Ultimate Phonics Reading Program – Review

For the past month or so Boo has been using the Ultimate Phonics Reading Program from Spencer Learning to help her learn to read.


spencer learning ultimate phonics reading program

What it is:

Ultimate Phonics Reading Program for Beginning Readers | Review by Running With SpearsThe Ultimate Phonics Reading Program is downloadable software that can be used by everyone in our household. It is designed to teach or strengthen reading skills for everyone from beginning readers to struggling readers of all ages, as well as those with dyslexia and anyone learning English as a second language. It is specifically created with a simple, straightforward design so that it won’t feel little kid-ish if an older child or adult is using the program. It includes 262 lessons that proceed from basic to advanced. For beginning readers, the program is intended to be started once a child knows her letters and some letter sounds. By the end of the final lesson, that child should have the skills necessary to read at an advanced level.

How we use it:

satBoo, who just started first grade, has been using the Ultimate Phonics Reading Program as another tool in her belt to help her learn to read. My plan was to use it to supplement another program that she’s been enjoying,  but we ended up just taking a few weeks off from that and focusing on this so she could start from the beginning and work her way through. They do have a “find” option that we can use to reinforce skills she’s working on in another program, though. For example, she has been working on letter blends with her other program, and I could look up the sets of letter blends she’s focusing on and have her work on words with that letter blend in the Ultimate Phonics Reading Program.

word-listShe’s supposed to review the words in each lesson  herself using the app and then read them out loud to me. Lesson 1 reviewed the letters and their sounds and introduced the sight words a  and the.  Lesson 2 moved on to a set of  24 words for her to sound out and read in sentences by the end of the lesson. This was simply too much for her. She was nowhere near ready to sound out so many words, even right after seeing each of them broken down into individual letters and sounded out. According to the overview from Spencer Learning, the lessons isn’t successfully completed until she can read out loud all the words in the lesson. However, repeating the lesson over and over until such a time (if ever – kidding…I think. Maybe?)  that she could actually read the words felt like it would be overly frustrating and discouraging for her, and as far as me fighting her about doing that, well, I just can’t even. So she went ahead and continued working through the program, hopefully gaining some benefit from working through more and more words, even if she can’t read them herself yet.

What we think:

All in all, this program isn’t really a good fit for Boo right now. She says she enjoys the “stories” (sentences) at the end of the lessons.  I was pleasantly surprised that she didn’t object to the fact that it was purely direct instruction without any cute graphics or stars to earn or anything, though I think she might have enjoyed it more had there been. I think this program would be a better fit for older kids who would appreciate the fact that it didn’t feel like a young child’s reading program. It also seemed to move too quickly for Boo. I think she might  have been able to remember how to sound out the words she was working on if they were presented a couple at a time, rather than so many in one lesson (but then again, maybe not). I think this might be a great resource for kids who have already basically learned to read but are struggling to read well,  or for a child who is really  ready to read and is thus able to pick it up much more quickly than Boo. Boo also seems to benefit from having activities as part of her reading lessons, such as finding all the pictures that begin with the letter blends she’s working on. As the Ultimate Phonics Reading Program doesn’t include any activities, I think Boo and I might be happier if I start truly using it as a supplement, taking advantage of the “find” option to add additional practice to what she’s working on elsewhere.

Be sure to check out what other reviewers are saying over at the Homeschool Review Crew link-up


Free Educational App

Hi guys! Just wanted to throw up a quick post to let you know that the educational app Orphs of the Woodlands at Tangletree that I reviewed back in July (and Artist had a great time playing) is currently FREE in the app store! Yayness! 😀

It’s a fun app without annoying ads or in-game purchases like most of the stuff that you can find for free, so you should totally snag it while you can! I totally would if I didn’t already have it.

Free for back to school - fun, educational app! | Running With Spears

Email for Kids – Review!

My girls love sending and receiving their own emails with our Annual Subscription to KidsEmail.org.


What it is:

Safe email for Kids - KidsEmail.org | Review by Running With Spears #kidsemail #emailforkidsKidsEmail.org is a program designed to give kids a chance to connect with others via email without parents having to worry about their safety! You just set up an email address for your kid and they log in and send and receive mail, but you  get to have control over who they contact (and who contacts them).  There are a bunch of parental controls that you can set for each child such as whether or not you want them to send or receive mail from anyone other than the people on their contact list, if you want your kids to be able to add anyone to their contact list themselves, whether attachments or images are allowed, etc. There seriously wasn’t a single safety issue I could think of that you don’t have the ability to control. There are also free apps available for apple devices, android devices, and kindle fire devices. Wow I just used the word devices a lot! I feel like I should talk about literary devices now. Or coffee devices. Is that a thing? Sorry, I digress.  😉 A few of the other features of KidsEmail.org include optional time restrictions and a GPS tracker with the mobile app that can show you where your kids have been.

How we use it:

KidsEmail - Letting Kids connect through email while Parents keep them safe. | Review by Running With Spears #kidsemail I created an email account for my 9 year old, Artist, selecting the “teen” option which gave her an email address with @kmail  instead of @kidsemail  as well as an older kid look and feel. To start with, I went ahead and turned on most of the safety settings, and then put her dad and myself, my parents, and one friend who also has email as her contacts. She immediately went into her settings and chose a background that she liked, and then started sending a bunch of emails off to everyone.

I also put the app for KidsEmail.org  on her phone, and that quickly became her favorite way to send emails because she could easily attach pictures she took. Soon Boo, who can’t read yet, wanted in on the fun too so I set up an account for her, but this time I selected the “very simple” option  that’s designed for younger kids and has a simplified layout.

What we think:

Safe abd fun email program for Kids - KidsEmail.org | Review by Running With Spears #kidsemail #emailforkidsI’d forgotten how much fun it could be just to send and receive emails. Artist thought it was awesome, and I think my parents were rather tickled, too. I love all the security options. After I gave my parents the contact info for my girls, my Mom sent an email from a different address than I’d added to my girls’ contacts, and I received a notification that someone was attempting to contact my daughter and then was able to approve the message. I loved the ability to personally determine whether the message was safe! Boo loves that she can attach doodles she creates with their paint feature. Artist is excited that she has a way to get in touch with her friend. And having email addresses for my girls came in handy for me because one of the sites we’re using this year for school has an option to send assignments via email. I’m also very happy with the customer service at KidsEmail.org. We ran into a glitch one day and received a very prompt, helpful response! I really love knowing that a company cares about my experience and is happy to help me out if I need them to!

You can try it free to see what you think. I wasn’t sure my girls were even old enough to care about having email, but they love it, and I love that I know they’re safe, so I imagine that when our Annual Subscription  is up, we’ll pay to renew. 🙂

Be sure to check out what other reviewers are saying over at the Homeschool Review Crew link-up


Mom Hack Monday – Dessert

Today’s hack is brought to you by my friend Shelby! She commented on one of my restaurant hack posts, “Feed the kids dinner at home at normal dinner time. About an hour later go out to dinner with the whole family. Dad & mom get dinner, kids get dessert. Everyone’s happy! (bonus points if you get snotty looks or comments from people who think you’re raising spoiled sugarholics! )”

Restaurant with kids hack = Feed the kids dinner at home at normal dinner time. About an hour later go out to dinner with the whole family. Dad & mom get dinner, kids get dessert. Everyone’s happy! | Running With Spears #parenthacksI thought that was just about the most genius idea ever…especially since there are a ton of restaurants that I’d love to go to, but they don’t serve anything all my kids will eat. 😀

She also shared, about my bendy-straw idea, “I always had a small pair of fold-up scissors and cut them down.”

I totally used to do that, but then I decided the bendy-straws worked even better at preventing the whole titled cup spilled lemonade situation…but I really need to still keep scissors with me, too, because the other day I got to a restaurant and realized we’d used up all the straws in my bag and I forgot to add more! Oops!

Thanks for the great hacks, Shelby!

Everybody else, throw your best Mom (or Dad) hacks at me, and I’ll share them soon!

Be sure to check out the hacks I’ve shared so far. I’ll share more tips next Mom Hack Monday in 2 weeks – right now I’m alternating with my family fun night ideas. Sign up to subscribe to my posts via e-mail (there’s a spot on the right sidebar, or below the post if you’re on a mobile device) or follow me on Facebook if you want to be sure to not miss it. 🙂

Family Fun Friday – Exploding Kittens

Games to play with the whole family that are ACTUALLY fun for everyone! | Running With SpearsToday’s game is one of our current favorites because it’s quick, simple and hilarious!

Exploding Kittens is described as “a card game for people who are into kittens and explosions and laser beams and sometimes goats,”  which is a small small taste of the satirical humor you’ll find on the cards. It’s a game of strategy and chance that my 6 year old (who can’t read yet) can play on her own now, after a couple times of being on my team and becoming familiar with the cards. Basically, you draw a card every turn, and when you get an exploding kitten card, unless you can diffuse it, you’re out of the round. There’s enough strategy to make it fun for adults, unlike Uno  or heaven forbid Go Fish  that make me nearly lose my mind with boredom. Of course, the hilarious illustrations and captions on the cards add a lot, as well.

I just saw that there’s an expansion coming out next month, which I’m sure we’ll get! Yay! 😀

Be sure to check out the other games I’ve shared!

I plan to share another game we love next Family Fun Friday – which will probably be in 2 weeks, right now I’m alternating with my “Mom Hacks” posts. Sign up to subscribe to my posts via e-mail (there’s a spot on the right sidebar, or below the post if you’re on a mobile device) or follow me on Facebook if you want to be sure not to miss it. 🙂