After several years of teaching preschoolers and then watching my three children learn to read, I've realized that no two children learn at the same pace. I liken it to learning to walk. Some kids learn to walk at 8 months old and others wait until they're way over a year old. It's not necessarily that one child is more skilled than another, it's just the way two children are wired differently. For reading, I've found that some children jump from sounding out short words to reading long stories almost overnight. Other children need a lot more practice at the beginning reader level.
I have lots of books on my shelves that could be appropriate for a beginning reader. I also know that our library has a large selection of easy readers. None of those is exactly what I've been looking for lately. Lauren (age 6) has been using a phonics/reading program since last Fall. She knows a lot of sight words, and she can sound out most short vowel words. Unfortunately, she still doesn't read well enough to tackle most of the books I found.
Our perfect answer came with a box of Little Books from Academic Success for All Learners. The company grew out of extensive research conducted at Utah State University. Perhaps the best known of their products is their Little Books -- 141 colored coded readers often referred to as the I See Sam series. There are 8 sets of books from Kindergarten to a third grade reading level.
Lauren started with the Level 1 books. The first book only required her to read three words -- I, see, Sam. With just those words and lots of great illustrations, we found an enjoyable story about a rat and his friend Sam. Lauren loves the funny stories. The earlier books rely a lot on the illustrations to get the point across, and I'm impressed that these beginning reading books have stories that we actually enjoy.
From an adult standpoint, I like the way that they use a nontraditional sequence of introducing words. They introduce new sounds and words slowly, but they aren't necessarily using word families. These books aren't filled with rhyming words and is doesn't sound like Lauren's reading a Dr. Seuss book. So far we haven't read any stories about the ever popular fat cat that sat on a mat, either.
Not only do the stories sound more realistic, the way they introduce the sounds has taught her to pay close attention to every letter in a word. If she's not focused, it's easy for her to mix up Mat (the rat) and Mit (the monkey). Other characters are Sam (the lion), Sim (the elephant) and Sis (the snake).
As Lauren has worked through all of the Level 1 (red) books and about half of the Level 2 (orange) books, I've found that the books slowly increase in difficulty. Occasionally, she'll find a book that's a bit of a struggle. In that case, we regroup and she tries again the next day. Really, though, they are introducing words and sounds at the perfect pace for her.
Not every child needs the intensive practice that the I See Sam books provide, just like some kids skip right over the cruising stage and start running around the house at eight months old. If you do have a child that's working on building reading skills, these books are perfect.
Earlier this week, Lauren asked me what we were going to read while we wait to get the yellow books (level 3). She's sold on these books, and I am too.
I See Sam Readers come in sets for 8 different levels, and each set costs $30. You can see the specific skills covered and the number of stories in each level in the downloadable Scope and Sequence chart. I was quite impressed with the samples I've seen from the more advanced sets.
As always, if you'd like to hear what the other members of the review crew thought about their Little Books, please visit The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew blog here.