“ Genre: Junior Books / Hardcover / Reading Level: Ages 4-8 / Book is published 2006-09 by Hooked on Phonics, LLC „
Hooked on Phonics took America by storm in the late 1980's as the miracle cure to all reading problems. Although expensive, this programme was the ultimate for families who could afford it, and had a child experiencing reading difficulties. The testimonials flowed in and was child after another conquered their reading difficulties. Originally created by a father to help his own child who was struggling to read, this programme was started for school children who were not learning by the look say method popular in America at that time.
I have always believed that some children will learn better by one method, others by another. I do prefer phonics, but whole word methods will work quicker with very young children, especially when a teacher has a whole class of children to instruct. There are merits to both methods in my opinion. However, to parents who had been told their child might be learning disabled, or who watch their child struggle year after and year and just not be able to break the code of whole language reading, this product really was a miracle worker.
Of course the flip side of that is the fact that parents of children who just don't get phonics and learn easily with whole language will swear the "Look say" method is a miracle worker.
But about this time in the USA another movement was sweeping across the country - home education or home schooling. This opened up a whole new market to Hooked on Phonics, but with the new market came new critics. Most Home schooling families were not especially affluent. The amount of money spent on this programme was a huge investment and most expected a lot of bang for their buck, would Hooked On Phonics deliver? Yes and no. Homeschooling parents were free to choose between any method that suited their own child's needs, or mix and match as they saw fit. For parents of children who did very well with a strong phonics approach, this programme again received rave reviews. For those who were learning more from other methods, parents were not too pleased to have spent so much money on something that gave only mixed results.
This also moved from a product being used by older children who had already been in school for a year or more, to younger and younger children as parents became anxious for their children to read at earlier and earlier ages. In addition to home educators, more and more families were trying to teach their children to read before they started kindergarten, which begins at or near age 5 in the USA.
WHAT'S IN THE BOX
When you open this box you will find four smaller boxes, each meant to cover 1 year of reading instruction based on American Grade levels preschool (3-4) , Kindergarten (5-6), 1st Grade (6-7), and 2nd Grade (7-8).
Preschool: I bought my programme from ebay, and unfortunately it was missing the cd rom for preschool. The company is unwilling to send replacements at any price to the UK :(. I did get the book to this though, which teaches letter sounds through actions, and a nice set of very sturdy blue foam alphabet blocks. I am afraid I did not use the book my son was 4 when we bought this and starting P1, he already knew his letter sounds.
The blocks are very nice though. We have used them to spell out words, but they are also fun for building towers with and knocking down. my youngest son has had a lot of fun with them.
Kindergarten: This is the meat of the programme, and I have written a separate review on this alone, as it can be bought as a stand alone programme. You get a large workbook, audio cd's, a cd- rom game,phonics cards, letter cards, a very simple child's dictionary, and 15 small books in this set ( the stand alone set has only 6). These books are very small ( 8 pages), with simple black and white drawings and one or two short sentences per book. They start off very simple, so the child should be able to read the first book with ease after only a few days of instruction, and progress in difficulty. A parent manual is also included to help parents learn to use the programme, and reward chart to track a child's progress.
This unit will take a child through each individual letter sound, and teach them how to sound out simple one syllable words. A few sight words are included as a child progresses, such as where, and a very few with long vowels which are taught as sight words, like game, but primarily this book uses only single syllable short vowel words. It takes a long time to work through this book. I would honestly say about 1 year is right for this. But because everything is broken down into such simple steps, I do believe almost any child will be able to master this with enough time and practice. Of course every child learns differently. While some children will catch on faster with "look say" methods, I believe instruction in phonics is still very beneficial and can be used alongside whole language instruction.
1st Grade: This unit includes two workbooks, which teach various letter combinations, like "sh", "ch" and "sl". The first book uses these combination sounds as the beginning of words, and the second as word endings. You also get eight storybooks, and although they are still limited to short vowel sounds, these are actual stories that my youngest child could sit and listen too. They are regular books with nice, bright colourful illustrations and a decent story line. You also get the audio cd's, so the child can work on this alone. I prefer to have my son sitting beside me though and use the books together, so the audio cd's have not been used. Unfortunately there is no computer game for this level, or the next. You do get a parent manual, flash cards with letter combinations and a reward chart though.
2nd Grade: This box has the least material in it. You get one very thin workbook, four storybooks, 2 audio cd's, a small pack of flashcards and the parent manual. It does teach long vowels though, using the same step by step approach as used in the other books. The story books are proper books again, 24 pages each with expert illustrations and much more complex text. I was disappointed to find so few, but by the time the child has reached this level of reading there are a wealth of other books readily available, so specialised phonics ones are no longer necessary.
I love this set. I got an absolute bargain on this at £25, although it was missing the one cd - rom. I would be prepared to pay full price for this though if necessary, which ranges between £100 - £200, used. I honestly do feel it it is worth that much and it provides the groundwork for successful phonic reading. My oldest has just turned 6 and I am well pleased with his reading ability to date. Although this is not the only resource we use, it has certainly helped quite a bit and provides nice structured lessons for each day.
Everything has been broken down so much my son has found this set very easy to use. I do however believe very strongly in a rather old fashioned concept known as reading readiness. I brought this set out when my son started P1 at age 4. He was not ready for it, so I stored it away until near his 5th birthday. At that time he was ready and found learning to read easy and pleasant. I have serious concerns about this product being used before a child is ready for reading instruction. Trying to force a child through lessons before they are mature enough to cope can put a child off reading for life, and has also been linked to future reading disabilities such as dyslexia, which is unheard of in countries with later school starting ages.
I would strongly recommend this set to parents of children who are struggling to read in school and falling behind their classmates. It may be expensive, but being able to read well and confidently is the greatest boost you can give a child's education. For children who just can't grasp the look say methods popular now, this can be a real lifesaver.
I would also recommend this set to home educators. It provides the perfect framework for teaching a child to read, and will give confidence, not only to the child, but also to many parents who worry about their own ability to teach this very important subject. I would say to home educators though, do not be completely tied to this programme. Use it as a framework, but supplement with other materials, and if you find your child is learning better by a different method, then use what works. Keep reading fun, and listen to your child's preferences here too. I personally have used a mix of phonics and whole language, but I do believe the phonics is the foundation of his reading ability. While he may know many words, phonics gives him the tools to decode new and unfamiliar words, which he will find many of at this age.
Finally to those with very young children who want to teach a child to read far in advance of their peers - this set has some merits, but may not be what you are looking for. If you are happy to use the preschool set, teach the songs and dance for each letter, and have some fun with the blocks, by all means buy this. You need to be prepared to leave the rest of this set in the attic though until your own child is ready. If you really want to teach a two year old to read, you will find Dorman's technique far more effective, and a lot cheaper as well. Buy "Teach Your Baby To Read", several sets of index cards for flashcards and work away. You will seriously frustrate a toddler trying to teach with this set. But if you really want your baby to be a reader, forget reading instruction at very early ages , and just show them books are fun. Read to your child as often as possible and make reading fun. I would rather have my boys be late readers and love books then learn to read in infancy and hate them. What will takes months or years of struggle and strain for a very young child, can be picked up in weeks by an older one. Please research reading readiness before starting any accelerated programmes.
I would also note that while the Kindergarten, or year one set is available as a stand alone product - the others are not in the UK. The cost of buying them separately and having them shipped from the USA would far outweigh the cost of buying as a set. For this reason, I would recommend buying the full set whenever possible. Of course the year one set will provide a good start to reading, and let you know if you like the programme, but if you do decide to stick with it, you will have to buy year one all over as part of the set. Also, as I mentioned, there is no product support for the UK. I wish they would take there worldwide customers a bit more seriously considering the money this product makes around the world.