BJU has released new editions of the books reviewed here. Beginnings has been replaced by Focus on Fives and both Phonics & English and Reading 1 have been updated. We will update this review when we can, but believe most of it holds true for the new versions.
BJU's phonics program begins somewhat unconventionally. Beginnings for kindergartners is a complete school curriculum (except math and Bible), integrating social studies, character-building, science, health and safety, etc., all under the umbrella of phonics. More than any other BJU offering, this one requires active teacher involvement. Content is well integrated and suited for presentation, but will still require quite a bit of teacher preparation. It is also the least homeschool-friendly—designed for classroom use, it is large enough to make adapting it for one or two kids quite a chore.
After kindergarten, the phonics program kind of splits in two. For first grade, there is Phonics & English and Reading 1, which both improve kids' reading skills and understanding of language. Kindergarten is the only grade with a (nearly) monolithic curriculum, though the first grade programs continue to integrate subjects well. After first grade, phonics instruction is officially over, though the grammar and reading courses continue.
How Do These Work?
Beginnings (Grade K5)
BJU employs the decoding method for teaching phonics. Kids are taught to identify phonemes (the individual pronounceable parts of words) and to sound out larger words from there. The authors have paid great attention to the way word parts sound by themselves, so that students don't learn a sound one way and then encounter words where the same letter combinations are pronounced differently. (For instance, the word "pan" is grouped with words like "can" and "tan", not other words beginning in "pa-," since the "pa-" vowel sound is long.)
Beginnings will doubtless look daunting at first. A two-volume teacher's edition provides the instructional framework for a course that includes a student worktext, a Phonics Practice workbook, Phonics Charts, a Visuals Flip Chart, a series of readers, a companion readers teacher's edition, an audio CD with phonics songs and poems to memorize, and phonics flash cards (with letters, letter combinations, and basic words). The size of the program isn't quite as unmanageable as it may seem, however, as everything is clearly explained in the teacher's materials.
This is primarily a phonics curriculum, though material from other disciplines is also covered (mostly in the context of teaching reading). Set up for classroom use, the arsenal of teaching aids work easily with lots of kids, but can be unnecessary and frustrating in a homeschool situation. Fortunately, you don't have to buy everything—you can get by with just the workbooks, teacher's editions and readers.
The readers begin as textless picture books. Students are to "read" each picture and answer different kinds of questions (literal, interpretive, critical, and appreciative) to improve critical thinking skills. Readers increase in difficulty (after the first few they actually have words); the multi-level questions continue. The consumable worktexts (and flashcards, flip charts, etc.) are very colorful with cartoony pictures kids will enjoy. The pace of this program is pretty fast, as all the material is supposed to be completed in a year in 160 lessons.
Phonics & English for first grade is similar to Beginnings, though it is only phonics and English and not an integration of multiple subjects. A two-volume teacher's edition, consumable student worktext, Phonics Practice workbook, a Visuals packet (including flashcards), a Flip Chart, and an audio CD complete the course. The format is the same as Beginnings, with 165 lessons for one year of study. The main difference is the added focus in Phonics & English on phonics rules as well as the sounds themselves.
Reading 1 is the simplest of the courses. It can be used alone or in conjunction with Phonics & English. A two-volume teacher's edition, one consumable student worktext, and six student readers are all that is required. The focus is more on language arts/grammar and understanding why certain words go together and others do not, though phonics is still covered. Meant to supplement the Phonics & English course, there is reinforcing overlap between the two. The readers contain moderate-length stories that encourage a particular Biblical principle or virtue; each one is colorfully illustrated (as is the workbook).
For each of these three curricula, the teacher's editions contain reduced student worktext pages for correcting students' work. They also contain everything you'll need to teach the course as intended—suggestions for activities, scripted lessons, homework assignments, background information, etc. While there is a lot of material for the courses, the teacher's editions make it at least understandable and manageable.
Our Honest Opinion:
This is a good phonics program, but it is also very involved. For a classroom with lots of kids this would be an excellent choice, as many of the activities and assignments are meant for larger groups. But for one or two kids being taught at home, BJU Phonics would be hard to adapt. However, it is possible to do so (especially with some creativity), and these programs will definitely teach kids to be competent readers.
Some people may not like the integrated approach of Beginnings, preferring their phonics curriculum to be just a phonics curriculum. One advantage is that you won't really have to teach anything else (except math), and your kids will simultaneously learn to read and about history, science, etc. However, the layout makes it difficult to separate the phonics content from the rest.
Each course is very teacher-intensive. You will need to allot quite a bit of time to preparation and instruction, though that's true of most phonics programs. Then again, spending the time to make sure your kids can read well is probably the biggest favor you'll do for them educationally, and BJU's courses will certainly help you in that endeavor.
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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