Thursday, May 22, 2014

How 6 phonics programs present first lessons (Bob Books, 100EZ, All About Reading, Happy Phonics, Phonics Pathways, Reading Pathways)

August 2016 Edit: When I have time, I need to add Logic of English Foundations to the mix. I am using it with my middle kid and so far I love it! I tried AAR Pre-Reading with my middle kid, and it was a no-go. She thought it was too babyish, and I thought it was a waste of time and money. My firstborn used All About Reading levels 1-3, though we modified it somewhat. He is now on level 2 of All About Spelling and a fluent reader.

When comparing phonics programs, I think it's sometimes helpful to see how different programs start out. I want to be respectful of copyright laws, of course, so I'm mostly pulling these images from samples the publisher has made freely available online. That's ok, yah? I hope.

I chose titles that I own. I bought all of them second-hand except for AAR. Links to Amazon are affiliate. 

We are midway through All About Reading level 1 and that's the program we've used the most. Johnny read Set 1 of Bob Books. We've done a few games from Happy Phonics and plan to do more. Everything else, I've only looked over or done on a limited basis.

Here's samples from Bob Books, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, All About Reading level 1, Phonics Pathways, Reading Pathways, and Happy Phonics.

If any of these grab your interest, see if you can find them at your library, borrow on inter-library loan, or from a friend before purchasing. Preview more pages on Amazon or on the book's websites for more samples.

Bob Books set 1: $9 - 10 per set typically. I bought mine for $0.99/set on Kindle.

The Bob Books start out quite basic, as you'd imagine, and teach the sounds for /m/, /a/ (short), /t/, and /s/ in the first book.

As you can see from the preview on Amazon, (spoiler alert!) the first title in the book has Mat and Sam sitting. A lot. Ha!

Here's how one mom used the book to create six lessons for her child at Teaching Reading with Bob Books
Johnny has asked to read some more, so that's positive. I'm treating them as reinforcement of what he's learned.

He read the 12 books in Set 1 over the course of three days, since it was reviewing words he already knew. I'm not sure how a new reader would perceive the books. Perhaps they'd be excited they read a book. Ask me again in a few years when it's Vivie's turn.

Because really, with that first book and the intro of 4 sounds, they are reading words right away. That is cool!

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons $12

This book starts with: /m/, /s/

The first lesson includes some writing, which you could probably skip if you wanted. Here's the first lesson:

In the intro, the author explains why it uses "funny letters" and to some I guess it makes sense, given how irregular English can be.

It makes me twitchy. I can't do it. Here's a screen shot of a later lesson. I think 40? Behold:

Some people love this program and see great results, but I just couldn't stand the look of it to get past that first lesson. It seems like you have to teach your child using their specific method, but it doesn't translate right away to real books. I'm not sure how well the method works to teach spelling.

There's a ton of text on each page, even if the child isn't supposed to be reading it. I can see how that could be overwhelming for a kid. Perhaps the parent could use the book as a guide, along with a whiteboard or letter magnets or something for the child to manipulate, rather than looking directly at the book and its funky letters.

Today, I opened to a random page maybe 1/4th of the way through and asked Johnny to read it. He could read two selections and didn't seem to be too thrown by the style. I asked if he wanted to use this book for his reading lessons.

"No, thank you."

It's inexpensive, I'll give it that.

Phonics Pathways 9th edition $19 for 9th or 10th edition

I don't have the latest edition, but perhaps the 9th isn't too far off? View excerpts of the 10th edition here.

Phonics Pathways begins with the five short vowel sounds. I appreciate that it depicts the letter "a" in two fonts: the way often seen in typography and the way it is typically written.

There are simple games sprinkled throughout for variety and reinforcement of concepts. You just photocopy and cut as necessary.

Next up, the /s/ sound followed by the /m/ sound, and then blending /ma/ /me/ /mi/ /mo/ /mu/:

Visually to me, that page is a lot easier to handle. Not a ton of text, and a large font. I could do without the "inspirational" quotes on nearly every page.

The child wouldn't be able to read it in early lessons and it's just visual clutter. Plus, come on: "Shoot for the moon, if you miss, you'll eventually land among the stars!"?! Gag.

A teaching tip on page 37 asks that the child finish lessons through page 49 before trying to read real books. This takes us through most, if not all, consonant sounds with short vowels following. A child would be reading CVC words at this point. The first CVC word is introduced just a few lessons in. Adding Bob Books would work ahead of page 49.

Reading Pathways $19

Reading Pathways is a book written by the author of Phonics Pathways. It can be used with any phonics program. The intro states that it is written in the same sequence as Phonics Pathways and can be used in accompaniment. It's designed for extra practice and reinforcement; not for new instruction.

The book uses "reading pyramids" like so:

Note the sample page is page 3. A child will need to have some experience with blending and CVC reading before jumping into this book. Johnny saw this book and wondered if we were going to use it for the reading lesson. I sorta teased him and said I thought this book was a little too hard for him, and he was all, "I'll show you, Mama!" and read through this pyramid and the next page. Hehe.

I've seen the pyramid approach in the All About Reading fluency pages, but they aren't shaped like pyramids. More like a right triangle.

These pyramids are helpful for left-right tracking, eyeball-strengthening and fluency-building. I like it.
If you are intrigued by Phonics Pathways and Reading Pathways, I'd recommend this pdf by the author called Guide to Phonics Pathways and Reading Pathways. In it, the author explains more of the methodology with each book, and matches up page numbers if you were to use both in conjunction. 

Happy Phonics $39-55

The gist of Happy Phonics is to use simple games to instruct or reinforce reading. Though not required, you can use it alongside Explode the Code workbooks. The author revised her program to go in ETC order.

I bought Happy Phonics at a used curriculum sale for $20. Regularly $55 new (or $39 for an e-version, but you'd need to print on card stock for many games), it was a deal especially since the components were already cut out and organized for me, and in some cases laminated. I'm sure it took a long time for that mama! There are a lot of games and activities.

To the left is the Flippin' Fun activity. Consonants, vowels, and more consonants you can flip to make words and non-words for practice. To the right is the Reading House activity. There's a brad holding a circle of endings (pictured is -at). You slide a letter strip up the chimney through the house and your child reads the words. Mat, cat, fat, hat, etc. Some endings get quite complex as you progress through the program.

Here, Johnny is playing the Castle Game. The game board consists of vowels. The cards are all pictures. He is to say the picture and determine the vowel used in the word. He moves his dime along the board to the next correct vowel. So if he sees a card with a pig on it, he'd move his token to the "i." It's actually a two-person game but he played it by himself at that moment.

In the beginning, I was overwhelmed with all the Happy Phonics materials. There are so many games! I have them stored in individual zip bags, sorted by game and labeled with a sharpie. The previous owner stored everything in a flat plastic scrapbooking file thing. I moved it to a Sterilite file storage box with a top lid and so far, so good.

If I was starting with a new set, I might just cut and organize games by each section rather than do the entire set at once.

I'm using some of the intro-level games with Vivienne (age 3 years, 5 months). She's learning capital and lowercase letters by name and in some cases sound.

All About Reading level 1 $99 plus manipulative components

This curriculum includes a teacher's guide, student workbook, three readers, flashcards and letter tiles. The links go to the pdf samples.

There's a pre-reading level, which we skipped for Johnny.

Lesson 1 starts with /m/, /s/, /p/, /a/ sounds.

Please view the teacher's manual sample for the entire first lesson. I'll share part of it here:

We start with the sounds of the four letters above (short /a/ only). The lessons are scripted for the teacher's ease.

We're blending right away to read a word: map. Use the letter tiles or flash cards to form the word.

Next, we change the word a letter at a time and the child reads those words. A quick intro of consonants and vowels. Time for a worksheet:

We ask/show the child which words are names and which words rhyme. They cut and paste the words to the matching picture.

Some practice reading three words on flashcards, and the lesson concludes with you reading aloud to your child from a storybook. 

The worksheets are fun. I give J the option to cut and tape/paste words like that, or just write them below, if it's a matching sort of activity. 

As you can see in another sample from lesson 2, one of the sheets involves making ice cream cones and scoops out of rhyming words:

You get some fine motor skills practice with cutting and coloring, if you choose.

Here's the first fluency practice page from lesson 3:

Visually, I think this page is a bit overwhelming at first. There's more text on the page than a child at this stage of reading would typically see on a page in a book. So, we cover the page with a blank sheet and only read what's exposed, if Johnny seems flustered. 

The fluency pages are important. Don't skip.

Be sure to check out the sample stories in the reader (there are 3 readers in level 1). They're black and white illustrations and though they aren't actual literature, they're reasonably entertaining without seeming too forced to fit the words in the story.

AAR1 has some word flipper pages similar to the one pictured above with Happy Phonics.

Though expensive, this program gets the child reading right away and engages several learning styles. The readers are a wonderful part of the program.

In sum:

I'm a curriculum sampler. I can't help it. You do not need all of these programs! I do like having a few ways to teach/reinforce concepts, so I'm going to hang onto all but Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. Probably going to donate it to my library, since it doesn't have a copy.

If the price doesn't scare you, I'd say just go for AAR. 

My Phonics Pathways and Reading Pathways books were purchased for $14 shipped on eBay. I received them last week so I haven't had much opportunity to use them. So far, I like what I see from both. Start with PP and add RP if needed. But, if they're sold as a bundle for a deal, get 'em. Some negative reviews I've seen complain about the dry, boring aspect of it. If you keep lessons short and maybe move to letter titles or a whiteboard on occasion, that could help.

I want to do more with Happy Phonics. Johnny really enjoys these games. If your style is more "who needs a curriculum, anyway?" you may like HP. Or, if your child is reluctant to read with other methods, you may engage him with this.

Oh, and Bob Books. See if your library has some to borrow. Your child may love or loathe them. If you're buying full price, I'd say just do a set or two at a time. Consult the Bob Books website for recommended order.

There are a lot of other programs out there that may be a better fit for you. I hope this post was more helpful than overwhelming. Let me know what questions you have. Just remember, I'm no expert.


  1. I have to say, you RUINED the Bob book plot for me! I've been saving up to buy them and DYING to read the plots, and now. . . what is the point??? I already know they both sit a lot. Why bother? *sob*

    And I'm totally with you when it comes to 100 easy lessons. I'm totally supportive of people who have success with it, but it makes me twitchy too!

  2. To help make learning to read fun and engaging, our reading program includes lesson stories that are matched to the progress of your child's reading abilities.

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  3. Thanks Kacie! This was really helpful!! I'm using 100 easy lessons with my daughter and we both can't stand it! We're too visual, and I think she needs more games and interaction. Even AAR looks too "workbook " style for her. I may go for happy phonics or something similar. Thanks again!


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