Teaching language arts to early elementary students can be a real challenge, because being thorough is very important. Fortunately, I received a review copy of the First Start Reading program from Memoria Press to use with my 5 year old son. It includes instruction and practice using a classical education approach to teaching phonics.
First Start Reading
The First Start Reading program is a Kindergarten level phonics program that includes teaching reading and printing as well. The whole set includes a 322 page softcover Teacher Guide, as well as softcover Books A-D for the students to work in. Book A has 25 lessons, Book B has 26 lessons, Book C has 33 lessons, and Book D has 12 lessons. They get increasingly more difficult and involved as the child completes more of the program. Books A-C also include reviews and assessments to ensure your child has mastered the information presented in the book.
There are a variety of ways in which a student works through the lessons. Each lesson is different, but a sort of routine is established so they are not being thrown for a loop every time! For example, we worked through Book A through the review period. It began with the first few lessons showing pictures of items that began with the letter/phoneme being introduced. Then it had a spot to illustrate something beginning with that sound. Finally, the student was instructed to trace and then print the letter (upper and lower case) on the provided lines. Lesson 3 mixed it up a little by providing a space to illustrate something first and then practice writing very basic words on provided lines after that. However, Lesson 4 went back to the original format. Slowly, the lessons changed a bit and eventually ended up with more complex writing exercises and even some stories to read. The whole time, though, the format stayed similar enough that my son knew what to expect and what was expected of him to complete the lesson.
If this sounds a little overwhelming, you might want to read the article on the Memoria Press website by Cheryl Lowe (author of “First Start Reading”) entitled, “What is the Classical Approach to Phonics?” This program covers both short and long vowels, consonants, almost 4 dozen common words, as well as manuscript printing. In all, there are 31 phonetic stories throughout the 4 book program. The Teacher Guide is great at guiding you, the teacher, through each lesson with a clear script. It also walks you through the assessments. There are even some great tips for teaching proper pencil grip. There’s also a section with some recommendations for some phonics recitation to help your child master the information they’re covering in their lessons.
My son was excited to have a program just for him. He is 5, but the way his birthday falls makes it where he would not have been in kindergarten this year had we gone the public school route. That said, he is very bright. He is ready to start reading and is an enthusiastic learner.
He did great at the actual phonics. He quickly learned how to read small words and sound things out. That is something he has been doing on his own for a while, so he was thrilled to be able to show off his skills in a more formal way.
He enjoyed creating illustrations for the lessons. He is a little more artsy than my older son, who probably would have tried to weasel out of that part! Heath was glad to draw some really creative artwork to demonstrate his knowledge of the particular sound or idea that the lesson was about.
My 5 year old is not the most coordinated with the fine motor skills required for nice printing. We have not done a lot of formal handwriting, so this was a bit of a challenge for us. He liked that the lines included little dots to help him know where letters were supposed to start or fit on the line.
It was a bit heavy on the writing for him, but I think that if we keep at it, it will be worth it to continue pushing him out of his comfort zone. He loves to get to choose his favorite letter or word as suggested in the book. Sometimes he picks all of what he has written as his favorite because he feels like he has done such an excellent job on his handwriting!
I liked that the Teacher Guide included a script for me to read aloud to him. It had several different ideas than I was able to come up with on my own from just looking at the student book. It provided was to help with ear training and reminded me to check his pencil grip as well.
The lessons have built up his confidence in writing and reading quickly. I look forward to completing the rest of the books with him. We have been using them 3-5 times a week for the past month and a half and each lesson took less than 30 minutes. This is the kind of brief, concise curriculum that appeals to me since I am homeschooling many children at once.
Memoria Press has quality classical education curriculum, and this program is no exception! I look forward to trying more from them in the future.
The full First Start Reading program is available for just $42.95 or $28 for just the four student books. You can follow Memoria Press on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest as well.