Please Note: A Beka does not sell their materials to Exodus Books. The following overview is meant to help you evaluate A Beka as a curriculum, and give you some other options to consider as well.
A Beka stresses memorization as the key to learning, and their phonics program bears out that philosophy. Based on straightforward decoding methods, the K4-2 grade course emphasizes letter and blend sounds and their underlying rules. This is not sight-reading—students are expected to become competent and flexible readers able to pronounce words they haven't previously encountered.
Though there are some pictures to demonstrate sounds and words, the emphasis is on letter/blend sound recognition; any hint of sight memorization is discouraged. That's not to say these are boring texts filled with words and rules—like any A Beka course, the books in this series are colorful and engaging. Plenty of supplementary materials also help keep kids interested.
How Do These Work?
This is a four-year phonics program that also covers basics of handwriting, limited grammar rules, and reading comprehension. The K4 level is introductory information to be taught between ten and twenty minutes a day. Students begin by learning to identify vowels and their basic sounds, move on to consonants, and finish with basic blends and one-vowel words. They are also taught to write letters cursive-style; manuscript isn't covered until cursive is mastered. At this age, kids shouldn't be forced to do too much, and the coursework is easily paced so they don't get overwhelmed.
K5 steps up the pace to cover basic rules. 1st-2nd grade fill in gaps, introduce more and more elaborate words, learn to distinguish among homonyms, etc. There aren't a lot of fancy or innovative methods here, just rote memorization intended to get kids to the place they can sound out words based on what they know of rules and sound relationships. After second grade the phonics program transitions to reading; students learn basically all the rules they need to know in phonics in order to be prepared for the reading course.
A variety of extra materials aid instruction. Charts, flashcards, readers, and audio tapes stress important rules and sounds, and help kids memorize lists of blends. A Handbook for Reading is basically an extended word and sound list organized from most basic to most complex and covering every sound needed to identify words in English. There aren't a lot of bells and whistles here, just the basic material needed to teach your children to read.
Obviously this course requires a fair amount of teacher involvement. As it isn't a video based curriculum, you'll need to teach your children how to identify all the letters and the sounds they represent, as well as reading them the rules. Preparation time can be kept to a minimum, as the teacher's guides provide all the information you need to teach the lessons, including scripted lesson plans. Answers to all written work in the student worktexts are included in the teacher's manuals.
Our Honest Opinion:
This is a straightforward phonics program, and like many others it will get your kids reading. There isn't anything particularly innovative or original to set it apart from other courses, and though this means aspects of the program seem pretty dry it also means you won't encounter confusing or unorthodox instruction methods. Like all A Beka products, this series is conservative in every sense of the word.
Many parents will appreciate the Christian perspective of the authors, though it doesn't come through all that much (this is just phonics, after all). It mostly means there aren't inappropriate or crude stories or pictures in the readers, and that the stories often illustrate a Christian character trait or truth. A Beka works character-building instruction into everything they publish, and phonics is no exception. While this isn't necessarily negative, it does tend to make some of the stories seem a little contrived.
The important thing with phonics education is that your kids learn to read, and learn to read well. Cool pictures and gimmicky programs might be fun and exciting, but pragmatic courses like A Beka's do the job just as well. If you intend to use other A Beka material for your students, starting with their phonics series will help you segue easily when you reach higher grades. Not flashy in approach, A Beka Phonics will nonetheless adequately prepare your kids to move on to more advanced study.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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