A couple of months ago, my almost-6-year-old son started using Headsprout – a Web-based reading program aimed at the K-2 crowd. We’ve been really happy with my son’s progress. He’s just about completed the first 40 lessons and is getting really good at reading words that contain syllables taught by the program and confident at attempting to sound-out words he’s never seen before. It’s pretty amazing.

Headsprout is a Flash-based program that “runs” in your browser. As the student works through a lesson, the program seamlessly adapts to how successful they are with correctly completing goals. I’ve watched as the program figures out that my son needs some reinforcement on an idea and “goes remedial” for a bit before returning to the regular flow of the lesson.

Lessons are animated “games” that make the repetition and learning of new words/syllables fun. Success within a segment of the lesson earns a short animated sequence. The animation and sound are of good quality and my 3-year-old even enjoys watching her brother complete lessons as if it’s a cartoon on TV.

About a week after signing up, we received a packet from Headsprout containing some informational literature, some color soft-cover books that the child will be able to read after completing key lessons, and a nice progress map for your child to use to show how many lessons they’ve completed. Many of the episodes include digital books that you can download and print once a lesson has been completed. These books highlight skills that your child has learned on the most recent lesson and help to increase their confidence. There are also flash cards that you can print out after many episodes that help to reinforce new skills.

During many of the episodes, I’d watch as my son interacted with the program, so I had a good idea of what he’d learned and what words/syllables he should be capable of reading. Parents receive progress emails and the ability to check their child’s progress online so that I could check things out when I didn’t watch him complete a lesson.

I had a lot of questions before signing up for the program and Headsprout pre-sales support was pretty good at fielding my questions. In hopes of helping someone else figure out what Headsprout is about:

What do I get when I pay for Headsprout?
With Headsprout, you don’t install any program on your computer. You run Headsprout by connecting to their site with your Web browser. Each episode takes 20-30 min to complete. You can only re-play the most recent episode, but it turns out that that’s a reasonable constraint – each lesson builds on the previous and there’s little reason to repeat an episode once completed. Since you’re not tied to a specific computer/installation, your child can work through a lesson at the grandparents or wherever you have internet access.

Can I re-use Headsprout with my other children?
No. Think of Headsprout as more of a reading tutor than a program or a game. Headsprout tunes itself to one student. They do, however, offer a 50% discount for additional learners in the same household.

We’ve been really happy with the program. Questions to support are answered promptly. There’s a nice level of polish to the program itself and the resources (both provided and printable).