there could be In-App purchase options. If parents don’t wish to let their child make purchases within an app, they may need to update their preferences.

Sometimes a program also provides a free trial. These no-cost trial periods can be useful in helping parents decide if the program is right for their child. Parents may still need to attach a payment method when signing up for a free trial. Make sure to read any cancellation policies when signing up for a free trial. Sometimes the account may be billed if parents don’t cancel within a certain time period. Again, be sure to understand all the terms of the free trial agreement.

Computer Programs for Struggling Readers

How Else Can Parents Help With Reading?

Even if parents decide to use a computer reading program, they can still encourage additional reading practice. The more a child reads, the more confident they may become with reading.

For children who may not love reading, parents can find unique ways to make reading an adventure. Build a reading fort out of pillows or drape a blanket over chairs to create a special reading nook. Let children choose the books they read, but talk to teachers about what reading level is best for the child. If a child is reading the book independently, parents may want to make sure the book isn’t at a reading level that is too difficult.

Parents also could take turns reading to their child. Parents can read one page and children can read the next page. Or parents and kids can take turns reading chapters. Talk about the book while reading. Ask ‘wh’ questions to gauge comprehension.

If the book has been made into a movie, parents might consider watching it with children after they finish the book. Sometimes the big-screen adaptation is very different from the book. Ask children how the book differed from the movie. What elements of the story remained the same in the movie?

Of course, parents also can ask the child’s teacher for additional enrichment materials to help with at-home instruction for reading. Teachers may be able to recommend sites that include reading worksheets or provide additional resources to parents. Some schools provide parents with login information that they can use at home for educational games or programs.

Start a Free Trial

Parents who are ready to start their child on a computer reading program may wonder how to get started. Readability makes it easy for parents to start a free trial. With a Readability free trial, parents and their child have access to the program for seven days. A free trial can help parents determine if the program is a good fit for their child. Ready to sign up for a free trial? Get started today!