Thursday, November 3, 2011

Review: First Start Reading and Classical Phonics

At the risk of sounding like another one of this month's gratitude posts, I'm thankful for all of the choices when it comes to selecting homeschool materials.

When we started homeschooling, Addison had already taught herself to read. A few years later, I started experimenting with reading curriculums to teach Brennan how to read. Now, another few years later, I'm amazed at all of the beginning reading programs that a parent can choose from.

Memoria Press offers First Start Reading, a complete reading program that is available either as part of their Classical Kindergarten Curriculum or to purchase separately.  It consists of three student workbooks and a teacher's manual. Memoria Press also sells Classical Phonics for additional practice.

Since there are so many reading options available to parents, I feel it necessary to detail what makes First Start Reading unique.

First Start Reading is primarily a phonics program. Although it includes 45 common words that don't follow standard phonics rules, its primary focus is on blending sounds to read the words. As Lauren worked through some of the lessons in First Start Reading, I noticed that something clicked. She already knew a lot of phonics rules and sight words, but she now pays more attention to the letters within the words and can sometimes sound-out unfamiliar words.

These workbooks move at a gentle pace, introducing one letter at a time. As letter sounds are learned, the student then blends them to make simple words. For instance, the first letter taught is m and the second is a. In the third lesson, the student reads the word am and learns the sight word I. By lesson five, the student learns to read and to trace the sentence, "I am Sam."

In these materials, only the short vowel sounds are introduced, and the student gets extensive practice in sounding out consonant-vowel-consonant words. At the end of the third workbook, the student is reading stories that are 10-12 sentences long, but nearly all of the words have short vowels and follow the c-v-c pattern. This approach may be appropriate for some children, but other children may quickly catch on to the phonics rules and fly through these short vowel concepts quite quickly.

Memoria Press believes in teaching a child to print at the same time that they learn to read. While I agree with the concept that printing will help reinforce the reading/phonics rules, I also realize that not all children are ready to do that much handwriting at the same time that they are ready to learn to read. In terms of the specific handwriting instruction, the workbook pages include both tracing exercises and copywork.

The materials would definitely appeal to a child that loves coloring books and workbook style learning. Unfortunately, Lauren wasn't impressed with the coloring and found the printing pages to be a bit overwhelming. She's also not a big fan of the pages that asked her to draw her own illustrations for a story.

Although Memoria Press sells Classical Phonics: A Child's Guide to Word Mastery as a supplement to First Start Reading, I believe it's far more than just a supplement to that specific program. It's a real treasure! It looks like such a simple book, but the real beauty is the way it organizes word lists so that the child can practice decoding words according to the phonics rules.

The first section covers short vowel sounds and introduces them in the same order that they are presented in the First Start Reading workbooks. With each new letter, more words are created. Lauren and I worked through the pages at a pace of about one page per day, and she is getting pretty good at sounding out new words. The review pages in this book group the words by word family (at, cat, bat, hat) and then by beginning letter (bat, bad, bag, bed, big) for additional reading practice. Continued practice of reading these word lists will help increase the speech at which she can decode words and read for understanding.

Even after studying all of the consonant-vowel-consonant words, there's still two-thirds of the book left to go. The other 9 units cover silent e words, consonant teams, consonant blends, long vowel teams, r-controlled vowels, silent letters, unusual spellings, and more. This is a book that would be helpful throughout the elementary years -- both for reading and for spelling instruction.

I think every parent teaching a child to read should have (and use) Classical Phonics: A Child's Guide to Word Mastery. It cost $14.95 and is worth far more than that. If you have a child who loves workbooks and needs a gentle approach to reading instruction, I'd recommend First Start Reading, too. It sells for $29.95 for the teacher's manual and all three student workbooks.

If you'd like to hear what other members of the review crew thought about First Start Reading program and the Classical Phonics book, please visit The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew blog here.

I received First Start Reading and Classical Phonics as a member of the 2011 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, and I received no other compensation. In return, I agreed to give an honest review of the materials and how they worked for my homeschool family.


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