Phonics Road, how I love thee….

I am a regular on the The Welltrained Mind forum (a wonderful community if you’re looking for other homeschoolers to “talk” to).  Several months ago on the K-8 Curriculum Board, people were gushing about an integrated language arts program called The Phonics Road to Spelling and Reading.  I’m no stranger to language arts programs.  At various points and with various children, we have used:

  • Hooked on Phonics
  • Explode the Code
  • Handwriting without Tears
  • Sonlight’s phonetic readers
  • Bob books
  • Growing with Grammar
  • First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind
  • Writing with Ease
  • All About Spelling
  • Sequential Spelling
  • Christian Light Education Reading
  • Christian Light Education Language Arts
  • Michael Clay Thompson Language Arts (Island and Town levels)–we still use this
  • Writing Tales
  • Materials from the Institute for Excellence in Writing–we still use this

I think that might be it. For one reason or another, these programs didn’t fully “click” for our family or didn’t cover all of our needs.  I loved the scope and sequence of First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind.  I love the philosophy behind Writing with Ease. I adore the rules-based phonics of All About Spelling.  But when it came to implementing these programs, I just felt burned out.  I needed to streamline our language arts processes.

When I noticed the buzz about The Phonics Road, I went to the program’s website and watched the introductory video.  I was intrigued by the idea of an all-in-one program that would cover (in various degrees over four levels):

  • rules-based phonics/spelling
  • copywork and dictation similar to that found in Writing with Ease
  • handwriting
  • grammar (including sentence diagramming)
  • reading and comprehension
  • vocabulary
  • literary elements
  • outlining and writing from an outline
  • narration/summary
  • sentence and paragraph composition

I purchased Level 1 to use with my third child, who turned six in October 2010.  We started in September.  The first few weeks included some review for her.  Very quickly, however, she was learning new material and thriving.  In the span of about a month, she went from being able to read simple CVC words to being able to read non-phonetically-controlled beginning readers.  Now that we’ve used the program for six months, she can read tricky words like chemical or darmstadtium.  (These words come from a chemistry book she got for Christmas.)  By the end of December, I was so impressed by her progress that I decided to switch my second child from Voyages in English/All About Spelling to Phonics Road.

My second daughter, who was 8.5 years old when we started Phonics Road in January, accelerated through level 1 in about a month.  Lightbulbs flashed on all over the place for her and it was thrilling to see a blossoming in her understanding of phonics.  We are moving more slowly through Level 2 (2 to 2.5 weeks of material in one calendar week), but her reading, spelling, and grammar have continued to improve.  It’s amazing!

My fourth daughter, who turned four in September, insisted on starting Level 1.  We are doing one lesson every other day and she is doing wonderfully well.  I am planning to start Level 3 with my oldest daughter (11 in May), which I will be able to do only because of my familiarity with Levels 1 and 2.  It is not recommended to start in the middle of the program.  Levels 1 and 2 provide a foundation that is necessary to understanding the upper levels.

How It Works

Each levels comes with a teacher notebook (or two) and a student notebook.  The teacher notebook contains DVDs s/he watches to learn how to teach each week of the program.  My only preparation for teaching Phonics Road is to watch the DVDs ahead of time and then grab our books/pencils when it’s time for our lessons.  I’ve learned a lot about the mechanics of English alongside my students, which is a nice side benefit. 🙂

A typical day for Level 1 is to review the phonogram cards, dictate and analyze five words, compose a sentence, and read and illustrate a page from one of the readers.  Word analysis includes thinking about which phonograms could be used to spell the given word and which phonogram is actually used.  Phonograms are marked according to which phoneme they say in that particular word.  For example, a has three sounds.  In the word cat, a says its short sound (sound 1 in Phonics Road, usually left unmarked).  In the word tape, a says its long sound (sound 2 in Phonics Road, marked with a line over the top).  In the word call, a says its third sound and is marked with a little 3 over the top.  All vowel teams and consonant teams are underlined and they are marked with their appropriate number if they are saying anything other than their first sound.

Sentence composition is something my 6-year-old enjoys very much.  She loves Harry Potter and therefore likes to compose sentences that use characters or themes from those books.  Sometimes she creates a serial story, adding a new sentence to the story each day.  A few months ago she wrote a funny tale about alien invaders. 🙂

The readers in Level 1 do not come illustrated.  The child reads the text on the page and then colors a picture to represent what s/he read.  My 6-year-old gets quite creative with her illustrations.  Last week she read a story about things in the sky (sun, clouds, moon, stars).  Her pictures included those items, but she had a werewolf and a hippocampus (half horse/half fish) in the moon and sky pictures.  The hippocampus has appeared in the last few stories. 😉

A typical day takes us about 15 – 30 minutes.  Coloring the picture for the reader takes the longest.  We save that for last so that she can continue to work on it while I move on to help another child.

Level 2 is more involved.  A typical day in Level 2 is to review phonogram cards, analyze 5 or so words, dictate a sentence, work on some aspect of grammar (parts of speech, simple diagramming, etc.), and read selected pages from Little House in the Big Woods.  Day 5 of the Little House portion includes working on a notebook page instead of reading.  I absolutely love how words on the spelling list relate back to what she is reading and what she is learning in the grammar portion.  It takes us about 40 – 60 minutes to complete 2-3 days worth of work in one sitting.

I haven’t yet started Level 3, but I have the materials.  I’m so excited by what I see coming up!  And I’m happy that The Latin Road , which follows after Level 4 of The Phonics Road, covers two years of high school Latin.

Final Thoughts

The Phonics Road is not entirely secular.  A few of the readers mention God or prayer and the DVD (which your student does not have to watch) mentions Christian ideas.  I generally avoid religious publishers because I dislike the force-fed religion, but The Phonics Road is pretty tame.

The Phonics Road costs a fair amount up front (~$230 for each level).  Each additional set of student materials costs ~$70.  Because I am only buying one program instead of different programs for spelling, grammar, handwriting, vocabulary, etc., I find the cost to be reasonable.  Some families use regular notebook paper instead of the students pages or put the pages in plastic so that multiple students can use them with a wet erase marker.

If what you’re doing is working for you and your student(s), you should probably stick with it. 🙂 If, however, you need a different solution to language arts, give The Phonics Road a look.

As I listed above, I’ve used several language arts programs.  What I appreciate the most about The Phonics Road is that all of the skills that used to take 15-30 min. each are now taught in one daily 15-30 min. session.  It has also cured me of any desire to look at other language arts programs.  It works for us and I’m so relieved to finally have something that does! 🙂

p.s.  Although The Phonics Road has an affiliate program, I am not an affiliate and I won’t make any money by posting this review.  I am just a homeschooling mom who is happy to share how this program works for us. 🙂


About Laura

I've been homeschooling since 2005. I have six children (born 2000 - 2012). We are eclectic in our approach with a bit more Well-Trained Mind philosophy over anything else.
This entry was posted in Homeschool Reviews and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to Phonics Road, how I love thee….

  1. mindy says:

    This sounds SO NICE. It really is very expensive, though, which is why I haven’t even allowed myself to look at it. I simply can’t afford that. 😦 I wish that programs try a little harder to come up with reasonable prices for their materials. Additional student materials are $70!? That is insanely overpriced. ::sigh::

  2. mindy says:

    Okay, so after forcing myself to look through it, it probably is more “reasonably priced” than I first thought. It is a lot of material. Sigh….I just wish I had the money right now, as I think it would be great for the kids. Maybe soon.

    • Laura says:

      Yes, it’s a lot up front. I bought three levels in the space of six months. Ouch! When I accelerated Adalyn through Level 1, I just used notebook paper. With Level 2 I bought her own set of student pages, but you really could put the page you’re working on that day into a sheet protector and use a wet erase marker (level 1 comes with one). The only pages this wouldn’t work on are the readers in Level 1 and a couple of the crafty notebook pages for Little House (in Level 2). The $215 set includes one set of student pages. You can look for used sets of Phonics Road as well, but you’ll need to replace the student materials if they’ve been used.

  3. Tina says:

    Great review. Thanks for sharing.
    So far as cost, remember, it’s reusable to a small degree and the DVDs really are teacher training. I have learned how to pull language arts into all the literature we read and that is a valued, appreciated, and long awaited skill for this teacher!

  4. Rachel Klopp says:

    I wish that I could find the sets used. I am ready to move into Level 2 soon, and have been looking, but it is very hard to find used. Let me know if you know if Levels 2, 3, or 4 come available used. thanks!

    great review btw

  5. Courtney says:


    What did your children not learn in AAS that they are learning in PR? I’ve always been drawn to PR, but, at the same time, am not sure I want all the components. I still think that I will enjoy piecing together my own LA program. A decision I may come to regret. I’m using AAS right now with my almost 6 yo. My only problem with it is that it just seems to move very slowly, and it is pretty easy for him. Thanks for any input you may have.

    I love your blog, btw.

    • Laura says:


      AAS is a very good program, but it moves slowly and only teaches phonics/spelling. I found that doing AAS, WWE, and FLL was just too much. The skills taught in those three programs are combined in PR. It takes me less time and it’s simpler for me to use PR. 🙂 I don’t think you can go wrong with AAS if it works for you and your son.

  6. Erin English says:

    This is the best, most thorough review I have read YET on Phonics Road (and I have ready a bunch). Thank you so much for providing a detailed description of what your lessons look like, instead of most of the reviews that I have read which just tell you what is included in the package. I think you have convinced me to purchase this for my 5 year old. Up to this point we have been using Explode the Code and Ordinary Parents Guide to Reading, as well as BOB books (and Frog and Toad). Thank you again for your helpful review!!

  7. Lisa P says:

    I purchased their program and then wanted to return it, completely unopened. They are charging me a %15 “restocking fee”, in addition to a %10 credit card/website handling fee. I can understand the credit card fee and the shipping fee ($10 that was “free” to me that they paid), but $43 dollars to put the books back on their shelf? What a rip off! I am very disappointed. No where on their site does it talk about their return policy.

    If anyone wants their “complete” package and an extra “student materials” package, I have one for sale.
    prattmom @ gmail .com

  8. Lisa P says:

    Barbara has since said she won’t charge me the $43, thank goodness. I guess it isn’t so bad. She was worried about getting stuck with the curriculum at the end of the year with inventory and taxes. Can’t say I blame her. I guess she had compassion on me, and is going to work with me.
    (You may remove my original comment if you wish.)

  9. Amy says:

    Right now, I am using this curriculum and LOVE it! It was exactly what I’ve always been looking for. Recently, I’ve been invited to attend the Classical Conversation program. I have already purchased Level 1-4 and am hoping that I can still use this program. I honestly don’t know how Classical Conversations is set up and have heard that you might need a supplementary grammar program. Can anyone give me any insight? Thanks.

  10. Lindsay Hill says:

    Hi Amy,

    The Essentials portion of Classical Conversations is something separate from the Foundations program (the memory work/fine arts science part). In Essentials, CC uses IEW and their own grammar–but it is completely separate and is not a required part of the program. It is also an additional fee. HTH!

    • Marilyn says:

      Hi Lindsay,
      Just wondering…have you done CC Essentials or Phonics Road? We’re doing PR 3 right now and CC Foundations, but I’m looking into Essentials for next year or doing PR 4…any thoughs?

  11. Sandy Chastain says:

    We are just now using PR. My oldest has dyslexia and we have tried to get started many times but it hasn’t worked. We picked it up again 2 weeks ago, have made it all the way to week 8 and she read her first non-Dick and Jane book to me. She is almost 9 so of course we celebrated big time!!! This program is amazing. We are having some issues with the idea of “y” at the end of the word but it is so much easier than trying to do a phonics program, seperate speller, reading and writing. I do have a question for anyone doing it. I am on week 8 and haven’t done Building Code 4…did I miss something? I have gone through the dvd’s but I am afraid I missed it. When do we do the top of BldgCd4? btw- best review of this product yet!!!! Good job! And it is worth the money! We had to save up but I can’t wait for the next level.

  12. mommysoapbox says:

    Thank you so much for your excellent review! I’ve been on the computer for hours now reading reviews that all regurgitate what’s included in the package — yours is the first to tell how the program works in reality. Thank you so much! We’ve been using FLL, WWE, SS for dd (2nd grade) & ds will be 5 this summer & I’ve been looking for a program that wouldn’t have so much redundancy (we never do any copywork with FLL because WWE already covers it all) & he has such a short attention span I want to get something that is more complete rather than pieced together. I really appreciate that in your review you advised NOT to switch mid-program, because I had considered doing so. We’ll continue our program for dd since it’s what she’s used to & is working for her, & I’m thinking we’ll get PR to use for our small ones. Thank you again!!!

  13. Teresa says:

    We are doing PR 1 with my advanced reader and plan to continue through the summer so we can start level 2 in sept. He reads 3rd grade readers and above now. I am just wondering how you manage to teach this to several children. We have 3 all 3 yrs apart. My next one is 4 and we are going to do sonlight’s lang art program this sept because I wanted to give her another year before officially starting PR with her. As sonlight teaches sounds, I will be using all the sounds for each letter. I would love your input on how you teach this with multi levels. I do realize we will be teaching diff level to each child, never really getting to the same level.

  14. Jenifer says:

    Thank you for your great review. I do have a couple questions… We have Level 1 & 2. DS is 8 & knows the letters & *most* of the phonics/sounds. He was in public K & just memorized the sight words. Last year we concentrated on building his confidence & working on the basics again…then I found PR at a HS conference & was sold. He is very systematic & needs more structure as well as the rules up front. With past programs/public K, he’s had a hard time figuring out when an ‘A’ is long, short, or ‘ah’. I’m hoping PR will help with this. We really want to work hard to thru Level 1 quickly & be in Level 2 by January/February of this year.

    My quesions:
    1) how did you structure the lesson at the beginning with going at a more excelarated speed? Right now we are working on the first couple days of week 1 instructions. I would like to do 3 of the PR days lesson in 1 day. With ds being 8yr, a lot of the suggested ideas for week 1-4 are a little young for him. He already knows his letters & most sounds & is able to write his letters.
    2) Do you teach the letter sounds in the order as they are on the card… so that they will know a sound is a 1, 2, or 3 for the coding. ie: short a, long a, then ‘ah’?
    3) On the teacher flash cards are the corresponding rule tunes. PR will say when to teach the tune as we progress into the program, correct? (I’ve only watched the 1st lesson)
    4) do you know of any CDs/MP3 of the rule tunes being sung?? I’m not very good at forcing lyrics into a song that has other lyrics imbedded into my head. 🙂 …& i’m not the best singer in the world

    Thanks for any assistance. The detailed description in your review is great!

    • Laura says:

      1) how did you structure the lesson at the beginning with going at a more excelarated speed? Right now we are working on the first couple days of week 1 instructions. I would like to do 3 of the PR days lesson in 1 day. With ds being 8yr, a lot of the suggested ideas for week 1-4 are a little young for him. He already knows his letters & most sounds & is able to write his letters.

      I focused on teaching the flashcards only for weeks 1-4 for my accelerated dd (was age 8/third grade at the time). Once she had a pretty good grasp on them, we started Week 5 (actual list of words). She did 1-2 weeks worth of spelling words per day. She did not do the Level 1 “books” because she was already reading. She just needed a better foundation in phonics. 2-3 days per day for your son (8-12 words), if he’s not yet totally comfortable with the phonemes, sounds like it should work.

      2) Do you teach the letter sounds in the order as they are on the card… so that they will know a sound is a 1, 2, or 3 for the coding. ie: short a, long a, then ‘ah’?

      Yes, it is very important to memorize them in order because the markings reflect which of the multiple sounds of a given letter or letter team. The “name” of each letter/team becomes its list of sounds. For example, the team “ea” is called /ee/, /eh/, /ay/. The videos go over how to pronounce the sounds on each card.

      3) On the teacher flash cards are the corresponding rule tunes. PR will say when to teach the tune as we progress into the program, correct? (I’ve only watched the 1st lesson)

      When she teaches each spelling list on the DVDs, she sings the rule tune(s) for each word (if any). I always mark the number of the rule tune in my teacher book so that I remember which one to sing when we do the lesson. After awhile, you can spot which rule tune applies.

      4) do you know of any CDs/MP3 of the rule tunes being sung?? I’m not very good at forcing lyrics into a song that has other lyrics imbedded into my head. …& i’m not the best singer in the world

      Hmm, I’m not aware of one. Level 2 (or possibly Level 3?) has a sing-along for all the rule tunes, but it’s on the DVD. The lyrics of the rule tunes are in your teacher notebook. I listened to Mrs. Beers sing each one a couple of times until I felt comfortable with it. Some of them are easier than others.

  15. Ginger Gould says:

    Hi! We are on Level 2 of PR and I had started looking around at other curricula because ds7 is reading at around a 4/5th grade level and is a pretty good speller as well and PR has gotten kind of boring! However, I had not thought of advancing more rapidly thru the level! duh! I think we will start that after the New Year and maybe throw in McGuffy’s Speller for extra spelling words. I can’t wait to try out level 3!

  16. Marisa says:

    Hi, I was wondering if you still like The Phonics Road. I’m trying to decide which program to start my pre-kindergartener on this Fall. He’ll be 4 and is already sounding words out. However, I’m fearing that he has really just memorized them because of how fast he reads them. How has your youngest done since you started? I’m planning on purchasing Sonlight P4 but want a strong phonics program that includes spelling. Thank you so much for any feedback!

    • Laura says:

      Yes, I still love it. 🙂 I’m starting my fourth PR student with level 1 this fall.

    • I have to chime in here…my son was also an early reader (he taught himself to read sometime between age 2 when he learned his letters and sounds with that LeapFrog fridge thing…and age 3.5 when he was enrolled in Montessori kindergarten and we finally realized that he was reading). However, while he was a good reader by 5, he was a horrible speller and he sight read many unfamiliar complex words incorrectly! I fully believe it is due to Phonics Road that my son not only continues to be an avid reader, but is also an excellent speller and has the beginnings of a solid foundation in English grammar. We have now completed Levels 1&2, and will continue with Level 3 when we begin school in July! Thanks to Laura, who helped me realize that it was acceptable to speed up the lessons as needed.

      • Laura says:

        Something we tried this year with Level 2 and Level 3 was to split up the reading from the other parts. My 6yo finished Level 1 in March, so we’ve been doing just the literature section (Little House in the Big Woods) of Level 2 since April. My 6yo loves to write, so we’ve actually been doing a week’s worth of Little House per day. This fall we will do the grammar and spelling sections as outlined. I will have her read regular chapter or non-fiction books of her choosing for reading practice.

        My 8yo was scheduled to start Level 3 in the fall of 2012, but we lost momentum and didn’t do it for a few months. We picked it up again in March with the plan to finish the first half (17 weeks). She also chose to split up the reading/writing section from the spelling/grammar section. We sped through the grammar and spelling and are now nearly done with Robert Fulton. I find it easier to give the writing instruction the focus it deserves by splitting things up. This fall we will do the second half of Level 3.

  17. Maria says:

    I am in the process of considering a switch to Phonics Road with my 7 yo dd. We’ve completed FLL 1, WWE 1, AAS 1 & 2. I began considering a switch b/c the programs we were using did not challenge her, and in most cases did not progress quickly enough for her. I was constantly adapting adapting several different programs. I love the literary aspect of FLL and WWE, but after watching just a few lessons of PR Level 1, I was thrilled to have someone actually teaching me what I would then teach to my children. But before I sell all that I had purchased for 2nd grade, I thought I would get some input from the HSing experts that have used this product.

    Level one begins well below my daughters LA level, but I intend to move quickly through the concepts and begin level 2 in the fall. The difficulty for me is that none of the instructional content is printed. I have watched some of the videos, but I certainly don’t have time to watch all of them simply to determine if the product is a complete program. I’m hoping you can tell me if this program will need to be supplemented based on my expectations for LA. If so, feel free to make suggestions that would help me reach my expectations while using this program.

    First, I am looking for a LA program that includes ALL the foundations: phonics, spelling, handwriting, copywork, dictation, writing, grammar, literature (reading and poetry memorization), and comprehension. IMHO, I don’t think there is a program out there that does all of these things as completely as most homeschooling moms would prefer. So, from those who have used PR, I would like to find out what is missing or isn’t sufficiently addressed.

    Thank You!

    • Laura says:

      PR does not have dictation or poetry memorization. It also does not have sentence diagramming. I’m having mine do diagramming after PR4 in the grammar program they switch to (Analytical Grammar). Only 1-2 literature selections are covered in PR 2-4. I have my kids read additional books. I am happy with the way PR handles everything else.

      There is a “Quick Start” package for PR, but I haven’t used it. I accelerated my second child through PR1 and PR2. I had younger ones in line, so I watched the videos and took good notes.

      • Maria says:


        Thank you so much! That is exactly what I suspected. I am so grateful that you take the time to share your experience.

        All the best to you.

  18. Laura says:

    Oh, I should add that there aren’t comprehension questions, but the writing exercises demonstrate comprehension. I talk to my child after we read to make sure she understands.

  19. Juliette Reiland says:

    Do you actually write everything out on a whiteboard/chalkboard like she does? Or do you just show them the teacher’s manual for the building codes?

  20. Stephanie says:

    Hello! I am tirelessly researching the best curriculum to teach my daughter, who will be turning 5 in October, how to read. Obviously, I need a solid phonics program that progresses fluidly into learning how to read. She is somewhat of a perfectionist, and a by-the-book personality. She is a smart girl who, when absolutely ready to learn, will have fun with it I am sure. Is Phonics Road more of an advanced program for those children who already acquainted with phonics? It seems very advanced, having looked it over on their website. Thank you!

    • Laura says:

      I have used it as a child’s first exposure to phonics. It does assume that a child can manipulate a marker/pencil well enough to write. My current 5yo has fine motor skill delays, so she is doing the program using letter tiles instead of writing. Because Phonics Road progresses fairly swiftly as the levels increase, I have taken longer than a year for one level if that works better for a particular child. As a perfectionist myself, I like that Phonics Roads explicitly lays out the rules for why a word spelled like _____ is pronounced like _____. I’ve noticed that my perfectionist children tend to do better with explicit instruction like that instead of intuiting out rules and conventions.

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