A Few of My Favorite Things: Phonics and Reading

In this edition of A Few of My Favorite Things I'm going to share some of my favorite phonics and reading materials. Riley learned to read at Twelve Oaks Montessori while I was teaching there, so, although I was next door in a classroom teaching other children to read, I wasn't the one to teach her.  I continued fanning the flame that was sparked there by carrying on her phonics instruction at home. Despite the fact that I had helped quite a few students over those first hurdles of learning to read, I was a bit intimidated to begin again with Sawyer. Thankfully, I found the perfect materials to aid us.

Memoria Press' First Start Reading program is a part of their Kindergarten curriculum; however, it can also be purchased separately. I am so grateful to have decided upon this program, because it worked beautifully and Sawyer was reading before he even realized he was reading. First Start Reading was so gentle yet effective.

Some of the reasons why I loved it, aside from those I've already mentioned:

  • Each time a letter sound is introduced, the child is given the opportunity to create a picture of something beginning with that sound. My child loved this as he is a very creative guy. He loves drawing and coloring, so this became one of his favorite parts of the lesson.
  • Blending is shown visually. The first sound of the word is separate from the second and there is an arrow bridging its connection to the next sound. I really liked having this in illustration form and felt it led to better understanding of the blending process. Being able to use a finger to trace the arrow while blending also helped emphasize what we were doing. This feature helped make the blending process flow more smoothly than I believe occurs in some other materials. 
  • Writing is practiced simultaneously with reading. For some this may be a negative. I do believe the fact that my child could write all of his letters prior to beginning this program was a great benefit. Had he been trying to learn how to write the letters while also learning how to read, this would likely have been too frustrating. However, the program can definitely be utilized without all the writing for a child who is not ready for writing, and the lessons can be done orally.
Most important was the fact that learning to read with this program was frustration-free. It seemed to just happen magically. I recognize that all children are different, and, consequently, some programs work for certain children and not others. I could not have asked for a better program for an initial reading/phonics program.

I used Primary Phonics in addition to First Start Reading as scheduled in the Memoria Press K Curriculum. It was a delight to return to this program as this was a material we used at the Montessori school. I also continued this series with my oldest after we began homeschooling. I was very fond of the program then and my fondness has only grown. With my oldest, I only continued the program through the third or fourth. She was such a voracious reader that I just let her take off reading and dropped phonics. I later regretted that decision when I discovered how big a role phonics plays in spelling. I decided that I would complete all six of the workbooks with my youngest. We are currently in the fifth one.

Each of the six levels of Primary Phonics contains a workbook and a set of ten storybooks, or readers. The workbook does not include phonetic explanations for the teacher or child. There are teacher guides available. However, the phonics is introduced in a logical pattern and the child continues to build on what he has learned. I have not found the teacher guide necessary, and when a word with a new phonics rule comes up, I explain the sound being covered. It is very user-friendly, and we have moved through the series with ease. The workbook has written prompts to inform the teacher that the student is ready to read the next storybook. Color words are given as sight words to be memorized. This is an issue for some but not for me. 

Reasons I love the program aside from those already mentioned: 
  • A group of words that illustrate a particular phonics rule is introduced in each section before a reader, and those words are practiced over and over in a variety of ways--matching the words to pictures, following instructions to color the items a particular color, or unscrambling words to create a sentence that matches a picture. By the time the child reads the storybook, he is very comfortable with the words that will be included in the reader.
  • There is a good deal of writing. Again, that could be a negative for some, and, if so, EPS, the company that publishes this series, has a more popular series called Explode the Code which is very similar with less writing. I love that this program provides another source of copywork and handwriting practice.
  • The readers provide excellent practice and can be used as a supplement to any program.
These two programs have provided a firm reading foundation, and I am very pleased.

Lastly, I wanted to share a source that I have always used to find quality readers for my children: Sonlight. Thanks to the books recommended through Sonlight, I have built up an expansive library for both children to enjoy. Without Sonlight I would have never discovered many of these books which have been such a delight. Though they do start off with their own reader, I love that they quickly move into actual books. We look to Sonlight to find age-appropriate books that will be a joy to read (for the most part...there have been a few we liked less than others, though none we greatly disliked--except for Stuart Little if Stuart Little is recommended there. Take my advice and avoid that one. I'm a big fan of E.B. White, but that book is an exception.).


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