If the student worktexts look somewhat bland and uninviting, you need to look at the rest of the curriculum. Veritas Press's Phonics Museum for grades K-1 is one of the most interactive and visually stimulating phonics programs around. Drawing on their classical education approach, the authors teach phonics through art and history. The goal of the program is to get kids reading well as quickly as possible; the first readers (or primers) appear slow-paced, but the course gains momentum as students increase in skill.
This is primarily a decoding based phonics program—students are taught to identify first individual letter sounds, then combinations and blends, and finally they are taught how to put these sounds together to identify both familiar and unfamiliar words. Formal phonics rules are covered, usually in the context of how they apply to the sounds of words.
How Do These Work?
There is a lot more here than in a typical reading program. Several decks of playing/flash cards, a music CD, interlocking letter-puzzle pieces, a reversable game board that doubles as a pop-up "museum" (complete with paper doll visitors), student workbooks, teacher manuals, 31 primers, and The Alphabet Quest storybook. The Alphabet Quest sets the stage for the course's theme; it is the story of a boy who learns about letters, art and history while visiting an art museum with his parents. Students make their own exhibits in the pop-up museum around different letters and sounds, collecting their own "artifacts" as well as hanging picture cards that begin with the same sound or letter. A variety of games makes learning fun, and the music CD helps kids memorize phonics rules.
The consumable student worktexts are black and white, and are mostly just activities and exercises designed to drive home important concepts. Exercises are oriented mostly to word identification, handwriting skills, and comparison of rules (i.e., homophones, etc.). Students will need to be guided by a teacher as they complete the workbook pages, though there are limited instructions on most pages. There is one workbook for each year (K-1), with several workpages for each lesson in the teacher manual.
Teacher manuals include reduced student pages, though not answers to exercises (you shouldn't need them). Plenty of suggestions for presenting material should help reduce lesson-planning time, though there isn't a ton of actual support (in-depth explanations of rules, background information for primer stories, etc.). Each lesson relates to a single rule which the activities and exercises are meant to reinforce. The teacher manuals are scripted, so parents can simply read out of the manual (or paraphrase) as they go through the lesson with their kids. This is very much a teacher-intensive course, meaning that nearly every stage of every lesson is going to require active teacher involvement.
Students apply practically what they've learned when they read the primers. Each one covers an important historical event or person, usually offering a Christian message or moral at the end. Colorful illustrations imitating the art of the period dealt with illuminate each story and keep kids' attention. The stories are simple, though they tend to be lengthy—designed to be read by an entire class taking turns, this can be quite a chore for a single child. Authors of the primers include Doug Bond, R.C. Sproul, Jr., Nancy Wilson, and others.
This is definitely a classroom-oriented course, designed for use by several kids at once. While the content and basic structure are easily adapted to a homechool setting, the work load might be overly intense for one child to shoulder, though it would be possible to just skip some of the activities. Parents might even tag-team with their child when reading through the primers (or break each one into multiple sessions) so the child doesn't get exhausted reading the entire story out loud.
Our Honest Opinion:
This is a good program for teaching kids to read, especially if you want to integrate multiple subjects at a time. However, the sheer scope of the course can be daunting for students and teachers alike (a common complaint with Veritas' Omnibus course as well). The primers, while visually engaging and educational, are sometimes contrived—the limited vocabulary often isn't quite sufficient to convey the ideas in the story. The games, cards, etc. can also be overwhelming, especially when the instructor is trying to figure out what all of them do.
However, there is no doubt that your kids will learn to read with this program if you keep them focused. The decoding method of phonics instruction is an excellent way to educate confident readers who can confidently navigate their way even through unfamiliar words. The "extras" of this course can be a little overboard, but the content is certainly here and your kids will be learning other things than simply how to sound out words. For those who need to spend less time rather than more on phonics, this is probably not your best option; on the other hand, the fact that you can cover multiple subjects at once might be just the time-saver you're looking for.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes 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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