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
- grammar (including sentence diagramming)
- reading and comprehension
- literary elements
- outlining and writing from an outline
- 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.
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. 🙂