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If you’re looking for an educational app for your child, our Hooked on Phonics vs ABC Mouse (now known as Adventure Academy) comparison might be just the thing you’re looking for. From picking a nutritious formula to choosing the best toys, there are lots of ways in which parents can support their child’s learning – and therefore, there are lots of decisions to be made.
Modern parents have the advantage of technology, and the two programs we’re looking at today use apps and games to educate your child. But which one is better? Straight away, we can tell you that both apps are really fun – but there are some issues that parents have had with Adventure Academy that makes us lean towards Hooked on Phonics as our top choice.
If you’re interested to know more, keep reading – we tested them both out, so we’ve got the inside scoop on how they work. First, let’s look at the differences between them.
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Main Differences Between Hooked on Phonics vs Adventure Academy
The main differences between Hooked on Phonics vs Adventure Academy are:
- Hooked on Phonics is cheaper per month, whereas Adventure Academy is more expensive
- Hooked on Phonics focuses just on phonics and reading, whereas Adventure Academy teaches phonics and reading, math, science, and social studies
- Hooked on Phonics has a simpler interface, whereas Adventure Academy’s interface is more like a videogame
- Hooked on Phonics doesn’t allow your child to play with their friends, whereas Adventure Academy does
- Hooked on Phonics is aimed at kids aged 2-8, whereas Adventure Academy is aimed at kids aged 8-13
- Hooked on Phonics doesn’t offer much customization, whereas Adventure Academy allows your child to customize their avatar, unlock new items, and so on
The main thing to consider is that Hooked on Phonics is a much simpler platform. You’ll find navigating Hooked on Phonics to be really easy, and they don’t offer much extra content other than games and songs. They also focus on phonics and reading.
Adventure Academy, meanwhile, is more like a videogame, but it’s much more engaging for older kids. The characters and setting are very engaging, and the activities are more suitable for kids aged 8 and over. Your child can also talk to friends using Adventure Academy, too. This is reflected in the pricing, with Hooked on Phonics being the cheaper option.
- They both have activities for toddlers all the way through to school-aged kids.
- They both have fun games that are engaging and encourage repetition.
- They both have a variety of levels depending on your child’s age and ability.
- They both work on multiple devices and allow you to have three children in one account.
What is Hooked on Phonics?
Hooked on Phonics is a reading program used by teachers and parents (at the time of writing, it has been used by over five million families). It combines digital learning as well as books and workbooks. With Hooked on Phonics, you get access to an app that synchronizes across all your devices. You also have the option of purchasing workbooks and storybooks. It’s designed for children aged 2-8, or those reading between a Pre-K, Kindergarten, 1st Grade and 2nd Grade level.
What is ABCMouse? (Now, Adventure Academy)
Adventure Academy is an online learning platform for kids. Launched in 2019 by the same company that developed ABCMouse (another online interactive learning app), it has over 4,000 activities and games to choose from, and children can play with their friends in a safe online environment.
It has four main areas: reading, math, science, and social studies. Adventure Academy is digital-only meaning you won’t have the option to buy workbooks. It’s designed for kids aged 8-13.
Hooked on Phonics – Main Features
Hooked on Phonics uses a four-step process to help you teach your children how to read. The steps are as follows:
- Learn – fun videos, songs, and interactive activities are used to introduce children to brand new concepts.
- Practice – kids can practice skills using activities, puzzles, games, and Practice Packs, which allow them to practice their writing skills.
- Read – children can read physical books and eBooks that are specifically designed to draw on the skills they’ve been learning.
- Celebrate – kids and parents can celebrate success using stickers, in-app rewards, and certificates.
You can register up to three children with your Hooked on Phonics account.
There are 8 levels in the program. You don’t have to complete the whole thing – you could follow it from the start, or you could use it to reinforce what your child is already learning at school.
The Phonics App
The app is available for Apple and Android devices, as well as on desktop or Amazon devices. Once it’s downloaded, you can use it offline.
Once you load up the phonics app, you’ll have two choices – Pre-reader World and Learn to Read World.
The animations are super-bright and colorful, and the songs are really catchy – it’s easy to see that it will appeal to young kids. We created a test account (for ‘Rosie’) to take a look at how it works.
Children are introduced to a new concept (in this case, the sound ‘A’ in the ‘Pre-Reader World’ level).
Then, they will be presented with some easy games to further reinforce this (in this case, they’ll be asked to drag objects beginning with the ‘A’ sound into the picture frame).
‘Learn to Read World’ is a little more complex, with children learning new sounds and concepts (for example, words ending in ‘-at’ or other word alphabet combinations). They’ll be introduced to a wider variety of games, too.
At any time, you can access books, games, songs, and rewards for each level. Your child will be rewarded with gifts (like in-app stickers, and a certificate when they get to the end of their level).
The downside is that the app can take some time to load when switching between learning activities. It also crashed once while we were testing it, which may be down to the device we were using to test it. Some parents have had the same issue here, and it may be that as the app is updated, it will start to run less smoothly on older devices.
However, it’s a fun app with a good variety of activities – enough to keep your child occupied without them getting bored.
Adventure Academy – Main Features
Adventure Academy focuses on four areas of learning:
- Social Studies
You can register up to three children using your ABCMouse account.
There are ten levels in the program. Just like Hooked on Phonics, you can choose the level depending on your child’s age.
The app is available for Android and Apple devices, as well as on desktop.
Upon downloading the app, you’ll have to skip through a few upsells and a survey. A minor thing, but worth mentioning. You’ll also have to set up a parent account, as well as an account for your child. You can choose the level of difficulty as follows:
- Beginner (ages 7-8)
- Intermediate (ages 8-10)
- Advanced (ages 10-12)
It feels more customizable than Hooked on Phonics. For example, your child can choose their academic interests, which will tailor some of the content towards what they already want to learn. The avatar customization section is great – your child can pick their face shape, eye color, skin tone, hair, and clothes. There’s enough choice here to allow your child to make an avatar that looks just like them, which is nice. The music is great – the app is themed around quests and adventures, and it feels suitably exciting and dramatic without being too annoying to listen to! It feels more like a videogame than the Hooked on Phonics app. You can move your character around to speak to other characters to receive quests. There is a short tutorial on how to move around and look in different directions before the main quests start. It looks beautiful – it’s engaging enough to keep older kids occupied whilst being simple for younger ones to navigate. Your child can move their character around the Academy to find a kiosk, which gives them access to learning activities: Quest activities are clearly marked at the top, with optional lessons, activities, and books below. Each lesson is presented in the form of a short, cute cartoon to give your child a basic rundown of each concept, with related activities for them to complete. Activities earn your child coins, which allows them to unlock new items. They’ll also get XP, which allows them to level up. If they level up enough, they can unlock a house for their avatar. Adventure Academy is pretty generous when it comes to giving your child rewards for completing tasks, which is great to keep them motivated. The underlying story is engaging too. As well as the lessons, your child can choose from a range of activities.
The games are fun and simple to understand, with a variety of subjects to choose from. Your child can pick their favorite activities so they can easily find them again if they want to. They’ll also have access to a variety of books that are easy to read using the app. It’s a fun app, though, and the customization is great – it will give children a sense of ownership, which is nice. It can be a bit buggy at times (for example, not responding when things are clicked on – this happened a few times while we tested it).
This is such a shame as the app feels very innovative but may put a child off if they keep running into problems. We fixed it by leaving the area and coming back again, but it’s annoying that it happened more than once. It slowed down a couple of times too (especially upon first opening the app) which may have something to do with the device we were testing it on – you can check out the minimum device requirements below: The downside is that it may be a little too engaging. Kids may become distracted by chatting to their friends, wandering around the Academy, etc, and may not spend time actually doing the activities as much as you’d like them to.
The Hooked on Phonics app subscription has three levels
This allows you to use the app for 30 days.
This gives you access to the app for one year.
This gives you lifetime access to the app.
Extras: Reading Book and Worksheet Bundles
The workbooks and reading books come at an additional cost beyond the reading app. For example, the Ultimate Learn to Read Book Bundle with Hooked on Spelling, Reading Fun Pack, and Lifetime App Access bundle comes in at $289.99, and gives you lifetime access to the app, 36 books, 8 workbooks, 8 DVDs, video streaming, stickers, flashcards, and a reading book fun pack.
If your budget won’t stretch to that, or you don’t need access to the whole program, you can choose to buy individual practice pack addons for your child’s level ($6 each) or a storybook and workbook bundle ($31.99). You can see all the options on their store.
They offer a 30-day money-back guarantee, so if you don’t like the reading or phonics program or find it doesn’t suit your child, you can apply for a full refund.
If you download the app first via Google Play or the Apple App Store, you can try a free 7-day trial. The website doesn’t advertise this, but you can find out more about their pricing here.
Monthly – $12.99 per month This gives you access to the full program, which you can cancel at any time. Subscription Offer – $59.99 per year This gives you access to a year’s subscription but works out a lot cheaper in the long run – it’s the equivalent of 7 months free if you pay for a year in one go. There is one major downside to the Adventure Academy platform according to reviewers, and that is that they sometimes charge parents despite canceling their subscription. It’s also difficult to get a response from customer services. It’s not an issue for parents who try out and love the platform, of course, but the option to cancel should be simple and stress-free. Some parents have also found that they were not able to take advantage of the Subscription Offer if they signed up for the free trial, and were only given the option after the trial to go for the monthly program (this isn’t made clear on signing up). We managed to cancel our free trial easily, but other parents have had issues – if you do cancel at any point, it’s worth checking your bank account to make sure payments aren’t still being taken. You can try their free trial for 30 days – find out more here.
Awards and Parent Reviews
Hooked on Phonics
Parents have positive things to say about Hooked on Phonics, with some saying it made supporting their child’s learning process much easier. Some parents use it for home schooling, with good results. Most found that their children stayed engaged enough to complete the whole program but felt that it was a much better experience with the workbooks, which come at an extra cost.
A few parents have had issues with the app since it updated, finding that it was slower to run and crashed more often. However, these experiences do seem to be in the minority, with more parents finding that the app runs with no problems.
Adventure Academy has won a few awards, including the NAPPA (National Parenting Product Awards) and the American Business Award. It was also a Webby Award nominee. Parents were positive about the program itself, finding their kids were very engaged with it. There are a lot of negative reviews about pricing and not being able to cancel. Some parents also felt frustrated with the glitches, which put their child off playing it, as well as the distracting nature of the platform itself.
Pros and Cons
Hooked on Phonics
- The songs are catchy
- The animations are colorful and eye-catching
- The games are fun and encourage repetition to reinforce concepts
- Children are rewarded with stickers and certificates
- The accompanying workbooks and practice packs are fun to use
- The workbooks and storybooks are expensive if you want to buy the whole program
- Some parents had issues with the app crashing on older devices
- Great for older kids
- Feels like a videogame
- Kids can connect with their friends
- Huge array of games and activities
- Lots of rewards to encourage kids to come back and play again
- No workbooks or print books
- Some parents had issues with glitches
- Some parents were charged even after canceling their subscription
Answer: No, not at this time.
Answer: Parts of it can be played offline, but you won’t be able to access certain features (like chatting or playing with friends).
Answer: Hooked on Phonics is recommended for ages 2 and up. ABCMouse can be used by toddlers aged 18 months or above.
Conclusion – Which Program is Better?
In terms of features and innovation, Adventure Academy is better. It covers more subjects, it has tons of games and extra activities, and it has a lot of personalization which kids will love. It’s a more ‘grown up’ game than Hooked on Phonics, and the option to play with friends is great. Although it’s more expensive, we do think that is understandable given the scope of the game and how much effort has been put into making it look as good as it does. However, we think that if we had to choose, we’d go for Hooked on Phonics. It has catchy songs and fun games, which is great. Being a simpler app has some advantages – it’s a ‘calmer’ app that is easier to navigate – but it definitely falls short of Adventure Academy in terms of sheer amount of content.
However, so many parents have had issues with billing and subscriptions with Adventure Academy, which makes us reluctant to recommend it, as parents don’t seem to have the same problem with Hooked on Phonics. While it’s not a given that you’ll be charged after cancellation, it does seem to be a common problem with Adventure Academy. There’s also the issue of glitches and distracting gameplay that may put some people off.
When it boils down to it:
- If you want to focus just on reading, you like a simple app, and you want to avoid the risk of subscription-based stress, go for Hooked on Phonics.
- If you love the look of Adventure Academy, you have an older child, and you plan to stick with it for a long time (or you’re willing to risk having to deal with customer services), you might get on really well with this one instead
What do you think? If you’ve used either service, we’d love to hear your thoughts.
If you want to read more about educational toys, check out these guides:
- The Best Educational Toys for Toddlers
- The Best Outdoor Toys for 2-Year-Olds
- The Best Toys for 4-Year-Old Boys to Make Playtime Fun
All screenshots were taken by the author August 2020.