Review of Alpha-phonics, etc

alphaphonics

 

What can I say about Alpha-phonics?!  It’s been an amazing program for teaching my son how to read.  We started the program when he was around 4 years and 2 months on Lesson 1. I had never taught anyone to read before, and I thought, well “here it goes…let’s see what happens!”

To my surprise, he started learning to read almost immediately! He already knew the letters and their sounds for the most part, so it was just a matter of him understanding how to blend them all together, all of the rules, etc.  There were times earlier on where I had to really struggle with him to do the lessons (they aren’t particularly colorful or fun) but we persevered and I could tell that it was working very well.  The hardest lesson to get through of the whole book was definitely Lesson 14.  It contains 5 pages of C-V-C “words.”  However, they are not all words, but syllables rather that could all be part of words.  We had to split this lesson over a whole week back then.  Some people might not appreciate that the child is reading nonsense words, but I really think this lesson helped prepare him for seeing all sorts of letter combinations while reading.

My son is now flying through the lessons and will sometimes complete two a day.  Since we started, we have only done this 3 days a week, or 4 if Classical Conversations is not in session.  8 months later we have about 35 more lessons to go and my son is reading at an early second grade level.  (I have figured this out using the Scholastic Book Wizard tool and entering the books he is reading on his own.)

For many of the earlier lessons, I wrote them on the white board.  It made the long lists of words more approachable for my son.   Sometimes I would let him erase the words after he read them…we would try different things to keep him engaged and focused depending on the day.  Also, sometimes as I wrote his reading lesson on the board, he would write one for me on other the board from one of his other phonics books (we have two small ones instead of one big one…way cheaper!).  So he would practice his writing for the day while he thought he was actually just playing! At this point, he is often reading straight from the book and putting dots by the words he has read and this gives him a sense of accomplishment.

I cannot recommend Alpha-phonics highly enough.  It has given my son an amazing start in his reading and language arts journey.  Next up for us is beginning All About Spelling in his first official homeschool year – Kindergarten!

Review of McRuffy Press- Language Arts Kindergarten Transition Package

img_1955After my son and I got tired of using a retired version of Steck-Vaughn Phonics Level A that I found for free at a bookstore, I decided to look for the next phonics program for us.  After learning about McRuffy Press from the Cathy Duffy Reviews site, I decided to give it a try.

The McRuffy Press Kindergarten Transition package comes with a Teacher’s Manual, Student Workbook, 10 Color Readers, Resource Package and a Handwriting Book for an additional cost.  Overall, I am very pleased with the program and I am glad that I purchased it.  I think it is a perfect supplement to our current homeschool routine for now. It is certainly helping my to son to gain confidence with long vowels.  (We started on lesson 111..for fun we read the first 4 readers and went through the questions.)   While I like the program, I do not think that we will continue with the complete 1st grade program.

It is important to know that to get the most from the program, you should follow the daily lesson schedule which is somewhat scripted. For each week, there is one reader, one or two new phonics rules learned, and everything else pertains to this reader.  The handwriting sentence is related, the spelling words are related, the workbook pages are related.  This is something that, in theory I really like.  The problem is that my son is only 4.5 years old and while he is advancing in other areas, I do not want to start him in spelling so that removes a big portion of what makes the lesson plans hold together and makes the curriculum worth the money.   The McRuffy Press curriculum also move a little slow for where my son is currently at with reading since we are also using Alphaphonics.   My son is naturally good at blending consonants even though he is still getting fluent with long vowels.  So while the lesson plans say to split the book reading in two days, my son reads the book and answers the questions on the first day and one the second day he completes all of the workbook pages.   (He also does a corresponding handwriting page each day).  So its easy for us to turn the 5 day weekly unit curriculum to a 2 or 3 day curriculum…Which makes the program seem more costly.

Also, while I thought I liked the idea of my son practicing handwriting on something that wasn’t too important (since I have baggage with having to copy My Utmost for His Highest to improve my terrible handwriting as a child!), I have realized I may be wrong here.  My son seems to know he is writing something trivial and does not seem to enjoy it as much as he usually enjoys writing.  My son likes to write. He will write throughout the day on his own and ask how to write words.  So I am thinking if I find something he considers special to write and gently correct it, that will work better for him.  I know my son wants to write well, but has good days and bad days, so I only correct his copy-work if a letter is completely illegible, backwards, missing words, missing capitals etc.  I certainly don’t correct for perfection of letter formation at this age!  (And how can I when I still have pretty poor handwriting myself?!)

Below you will find a “pros” and “cons” list which I hope will help inform your own purchasing decision:

Pros

  • The readers are awesome!  The stories are cute, clever and my son really enjoys them.  Simple pictures that inspire some critical thinking.  (i.e.  Did the cake fly into the cage when the ape fell or did the ape bring the cake to the lion?)  There are times when we have to infer what happens “between scenes.” especially to act the story out.  I also love the simple reading comprehension questions in the teacher’s manual, but I think I may have learned how to write my own now.  I would love to buy just the 1st grade readers, but pricing on the McRuffy website really makes it cost effective to buy the whole curriculum rather than to piece meal it.
  • The resource packet includes some games (however, we never used them as the directions were too complicated for where my son is at right now).  It also includes coloring pages and character cut outs for each weekly reader.  When we have finished with the lessons for the week, I give my son the reader to put in his “learning to read” basket, along with the two activity pages and he really enjoys this.  (This and the cute readers are why I am tempted to by the first grade curriculum!)

Cons

  • The rhythm of the program revolves around spelling tests, even in the second half of kindergarten, so if you have an early learner like mine and are not ready to add spelling, the rhythm may not work for you.
  • Having all components tied to together can be very helpful or it can slow down learning in certain areas
  • The cost is great if the all of the components work for you, but may be pricey if it does not.

With all that said, I still think it is a very good curriculum and I would recommend it to anyone that wants short, well-planned lessons, to move at an easy-going pace throughout the school year, with cute readers and fun activities included.

Hope this review helps someone!