How many kids can claim to have learned to read the way many of the United States founding fathers did? Any who have learned to read from The New England Primer of 1777, first published in Boston in 1690 and revised and reissued many times. This edition includes the original material, edited and expanded by Gary and Wanda Sanseri of Spell to Write and Read fame.
The original version began with the alphabet, and lists of vowels, consonants, double letters, italic letters, and italic double letters for kids to memorize. Following that is a collection of Christian prayers and hymns (most of them by Isaac Watts), lists of words from one to five syllables, alphabet lessons, the Apostles's Creed, the Westminster Shorter Catechism, and more.
In the Sanseris's edition, the book begins with a section addressed to parents concerning phonogram instruction, followed by nine "I can read a book" stories, followed by the original content. The original content has been altered a bit: archaic words and spelling having been replaced by modern words and spelling, the print has been reset in 12-point Times, and the two questions in the Shorter Catechism on baptism have been supplemented by Charles Spurgeon's Reformed Baptist answers.
There's also a section in the back by Gary Sanseri called "A Clear Path to God," which is an essay presenting the biblical Gospel of Jesus Christ in plain language. The whole tone of this volume, both the original content and the modern additions, is explicitly Christian—in the Puritan-influenced Colonies, academic and moral/spiritual education were seen as inseparable.
The New England Primer of 1777 edited and expanded by Gary and Wanda Sanseri is not your typical reading instruction book, and it certainly isn't a program in any current sense of that term. It's a pretty basic introduction to letters and words, and it moves very rapidly (far more rapidly than anything written in the last hundred years).
Without the intro about phonetic instruction by Wanda Sanseri, most parents these days would be pretty lost. But it's really not as hard as it might seem: all you have to do is train your children to read words by sounding them out. And with the added content, this is even easier than it was over 300 years ago.
Children today are able to read increasingly less and less, even though reading programs include more and more features. The simplicity of The New England Primer of 1777 is precisely what's needed in such a situation. Not only is it sufficient for teaching reading (and the difficulty of much of the content will simply mean you have more capable readers), it's the most Christian reading program we've seen. Highly recommended.
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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