All About Reading: Level 2 - A Homeschooling Parent's Review
BackgroundI am a certified Elementary and Early Childhood teacher and a certified Speech-Language Pathologist. I am homeschooling my kindergartener and preschooler. My son was always precocious where reading is concerned. He's reading independently at this point and I credit our experiences with All About Reading for much of that.
Even as a toddler, he was always interested in his letters. When we read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom to him as a toddler he was very interested in identifying all the letters at the beginning and end of the book. We fed that interest. He just loved to tune into letters and their sounds. So, a little over a year ago, when I began to think about homeschooling I decided to dip my toe into the water, so to speak, with a reading program. Michael loved letters. I loved reading. It seemed like a great place to start.
After researching many programs and trying the free sample materials for All About Reading Level 1, I decided that I wanted to go with the All About Reading curriculum. I wanted a phonics based program. Research supports a solid understanding of phonics as being essential to reading. I also knew I wanted a program that specifically addressed fluency. The fluency sheets in this program are well designed to practice single words, phrases, and sentences. The readers are exquisite and address phonics skills at the story level and reading comprehension at the same time. The flash cards teach sight words to mastery. The teacher's manual ties together all of these elements in an easy to teach way. I liked the design of the program. I liked it a lot. Also, they have a 100% satisfaction guarantee for a whole year. You have a full year to try the materials. If you are unhappy for any reason, just return the materials for a full refund.
When I received them, the materials were amazing. The program is comprehensive and full-featured. The active online forums were helpful more than once. The customer service was prompt and went above and beyond to be helpful (they sent me out a free replacement CD-ROM that I had lost). After completing Level 1 with Michael I purchased Level 2 for Michael and the Pre-Reading Level for Ava. That is how happy I am with the reading programs by the All About Learning Press.
Program Overview - All About Reading: Level 2The program is multi-faceted. You get two lovely hardback readers. The black & white line drawing illustrations are beautiful and Michael found the stories to be genuinely entertaining. The words used in each story are matched to highlight the new phonics concepts recently taught and review phonics already mastered. You have a box of index cards that lets you review sight words and phonograms (the sounds that are associated with each letter or letter combination). There are magnetic letter tiles that help you build words and practice blending and breaking words apart. The teacher's manual is well written and easy to follow along with. You are walked through exactly what to do and when. Lessons move along at a pace that introduce new concepts while still reviewing the old ones so that concepts are consistently practiced until mastered. The lessons are accompanied by fluency pages for essential practice and fun games and activities that my children absolutely adore. They even include a progress chart to keep track of lesson progress with stickers and a certificate of achievement for the end of the level.
For the most part, the lessons follow an A B pattern. In the first lesson you teach a new phonics concept, play a game or activity to reinforce using that concept to decode words, and read fluency sheets that feature words that use the new phonics concept. Then you practice flash cards with words that use the concept. Those cards are then intermixed with the other flash cards that are not yet mastered for review at the beginning of the next lesson. In the second lesson of each pair, you begin with a pre-reading worksheet that previews key words and phrases that will be in the story. The lesson plan walks you through some brief pre-reading conversation designed to activate prior knowledge and then the child reads the story from the reader to you. There is some kind of post-reading discussion or activity to be done after the reading of the story. I often begin the second lesson in each pair by having Michael choose one story from the reader that he has already read to re-read before we move on to the new material.
Organizing the Materials and Using the ProgramMichael and I are 10 lessons away from finishing All About Reading: Level 2. We have loved going through the program and are anxiously awaiting the release of Level 3. When I received the program materials there was a lot of preparation. I spent at least a couple of hours - maybe more - getting all the materials organized. All of the flashcards are printed on full sheets and have to be torn apart along the perforated lines and then placed behind the appropriate index card dividers in the index box. I took all of the activities and fluency pages out of the student book (again along perforated lines) and 3-hole punched them and put them in a binder. I did the same with the lesson plans. That way I have everything I need in one binder. I keep all of the materials together in a single bin on a nearby bookshelf. When it is time for Michael's reading we simply have to grab the bin and go. (Here's a peek in our bin.)
Once the initial preparation is done, very little planning time is needed after that. At the end of each lesson I let Michael have a few minutes of free time (no more than 5 minutes usually) while I preview the next lesson. I highlight the sections of the lesson plan I need to focus on. I cut out the parts of the activity for the next day. I make a few notes about how the day's lesson went and what I want to remember for next time. That way, everything is absolutely ready to go for the next day.
Time CommitmentOnce the initial setup is done, planning does not require more than 5-10 minutes (at most) per lesson. If you're happy to cut a few things out during a lesson rather than before, preparation time is even less. The program is designed to be done with a teacher. It is not the type of curriculum where you can set a child up and then let them work independently while you do something else. You need 30-60 minutes at least 3-5 days a week to devote to this.
Download Free SamplesYou can download generously sized free samples of key program components like the teacher's manual, student activity book, and the first and second hardback readers. It isn't quite try before you buy, because the included lessons are not consecutive, but it is enough to get a good feel for how the program works. The teacher's manual includes the table of contents, introduction, and lessons 1, 4, 5, 27, 38. The student activity book samples include some sample games and activities and some sample fluency pages. The sample from the first reader includes 3 entire stories out of the 12 stories in the reader. The sample from the second reader also includes three full stories of the eleven in the reader, including Pumpkin and the Kitten. We just read this one last week. Michael was fascinated by the story and Ava abandoned her independent play to come over and follow along while he read it. When Pumpkin is jealous of the new kitten and verbalizes a plan to get rid of the kitten Michael's voice got very quiet and his sister and I had to strain to hear him. He obviously found the story to be quite powerful. Both children were delighted when Pumpkin learned to give the kitten a chance at the end of the story. The storybook samples are definitely worth checking out!
Which of the products I actually bought.Absolutely necessary: You definitely need the teacher's manual and one student packet for each student you will be teaching with the program. You'll definitely need the two readers as well.
Very nice to have: I very much enjoy having the reading review box and the index divider cards. You could just as easily buy an inexpensive index card box and make your own divider cards though.
Depends on the child: The letter tiles and magnets for the letter tiles are considered to be a main part of the program. If you have a child who is tactile and learns best with manipulatives you'll want these. I bought them, but rarely use them. Instead I use a small dry erase board and dry erase markers for the sections of the program that are designed for the magnet tiles. I find it quicker and more space efficient and Michael simply doesn't need to move tiles around to get the phonics concepts. In fact, when I do get them out he's distracted and I spend more time keeping him on task.
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