Primary Arts of Language, produced by The Institute for Excellence in Writing is a reading and writing program for K-2nd grade. This program is absolutely immense! So let me break it down for you and review it in chunks.
Primary Arts of Language Reading
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.