Like most new reading programs based on the Classical and Charlotte Mason models, Classical Phonics is essentially a revision and reprint of a turn-of-the-century guide. Florence Akin'slittle 1913 book called Word Mastery was intended to get kids reading fluently as quickly as possible, and Cheryl Lowe's updated version is presented with the same intent.
Of course, there's more to the course than just this book: because Classical Phonics needed supplementary readers, Lowe wrote her own reader-workbooks along with a single comprehensive teacher guide, calling the whole program First Start Reading. The workbooks are actually the best place to start, while the phonics text provides plenty of word lists for them to hone their skills and expand their vocabularies.
How Do These Work?
Each of the three First Start Reading workbooks include a number of two-page lessons in which students learn letter and blend sounds, practice reading, color and draw (there are a few non-drawing lessons), and practice handwriting. The workbooks are consumable, but fairly inexpensive. Lessons begin quite simply, and become longer as the course progresses.
The First Start Reading Teacher Guide covers all three workbooks. Each student page appears in reduced form, along with fully outlined lessons and instruction for presentation. At the beginning is a brief explanation of phonics and some of its terms (words like phonogram and phoneme are defined), important information for teachers to keep in mind, and detailed instructions for showing your kids how to properly hold a pencil. An appendix includes some reproducible activity/coloring pages.
Instruction proceeds rapidly. In the very first lesson in Book A, students learn the letter /m/, its sound, and color a couple images that begin with /m/ (a man and the moon). In the next lesson they learn the short /a/ sound, and by lesson five they're writing and reading the short word "Sam." There are no words longer than four letters in the first two books, and even Book C only covers up to five letter words, but the pace is fast and stories are much longer by the end of the last book.
Cheryl Lowe believes it's essential for kids to learn the short vowel sounds right away, and to drill them to mastery. Consequently, you might not feel that First Start Reading is very advanced, but bear in mind this is a single-year course for kindergarten students. If they can make it through all three books, they'll be ready for more advanced reading practice in first grade and beyond.
Also, don't look for anything beyond straightforward phonics, because it's not here. In these early workbooks, there are no long vowel sounds, and no exceptions to the basic rules. The emphasis is on practice and basic fluency, and Lowe effects the latter through the former, having kids go over the basics over and over and over.
After First Start Reading comes Classical Phonics, a single thin book used by both students and teachers to help kids work toward mastery. First, students review each letter of the alphabet accompanied by line drawings of objects that start with the letter in question. Then they move to words in families grouped according to representative phonics rules covering all the major blends, sounds, and exceptions. Directions for teachers to present each word list appear at the bottom of applicable pages in small print.
The author argues that, since words are presented out of context, children will have no recourse but to read each one phonetically. The only problem we can see is that kids could probably memorize the lists and just say what they remember, though the number of words in each one make such a scenario highly unlikely.
Together, First Start Reading and Classical Phonics make an excellent phonics and early reading program for kindergarten through 2nd grade. You'll definitely need to find more reading marterial after that, but these should get your youngsters reading and fluent relatively easily and quickly. The teacher direction is clear and succinct, there aren't a bunch of other elements you need to buy and prepare, and there are no bells and whistles other than the tools for teaching phonics simply.
Our Honest Opinion:
Phonics and reading are about the most important things you'll teach your kids from an academic perspective (we've said that before, we'll say it again). If you want your kids to have the building blocks for improving their reading and vocabulary skills on their own, this is the kind of program you want. It isn't gimmicky, it does its job, and it's about as no-frills as you can get while remaining effective.
The Classical Phonics book can be used as a supplement to any phonics program, but works best with First Start Reading. You'll want to be sure your kids pay attention to details as they make their way through each book; when they're ready for Classical Phonics you might consider using the word lists as spelling lists in addition to reading practice. Overall, this is a great little program, and well worth the affordable price.
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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