This year, I made a very scary decision. I changed our phonics program to something new. I can’t tell you how many times I re-evaluated that decision and wondered if I were making the right own. We’re only a few weeks in to our new year, but I’d have to say—all my fears have been relieved!
Not only am I impressed with what Middlest is learning and the things I’m discovering about her in the process, but I am thoroughly convinced that the program must have been written with her in mind!
Logic of English Foundations teaches solid phonics and eliminates nearly all the exceptions and sight words. It teaches detailed awareness of sounds and how to make them. It teaches phonemic awareness and how to blend sounds. It teaches consonant blends and reading in a very logical, simple progression. But best of all, it does all of this in a way the child would never suspect because we’re having so much fun.
We explore sounds; we play guessing games (she “guesses” the word I’m sounding out to her, or I “guess” the word she’s sounding out to me) and scavenger hunt (she hunts for the word I’ve sounded out); we play phonogram hopscotch; we march, twirl, dance, shout, jump, and run.
And in the process, I’m uncovering problem areas before they become problems. For instance, in one lesson (the work page pictured above), Middlest was to stamp the picture that had the initial sound I said. When I said “ch,” she kept thinking the answer was the tree because she says “chree” instead of “tree.” And I’d never noticed before. We were able to correct the sound before it caused her trouble in her reading.
Last year, consonant blends were nearly our undoing, but this year she is learning to blend orally before she ever sees it on paper. It’s a brilliant strategy that keeps learning to read a lot of fun rather than intimidating. Last year, she dreaded phonics time and pouted nearly everyday; this year she asks to do it first. Best of all, she’s sounding out and reading simple words all on her own throughout the day, before we’ve even introduced a single reading book. I’m ecstatic about the difference!
Although Logic of English Foundations gives you the option for cursive or manuscript instruction, cursive is recommended; and I must say, this is another aspect of the program that I have been most impressed with.
Just the like the phonics, the writing instruction is simple, methodical, and logical. It engages both fine and gross motor skills, and it’s creative. This is Middlest’s favorite part. Games are a big part of this instruction as well, games that get my child out of her chair and moving. For my little wiggle-worm, this is ideal. We write in the air with our noses, elbows, feet, and fingers. She writes on my glass door and on my whiteboard. She writes on the line size that she is most comfortable with, and then we each draw funny faces over our favorite letter she’s written.
And honestly, there are days when I wouldn’t be able to tell her letters apart from mine; she’s learning it so well! As a matter of fact, I’ve retaught Oldest a few of the letters using the LOE program because he’s had so much trouble writing the letters with our original program. The LOE cursive makes so much sense and actually helps the children to be less confused about letter-formation. It’s a-mazing!
Logic of English Foundations comes in 6 different levels (A-F) with about 40 lessons each, equivalent of K4-2nd grade. These levels can be used one or more a year, depending on the level and maturity of the child. We opted for two levels this year. Though I probably could have jumped to Level B (a kindergarten equivalent), I really felt that Middlest would benefit from a quick review with the Logic of English approach. We are whizzing through Level A at about a lesson a day, and the lessons are taking roughly 20-30 minutes for both phonics and cursive instruction. We’ll slow down when we get to Level B and take a couple of days per lesson.
I couldn’t be more pleased with Foundations, and highly recommend it over any phonics program I’ve seen or used.
I received the Basic Phonograms cards as a part of an earlier review of the Essentials program. Otherwise, the only other materials I’ve purchased for Middlest are the teacher and student copies of Levels A and B and the Doodling Dragons app on iTunes for $4.99. Teacher copies are $38 each, and student workbooks are $18.
If you are looking for thorough phonics instruction that will totally engage your child, Logic of English Foundations is all that and more.
We’ve been struggling through long vowels with Middlest over the last several weeks. It’s a battle I remember having with Oldest, too, the mental struggle to separate short vowel words from long vowel words. Except Oldest was extremely motivated to learn to read, and Middlest? Middlest likes to play and to be fast.
After several teary lessons, I drew her a picture on our whiteboard, a colorful picture of a little girl at the bottom of a big hill. I explained, as I was drawing, that sometimes in life and in learning we have to go up big hills, like the hill in front of our house. It’s hard work. And sometimes, we have to take breaks. Sometimes, we have to look for other ways to get up the hill. We might have to get off our bicycle and push our way up the hill. But one thing we never do is give up and decide not to go up the hill at all.
Then, I went “back to the drawing board” (or rather, Google and pinterest) to look for new and different ways to teach her this concept. I also called my mom, who is an ever-present wealth of homeschool know-how. We pooled ideas, and I had an inkling of what I needed for Middlest.
By the end of the week, she was making some progress. And by the next week, she was reading her story to Daddy and clipping along through her game, even after I added new cards. But I knew that we really had made some significant progress, when I saw a picture she was drawing at the end of that week.
It brought me to tears, folks. Those up-hill battles are totally worth it.
There is a very old Christian song I used to sing, “When God closes a door, look for a window.” I’m learning that the same could be said for teaching; when a door closes, you have to look for the open windows.
I actually love that part of teaching. I love the challenge of making something clear to a learner. And one of the things I love best about getting to teach my children is that moment of overcoming with them.
My daughter is a daily challenge. She is extremely independent, and even though she’s only four, I do try to allow her to be as independent as possible with her work. And of course, as with any area of parenting, what worked with one child rarely works with the next. So even though I’ve just been down this road with her brother not much more than a year ago, I’m still teaching it as if for the first time.
For example, I remember my son struggled with some sight words, including the word “the.” To help him, I wrote the word on a post-it-note and hid it in his pockets each day until he finally recognized it. Middlest, however, just couldn’t recognize the word at all. She’d try to sound it out, recognize the “th” sound, and guess “this” every. single. time. I admit that I would get extremely frustrated, and so would Miss Do-It-Herself.
Finally, I started looking for a window.
She wants to sound out the word, so why not give her the tools to sound it out? I gave her two rules: th says th in this; and e says e in me. She immediately read it all by herself—pronouncing it as thee). I figured that eventually she will naturally make the transition to the other pronunciation once she starts recognizing it. But for now, we’ve made it over that hurdle.
The Primary Arts of Language reading program, written by Jill Pike, is based on Anne Ingham’s method of blended sight-sound. Basically, it’s a mix of both phonics and sight-words that is very multi-sensory and layered. One of my favorite parts of this program are the stories that help to anchor the special sounds. Every letter of the alphabet and every special sound is illustrated with either a story or an image that helps the beginning reader to connect with the material.
The Phonetic Farm is a folder with stickers that the child uses to further anchor these phonics blends. A silo holds the stickers for all the phonics sounds with a long “o” sound; there are fruit trees for all the “oo” sounds, clouds for all the “air” sounds, sheep for the “aw” sounds, etc. The mental picture helps the child to recall exactly what the letter blends and combinations say.
In addition to the Phonetic Farm are 35 folder games that help to reinforce both the sight words and the phonics concepts. The games offer a ton of variety and an interactive review. A couple of our favorites included feeding the dog Mugs his bones which had letter sounds and phonics blends written on them. We also fed the “word monster” our sight words. Magic-e was another favorite for teaching long vowel words that ended in silent e: a short vowel word was pasted into the folder and a wand with magic-e was provided for turning that short vowel into a long vowel.
Playing the games and learning to decipher words using the phonics concepts was all part of phase 1. I used this phase with my daughter, who is four but had finished most of K4 reading skills. She loved the games and interactive lessons. The worksheets that were provided as a printable PDF were also very multi-sensory, allowing her to cut, paste, color, and read to reinforce her lessons. She did struggle some with the sight/sound method. One of the key struggles that she had initially is that most of the phonics blends that are taught are those sounds found in the middle of words. Because she had not learned many of the consonant blends (bl, gl, br, dr, etc.) at the beginning of words, she did much more sight-reading than deciphering, which I was uncomfortable with. I did end up pausing to teach her those beginning sounds first, and she caught on more quickly after that.
The program is designed for you to customize as much as you need, with detailed lessons provided that show you how to include all of the elements from the reading and writing program. To use every element of the program every day does take a great deal of time. It was taking us about 3 hours to get through school, and most days I was not able to get to her math before I called it quits. To help alleviate some of this burden, I broke down one lesson into a couple of days worth of lessons. This gave us time to really reinforce the sounds and words she was learning without rushing on to new material too fast. It also allowed us to do something different every day, choosing one of the many elements for each day’s lesson. I loved this routine, and my daughter adapted very well to it.
We also customized some of the games. For instance, my daughter would frequently become discouraged with her word cards during the “feed the monster” game. So we have started using the cards to make silly sentences instead. This has also helped her gain confidence in reading sentences, and she is excited to decipher the words so that she can giggle at the funny sentence she has made.
Phase 2 of the program is called the Discovery phase and provides 30 sets of cards with words to decipher. This is the phase that I started with my son. He is a five year old first grader, and he flew through the majority of these cards. Every few sets there would be a word or two that he was unfamiliar with, but he quickly mastered most of them. We’re quickly working through the last of the cards. The last phase of the program is the Library phase that includes a list of suggested library books for the student to read. Many of these include old favorites like Frog and Toad and Amelia Bedelia.
Primary Arts of Language Writing
Of course, one area for which IEW is famous is their writing, and PAL’s writing program did not disappoint. I was extremely pleased with every element of this program. Again, this program is broken into three phases. I started my daughter at the very beginning of Phase 1 and had my son working through Phase 2.
Each day for every phase, the lessons begin with the class journal and a story summary. We LOVED the class journal element. Every day, I would get out our composition notebook that we used for our journal, and we would write 2-3 sentences about our day or the previous day. Sometimes, the kids would suggest a prayer for us to write down. Other times, we would record a fun memory or an event we were looking forward to. But this wasn’t just an exercise in journaling. Through the process we talked about the special sounds my daughter was learning, the punctuation and grammar that my son was learning, and other special writing and grammar elements that came up. Capitalization rules were very natural to discuss, as were end marks and sentence structure. My daughter saw that the words we spoke were the same as the ones we wrote down and then read. The connections were incredible, and I discovered that I LOVE teaching with this method.
For story summaries, we would read a story and then work through the provided questions to help the kids think through the structure of a story. Again, this was more than just a comprehension exercise. Both kids learned what characters were and how to listen for the details of characterization and setting. We discussed the plot or “problem” within the story and how it was resolved. For clincher, the chart often had the children looking for a moral; because I personally do not believe that fiction is intended to always have a moral lesson, I included this question at my own discretion.
Phase 1 introduces writing with letter stories that teach both the sounds of the letters and how to write them. Phase 1 taught the formation of the letters without lines; a box was provided for the child to write inside. I immediately saw an improvement in my daughter’s handwriting as she was allowed to focus on one thing at a time, just the proper formation. The lessons begin with the lower-case letters, continue with upper-case letters, and then teach writing on sets of lines. Each day’s lesson also ends with a “spelling test,” where the child is asked to write the letters that “spell” the sounds that you give. My daughter, who lives to be like her brother in every way, loved that she had spelling tests just like him. And I found these to be effective ways to both evaluate and reinforce what she was learning.
Phase 2 introduces copy work and All About Spelling Level 1. I love the idea of copy work, but up until this point had not found an effective way to incorporate it. My son loved these exercises and often stated that it was his favorite part of our school day.
All About Spelling, however, he was not as thrilled with. Technically, he is advanced beyond Level 1 of this program and is already learning to spell much more difficult words in our current program. But there were several elements to the program that I thought would benefit him. What surprised me, however, was that the part of the program he disliked the most was moving the letter tiles around, which is obviously the most distinctive feature of this program. He continually told me that he’d rather “just write out” the words, which speaks volumes about his learning style. After giving this a try for a few weeks, we reverted back to our other program.
Phase 2 also begins to incorporate quite a bit of grammar, including end marks and parts of speech. Again, I was extremely pleased with how this was handled. The presentation made sense and the activities were very appealing, especially since much of it resembled notebooking (of which I am a huge fan).
Phase 3 continues with more copy work, some dictation, and some story writing elements. I do look forward to continuing with the writing elements of this program for both my children. Having a degree in writing and having taught English grammar at the college level, I am very particular about this instruction and have honestly found it difficult to find a program that I can enthusiastically use with my kids. However, I have definitely found that program with the Primary Arts of Language Writing.
Both the reading and writing program come with extensive video and audio training, as well as very detailed lesson plans. The Primary Arts of Language complete reading program is available for $69, and the Primary Arts of Language complete writing program sells for $89. Though the program is an initial investment, 2 factors made this price very affordable: first, it is a multi-level program that can be used for more than one grade; second, many elements of this program are non-consummable, including the student workbooks provided as printable pdfs.
Another beautiful thing about this program is the effort that IEW has made to give you a good idea of all that the program contains before you purchase. (They also stand behind their products with complete money-back guarantees if you are dissatisfied.) IEW provides videos, webinars, and samples to download so that you will know exactly what you are purchasing.
Bottom line, there are many elements to this reading and writing program that I absolutely love. My daughter loves this program, and I will continue to use it while mixing in elements of our current phonics program. And without a doubt, I will continue through the writing program with both of my children. This is a quality program that appeals particularly to the kinesthetic/hands-on learner, written by an accomplished instructor and homeschool mother with vast experience in teaching children with dyslexia and other reading issues. And, it is a program that comes with lots of instruction and support. Depending on the family and learning styles, I would definitely recommend this program.
Want to find out even more? Read what others from the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought and how they used the program.
Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I received this product at no cost to me, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are mine.
It really is a great problem to have—not enough books for a voracious reader. But, the problem isn’t easy to solve. That’s why, when I noticed my son only had two more books left in his kindergarten curriculum, my heart skipped a beat and I panicked for just a second. Then I remembered some of the great reading books I have around the house that I’ll be able to use.
But I got to thinking that I’m probably not the only one encountering this problem. So I thought I’d share a few suggestions for your beginning readers.
First, though it seems very obvious, check your own home library. You might be surprised what your little reader will be able to pick up and read. My son constantly surprises me with the sight words and advanced phonics sounds that he can pick up simply from the context of the story and pictures. For instance, with very little help, he tackled Are You My Mother? the other day. I was in shock. So definitely check what you have before buying something new.
Another awesome set of readers is the Reading for Fun Enrichment Library of over 55 little books. Look for it used. I was blessed to have inherited the set from my mom, the same set I used as a child. Talk about a valuable investment!
I’ve also read of a number of homeschoolers who have used the Bob Books and loved them, though I have not seen them personally. You might also check to see if your local library carries these titles.
My last suggestions are actually some books that I just found through Usborne Books. When the Very First Reading Series arrived at our house, you would have thought it was Christmas.
These readers are extremely cool. The whole concept is that the parent and child share the reading experience. Here’s how…
The series includes 15 hardback books that progressively become more difficult and have the child reading a little more in each book. By the end of the series, the child is reading the whole story. The set comes with a separate parent’s guide, as well as instruction and comprehension games within each book. The Very First Reading website also includes additional parent resources.
The one down-side is that the books are not sold individually, which means that this set is an investment.
But another great option for kindergarten/first grade readers are the Easy Readers from Usborne. I’ve gotten a couple of these for my kids, and they have been a huge hit. The books are paperback with fun illustrations and even fold out pages. And what excites my son the most is the feeling that he is reading a real book all by himself.
I’d also love to know what books you use with your little reader, as my son might be reading us out of house and homeschool very soon!
Note: I am an Usborne consultant, because I just loved the books too much to afford them any other way! The links to Usborne books will link you to my sales site.