Teaching phonics to children has always been a challenging task for parents and formal educators. Over the years, several novel ways of teaching this aspect of the English language have been invented and using these methods, companies have developed phonics programs that promise to accelerate mastery in phonics – for a price. In this article we do a first impression review at 3 phonics programs that have been around for awhile and hopefully provide some useful insights into which programs might work well for you.

This is how the phonics program review was conducted:

  1. A general first impression review of each program’s website. We have made the assumption that a well maintained and modern website is indicative of a company that keeps thing updated in their program as well.
  2. A review of the information detailing the specifics of each program on the assumption that a well articulated method has had more work put into it, as opposed to a method that relies solely on marketing hype to sell product.
  3. A review of 3rd party customer reviews if available. However this would include 3rd party reviews by customers that maintain affiliate links – so buyer beware disclaimers apply.

As of 5 Jan 2019, the links to the respective program sites in this article are not affiliate links. In fact, none will lead you to a “buy it now” page. All opinions on this page are our own.

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Hooked On Phonics Review

The Hooked On Phonics site states that their methods were developed in 1987. A fair bit of information is available throughout the site about the program’s teaching method including video demonstrations. However, subtle marketing information is heavily intertwined with information about the actual program, so reading everything can be somewhat taxing and will require some patience. Nonetheless, the site’s design is easy to navigate, including both a comprehensive FAQ page and product review page with a whole collection of swooning customer reviews and video testimonials. The pages we clicked on did not have infinity scroll style sales funnels so the overall marketing pitch was not pushy or annoying.

Before we go any further, we thought you’d like to know that the company offers a 30 day money back guarantee, although the exact conditions of the money back guarantee were not easy to find on the site.

The Hooked On Phonics Method

There are 2 types of programs to choose from:

  1. The complete kit
  2. The digital only version

Both options come with access to a mobile app that includes videos, interactive games and eBooks. The complete kit also comes with workbooks.

The program itself has 8 levels from Pre-K (children aged 3 to 4 years old) to Second Grade (children aged 7-8 years old) and is built on 4 stages:

  1. Learn new concepts
  2. Practice sound combinations
  3. Reading short stories
  4. Celebrate by earning stars to make progress

The program states that its latest version has material designed to support every style of learning; including auditory physical and visual learning styles. There is a guarantee that the learner will improve by 1 grade level over 30 days – but this would be hard to measure or define (unless a learner actually takes an independent test 30 days apart), so we are not sure how that guarantee works.

Hooked On Phonics Online Reviews

Customer reviews on Amazon and most other websites are generally positive with the various Hooked on Phonics materials generally getting rated between 4 to 5 stars. It must be noted that some related sales on Amazon are for much older materials and not the latest program. The most common issue anyone ever seems to have is that their children did not find some parts of the program exciting or that some games were too easy to complete. We could not find any customer reviews that condemned the whole program which is a good sign, and we found several reviews on 3rd party sites that claimed this program was the best thing they had ever tried with all their kids, at least as far as learning to read was concerned.

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Zoo-phonics Review

As we researched this program, the first thing that we realised was that many local childcare centres and play schools have incorporated the word “Zoo” in their business names. As far as we could tell, most of these are not related to the Zoo-phonics program.  So a search on Google may return several unrelated hits and not the main program website, which you can find here.

The website is easy to navigate and information is fairly abundant and easy to read, with little to no market pitches thrown in to the main content. By this we mean that obviously some marketing content exists, but that it has been separately included in sections of the site and on each page, so you don’t find yourself getting unexpectedly hit with an annoying advertorial message. The home page has a introductory video that lasts less than 3 minutes, which is a good length. The site also includes a Research page where they have published results of independent research detailing the success of the program.

According to the website, this program has developmental roots dating back to 1983 and was so successful that a Spanish version was developed in 1994. The developers behind the program seem to have (very) heavy weight credentials in the field of education and state that their methods have been tried and tested to be proven in the field. After reading the “About Us” page of on the site, it left us with the impression that the program developers clearly knew what they were doing and were driven with a strong sense of purpose and passion.

The website states a clear returns policy that is not exactly 100%, but its condition were pretty reasonable nonetheless.

The Zoo-phonics Method

Our general first impression of the site was very positive as above, but when we tried to review information about the actual program methods, we were not very thrilled. There is actually some information on the “About Us” page about how materials are designed and what Zoo-phonics is all about, but it is not structured or organised and readers will find themselves facing a wall of bullet points to go through, which we found to be frustrating. If the detailed information we were looking for is on the website somewhere, it is not easy or intuitive to find. Since this is a first impressions review, after spending about 1 to 2 minutes looking for program and material details (which is already too long by real world standards!) we gave up. It would have been great if they had a “About Zoo-phonics product design” page on their front page menu. Nonetheless, at least it was clear that the program and materials being offered were relevant to both teachers and parents teaching children at home. We felt that the products page was well designed with clear indication of prices. Clicking on any product reveals extensive details about what you get when you purchase each item. This way you do eventually get a pretty good idea of what you are purchasing, but only after you click through to the page just before adding something to the cart.

Zoo-phonics Online Reviews

There were just a handful of online reviews for Zoo-phonics products on Amazon, YouTube and some other third party sites. Given the heavy weight background of the product developers, we were not at all surprised that these were all extremely positive. However, one watch out though – before you make any purchase of any Zoo-phonics material online or in stores – you really need to make sure you are buying product from the correct brand and manufacturer. As we have mentioned before, “Zoo” seems to be a popular word to include in brand names that create English learning materials, so it is easy to land on unrelated links to products.

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Explore The Code Review

Of the three phonics program websites we have reviewed in this article, Explore The Code’s website is the most basic, yet it is also the easiest to navigate. Information is clearly laid out and easy to find. There is almost no marketing material anywhere on the site. The site states that they have been around  for more than 30 years. In fact, it also looks like their site was created 30 years ago. We can only hope that their approach to maintaining their online presence is not adopted in their phonics program. The site uses Flash to embed videos and you need to download and enable a Flash plug-in to view videos. We did not download the plug-in to view the videos – since we usually never ever do that any site and Flash is blocked on our browseranyway. This unfortunately meant that we could not view any of the material on the “How It Works” page of the site. A real shame, since everything seemed to be laid out so neatly and nicely!

The Explore The Code Method

Since we did not download the Flash, so we could not view the videos that we think would explain how the material was designed or how it works. There is a small smattering of information around the site about how things were designed and how they work, but these provide little information beyond the usual “peer researched”, “multi sensory” keywords that tend to appear in one form or another on most phonics program sites related to teaching children. You can access a link to view sample pages from workbooks which might help you decide if their products are suitable for you.

If you do decide to make a purchase here, you have 2 options:

  1. Online content
  2. Workbooks

On the purchase page you are presented with options and some information on what you get with each option. We think the information on the purchase price is reasonable given the price of products and subscriptions which should be affordable to most.

Explore The Code Reviews

Online reviews on Amazon for Explore The Code products are generally positive, with reviews ranging between 4 to 5 stars. There was no consistency of complaints in the reviews that gave less than 4 stars, so there is unlikely to be any systemic issues with the materials produced by Explore The Code, which is a good thing. A particular 1 star review in particular seemed to condemn the whole thing but the explanation attached to the 1 star rating did not seem justified at all, at least not to us.

Finally, here’s our conclusion of our review.

Our winners against the 3 factors we described in the introduction:

  1. Based on website first impressions: Our clear winner is Zoo-phonics
  2. Based on information about the program’s design and methods: Our clear winner is Hooked On Phonics
  3. Based on customer reviews: Our clear winner is Explore The Code. We really could not count the reviews for Zoo-phonics because there were too few available online.

Other factors:

Obviously, we formed our own opinions about each company as we did our research and trawled through their sites. We thought we would list some of our thoughts below.

  1. Zoo-phonics materials seem to be the most robust and well designed of the three.
  2. Hooked On Phonics materials seem to be the most accessible on mobile devices and up to date with trending technology use among children.
  3. Explore The Code seems to be the most traditional in material design and development.

In our opinion, if we had to choose 1 program – it would be a toss up between Zoo-phonics and Hooked On Phonics. We would generally not consider Explore The Code materials, because we did not see anything on the site that led us to believe that their materials are drastically different from materials and books we can get in local bookstores.

Have you tried any of these programs or purchased any of their materials? If yes, we would love to hear from you, please feel free to leave a comment below.

Brought to you by the KidsEnglishCollege™ Editorial Team.

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