Background: My oldest son, who is 6 1/2, is a reluctant reader. In the past year and a half we went through a couple different programs. I looked at Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons but I didn't care for it. I liked Phonics Pathways and we did use it for a little while, but he didn't care for it. We also used a free curriculum called Really Reading, which wasn't bad either. Looking back, he was fully capable of reading but didn't have the interest and maybe I should have just let it be for a bit. But his lack of interest paired with my lack of confidence in being able to teach him the necessary skills led us to continue this search for the magic reading program. I bought second hand for $1 an old version of The Writing Road to Reading after reading about phonogram instruction here. I like this and we did go through the phonograms for awhile, but he got a little bit put off when we got to some of the ones that are a little more confusing such as OUGH and it's many sounds. He was fighting instruction and a friend of mine was raving about SSR&W and her young daughter. I looked through her big box and it had a lot in it. Lots of books, games, songs, workbooks...I thought on it for awhile since the price tag is a little steep. But in the end I reasoned....with 4 boys I would eventually get my money's worth so I bit the bullet and bought the Level 1/K Combo Kit. This was back in September and we have been using it since then.
What you get:
Plus 2 work books and 6 more little story books for the Level K. So it is a lot of stuff. It is very colorful. Nicely put together. The steps are sequential. The instructor's manual tells you what to do and gives you an idea of how long to spend on each step.
Here are my thoughts:
The songs: A little corny in some places. I did like the ABC sounds, short vowels and long vowels. My kids didn't really like The Ferris Wheel Song which is supposed to aid in learning to blend short vowel words....it goes around and around....ba, be, bi, bo, bu, bo, bi, be, ba.....round and round through the whole alphabet and some beginning blends too. The 2 vowels song did help my son read through the list of words. And I haven't listened to it yet, but we are currently up to the 'silent gh' song. I won't listen to it because the silent gh part annoys me. Based on the phonograms....igh = long i, eight = long a, etc....plus then it just doesn't work out with the ough either....so here we are again. The main thing about the songs- which I knew when I bought, and is specific to my boys- they don't sing. But they listened and we played the CD while doing the lesson.
The Games: The curriculum comes with 3 bingo games and 2 go fish like games. My boys all really liked them. We love bingo around here and I use it a lot anyway for word practice. There is a sight words, ABC sounds, and letter cluster (phonograms) BINGO and ABC sounds and letter cluster go fish. We used them a lot at first (when the baby napped more). I plan on using them again...my homemade bingo uses words only and I like having the boards with the isolated sounds on them.
The Workbooks: We got 4 books total between K and level 1. 2 per year. My 4 year old LOVED his first K book. It was review for him on the letter sounds. But it was VERY hands on...cutting, gluing and coloring. To tell the truth you can find very similar pages for free online....but they were colorful and all in one place which was nice. So each letter had a page to color with an appropriate picture, a writing/tracing page. A cut and paste beginning sounds page and a find and glue (from a magazine) page. The second book took you into reading. Blending the letters with the short vowels. It had a lot of color and read books and some word slides. My son wasn't as thrilled when he got to the ferris wheel and we are spending time elsewhere when his mood suits him to help him with sounding out words.
Now the first Level 1 book....I am assuming it was meant for public school. It went back to square one and letter sounds. So it hasn't been used at all. The second book is where the 36 steps to reading really starts. You are supposed to do a song and game each day, plus the pages in the book. Working up to spelling 10 words per day from the current word list. Each list is for one particular sound....short a, oy, ai, etc....My problem was that some of the lists got way too long....30+ words. And My son can write just fine and it was too monotonous for him. There is a place on the bottom to initial when you the student can read, spell and write each word on the page. The readers that come with the kit go along with each word list. So the vocab is constant for more practice. There is also some matching, fill in the blank, missing letter pages as well.
So I am not using this system as it is scripted. Sometimes we skip the readers....and he chooses a real book instead. Sometimes we just can't stand to hear the words pal and glad instead of friend and happy. But overall the readers did help with his confidence in reading longer passages within books. We also don't write all the words. He reads them all and he writes for 5 minutes. We also don't spell. He can spell short vowel words no problem now, but at his age I was more wanting to focus his willing attention on the reading and if there was enough willingness left we would do spelling. The books also discuss some grammar...punctuation, capitalization, subjects, nouns and verbs. We do that sometimes but it is much more casual than the copy sentences from the board like the books states.
So the verdict??? I am not that impressed. YES he has greatly improved in his skills, but I think that would have happened with any program by this age. He just wasn't really ready before. And YES I think it would probably be a great public/private school curriculum. But not quite as taylored for homeschoolers who don't do school-at-home. I don't have the want to make my child sit at a desk and do workbook pages and spelling tests (written) and copy sentences and then read and sing and a game. That would take HOURS and is too much for a 6 yr old. The readers are nice to have and I will use them again, same with the songs. But I think I could provide a few links, watch Between the Lions for some songs and play around on www.starfall.com and you would have basically the same thing and you'd only be out printing costs.
My plan? We are planning on finishing the book in which he is currently working. And when I feel the need to use the other books I have I will. I most likely will not buy other texts for the other children. I think I will just go and buy Phonics Pathways....which was my favorite...instead of keeping it from the library for months at a time. I am also in the planning for a phonogram Lapbook for them all to use as a tool and to help solidify some of these phonograms for my oldest as he helps make it. I plan on disecting his workbook and using the very nice word lists in the lapbook.
So there is my opinion on the subject for whatever it is worth....hopefully my thoughts aren't too all over the place since I didn't write this in one sitting today.