Essentials is a systematic phonics based reading, writing, spelling, and grammar program, available with either a cursive or manuscript workbook. I chose to use the manuscript workbook with my almost 7 year old. The teacher's manual includes sample schedules for struggling readers and spellers (8 years-adult), struggling spellers (9 years-adult), emerging readers and spellers (6-7 year olds,) young emerging readers (5-6 year olds), and ESL students of any age.
The Complete Set includes:
- Essentials Teacher's Manual
- Essentials Student Workbook (In either Cursive or Manuscript)
- Spelling Journal
- Basic Phonogram Flash Cards
- Spelling Rule Flash Cards
- Grammar Rule Flash Cards
- Advanced Phonogram Flash Cards
- Game Book
- Game Card decks
- Phonogram & Spelling Rule Quick Reference Chart
Some of the items (like the Quick Reference Chart) will be useful later on, and would be more practical for older students.
I was very interested in the remedial aspect of the beginning of the manual, and we actually spent a fair amount of time (a couple of weeks) in the "before you begin" section that covers Phonemic Awareness. My youngest is not the clear speaker that his siblings were at early ages, and I found the section on developing a Kinesthetic Awareness of Sounds to be very helpful in getting him to say the sounds correctly by watching my mouth and lips, and feeling his own mouth, lips and voicebox.
We then spent about a week going over the basic phonograms, and DRILLING the vowel phonograms with the Phonics with Phonograms App. For a child who spoke mostly in vowels when he was a 2 year old, I find it interesting that Youngest has had a difficult time including vowels ever since he started learning to read, so the app has been very useful in quizzing him on them. I made use of the "custom level builder" to include only those sounds that he was having trouble with. While he still gets tripped up from time to time, usually he'll remember the order from most common to least common when I remind him.
Back to the Main program...
After the introductory/before you begin/ section of the manual, there is a unit on "Teaching the lessons" that details how to walk through the three parts of each lesson~
Part 1: phonograms, sounds and spelling rules
Part 2: spelling dictation and analysis, and spelling markings
Part 3: grammar, dictation, composition, vocabulary
Followed by Teacher resources that include the spelling lists, phonograms, spelling rules, and grammar: parts of speech, sentences and clauses, punctuation, etc...
Once I felt that his foundation was fairly strengthened we moved on to the lessons, going through about 1.5 every two weeks (somewhere between the recommended 1 lesson/week - 2 weeks/lesson).
|clockwise from top right~ teacher's manual, game book|
phonogram flash cards, workbook, and spelling rule cards
So far most of my impression has been fairly positive, but there is one thing I found that is worth mentioning.
The first lesson is fairly straight forward, reviewing the a-z phonograms, and introducing /qu/. Consonants and vowels are covered, as are nouns and plurals. The second lesson, however, jumped into words using four *new* double letter phonograms. This isn't really so bad (particularly when going at a one lesson/2 week pace), but only one of the phonograms was emphasized through the first part of the lesson, which meant that we didn't actively review or work on the other three once I introduced them as directed. As a result, when we got to part 2 of the lesson (The spelling test) there was some confusion. I think it would be helpful if the phonograms received equal emphasis (or at least some activity) in the lesson and workbook, in order to relieve the frustration of not "getting it" by the time the student is asked to spell new words.
Moving right along...
The lessons do incorporate games, whether a phonogram bingo game, or a card game from the Phonogram & Spelling Game Book, which has games to suit a variety of ages and abilities.
One of my son's favorite activities to date is making new words with the phonogram cards laid out on the rug~ We started with a specific ending (in this lesson using /ck/ as directed in the manual), and a single vowel (/a/). Youngest then chose letters to put in front of the /a/ to make words. He built pack, sack, whack, back, jack, black, tacks, tack, and hack. Before I could even suggest it, he decided to replace the /a/ with /e/ so that he could make the word neck. This is definitely a game that we will be playing again, as we add new phonograms to our repertoire.
From my look ahead, I think that Essentials could be a very good buy, particularly for families who can use it with younger as well as struggling readers. And if it's already in your home library when your kids hit high school it might be useful to pull out and have them do a little review before starting all those college assessment tests, and/or let them use it to help tutor an ESL student as part of a volunteer project.
While this is not my son's favorite subject, I have felt it to be a worthwhile use of time, as he is being introduced to grammar, doing more spelling, and for us, learning to speak more clearly (A happy byproduct of the Essentials introductory material).
Essentials is not a fun and games curriculum, more of a down to business literacy program, but with some very worthwhile information and straightforward, systematic lessons. If your children are younger, and it seems too academic(?) for them, then you might want to check out the TOS Reviews of the Logic of English's Foundations Sets which are much more colorful, and geared for ages 4-7 (follow the link at the bottom of this review).
Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty
- Company: Logic of English