When the opportunity arose through the Schoolhouse Crew Review Team to review a classical curriculum called First Start Reading by Memoria Press I jumped at the opportunity. What drew me the most to this curriculum was the fact that not only would my son be mastering his phonics but would also be improving his handwriting and early reading skills all together.
About the Curriculum: First Start Reading: Phonics, Reading and Printing by Cheryl Lowe includes the Teacher Manual and student books A-D. This is a full phonics course which can span an entire grade level depending on the readiness of the student. The course features proper pencil grip, precise letter formation, consonant letter sounds, short and long vowel mastery, CVC Words (Sight and Common words), early reading skills (punctuation, plurals, etc), and beginning sentences.
The workbooks have a total of 25-26 lessons, a word mastery review section, and several pages of assessment. Each workbook mainly sticks to the same lesson format and progresses forward at a reasonable pace. An example of this progression is that Book A has a focus on learning to read short sentences. In Book B, there are short stories built upon the phonics and words learned in Book A. Book C and D have longer stories and sentences to master.
The lessons feature different activities such as tracing the dotted line letters, coloring the black and white illustrations, drawing a picture per instructions given, blending, completing words with the missing letters, find and color, and so on. This may seems like a lot of different activities but note that these span over all four books. The lessons are never more than two pages long until a student reaches book D where the lesson are up to 6 pages long.
The Teacher Manual is helpful in directing one through the entire course of student books A-D. There are tips, assessment suggestions, several different approaches to teach a single child or an entire class. The manual may seem large and overwhelming, but it is easy to navigate. It’s a must have aid if you feel like you need things set out in a easy to use and follow through format. I feel one will benefit from the curriculum to its fullest if an investment in acquiring the manual is made.
How We Are Using This Curriculum:
My son is four years old and my second homeschooled child, he’s ahead in his studies due to watching me teach his older sister. He has shown readiness early on in learning to read, so I felt that this curriculum would be a good fit for him in achieving this goal. As with any curriculum, I strongly believe a parent should follow the lead of their child. They should never push and frustrate a child while learning a new skill. If teaching is not working one way it’s fine to stop and come back to it later or try an entirely different approach. First Start Reading: Phonics, Reading and Printing I feel allows for a lot of leeway in this area.
I decided to let my son lead and take this curriculum as slow as he needed in each area in order to makes sure new concepts were grasped fully. I typically will pull this book out in the morning and we’ve roughly spent about 15-30 minutes on the lesson. The timing depends solely on the level of willingness and mood for that day. Due to this, I haven’t had him do five lessons a week but more so 2-3.
An example of what we’ve done with first lesson is learning the sound the letter “M” makes. This lesson is two pages long. The first page features a black and white illustration of a man and a moon. As the teacher, I talk about the letter M and the sound it makes phonetically and have him repeat it back to me. He then colors the illustration. He loved the coloring part. The next page has a drawing box in which he is encouraged to draw anything he’d like that begins with the letter M. He drew a mouse. Ending the lesson is a handwriting letter formation section in which he traced the dotted capital and lower case M and each M on his own. He wasn’t a huge fan of the handwriting area because he wants his letters to look perfect every time. He’s learning that plenty of practice will be needed to achieve that goal. So even though he wasn’t a fan, it’s good for him and I’m glad it was included.
At lesson 3, letter sounds learned are brought together and form short words and this is continued through books A-D. My son was pretty excited to learn that he could make out the word taught. Note that though the emphasis of the letter sounds is taught, a child may start memorizing the words by sight instead of actually sounding them out. This is pretty typical to most children learning how to read. It happened with my daughter and my son is also doing the same thing.
I asked Owen what he liked about this curriculum and he told me that he likes having his own book and that he is given choices. The choices given are the illustrations chosen to draw & picking a sentence from a few listed to dictate. He also likes knowing what to expect next. As I mentioned before, he prefers order. The more he does the work in these books, the more confident he has become in reading and writing.
Overall Thoughts: I will continue to use this curriculum with Owen. I feel it’s quite well rounded and I like it reinforces all taught phonics with reading, writing, and art. If your child learns well without busy images everywhere, things moving too quickly, and favors a workbook format, this is a good choice. I would certainly recommend it to those with children with a similar learning style to my son. Another plus is that the prep time for teachers is quite minimal.
The affordability is something I feel most will applaud. There is no need for extra workbooks, readers, or other costly resources. First Start Reading: Book A, Book B, Book C, Book D, and Teachers Guide is $42.95. Of course, if you are teaching a class, you’ll want to invest in more than one workbook so prices are subject to change.
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