Monday, August 5, 2013

Curriculum Review: All About Reading - Pre Reading

All About Reading: Pre-Reading - A Review

So you know where I'm coming from, let me give you a little bit of background about myself. I have an undergraduate degree in psychology, a master's degree in Elementary and Early Childhood Education, a second master's degree in Speech-Language Pathology, and was just shy of getting a doctorate in Communication Disorders with a focus on Reading when life took a detour into motherhood a little earlier than I had planned. Priorities shifted, and lots happened in between, but now I'm homeschooling my preschooler and kindergartner. Because I have such a strong background in education I really enjoyed searching for just the right reading curriculum for my little ones and when I found All About Reading I fell in love. I've been using their curriculum materials for over a year now and I have personally purchased and used the Pre-Reading program, Level 1 program and the Level 2 program with my children.

Program Overview - All About Reading: Pre-Reading Program

The program takes your child through the alphabet twice. First you do uppercase letter activities and then lowercase letter activities. You are working on letter recognition, letter sound correspondances, pre-reading skills (such as finding specific letters on a page, parsing print on a page into words, reading from left to right, etc.), and critical phonological awareness skills such as rhyme, syllable awareness, and isolating initial, final, and vowel sounds in words. All of these skills are critical pre-reading skills. I really wish the All About Learning Press would publish a stand alone phonological awareness program for children who are fine with the visual aspects of pre-reading, but seem to really struggle with the phonological awareness part of things. Speech-pathologists that work with young children would LOVE it. But I digress.

Each lesson teaches one letter. You show the letter, read one to three short stories or poems featuring that letter, do a simple craft-based activity page with that letter, and do a phonological awareness activity. The lessons are pretty short. If your child isn't craft oriented or you choose to omit the craft the lesson may only take 5-10 minutes. If your child really lingers over the craft it may take as much as 20 minutes. If you supplement the program (more on that later), you might spend 30 minutes on the lesson.

Organizing the Materials and Using the Program

I'm using the program with my four year old daughter. With my son I skipped the Pre-Reading Level and started with Level 1, but Ava has a history of a speech disorder called apraxia. Children with apraxia often have co-existing problems with phonological awareness and struggle with reading as they progress through school so I particularly wanted Ava to have a good grounding in phonological awareness skills. I specifically chose to start her with the pre-reading level because of the phonological awareness component. Also, Michael was starting homeschooling in earnest and Ava was feeling left out. She wasn't ready for Level One, but she was tired of watching her brother get to do reading every day without being able to do reading herself. And so we invested in the AAR: Pre-Reading Program.

We keep all of our materials for a specific lesson (Ava's reading, Michael's reading, Math, Handwriting, etc.) in a bin on a shelf in our schoolroom. Here's Ava's reading bin.

Inside I have a binder (where I put the teacher's manual pages, activity pages, and keep the progress chart), the two hardback books that come with the program, and the card box with dividers and phonological awareness cards). You'll also find our ziggy puppet in there.

The teacher's manual is well written. It tells you exactly what to do in each lesson and educates you, where necessary, about how to do things or why you need to do things in a certain way. Ava began the program very excited about the simple activity pages, but eventually we abandoned them because she lost interest. They are a simple coloring sheet for each uppercase and lowercase letter of the alphabet combined with a fun craft you can do with things you find around the house. (Crumple tinfoil to make stars and glue on, glue on construction paper to make water, etc.) The phonological awareness activities strongly lean on a character you introduce named Ziggy the Zebra. I underestimated Ziggy. I chose not to purchase the optional $18 hand puppet and then found myself making a sock puppet version of Ziggy because Ava LOVED Ziggy and using the hand puppet adds so much to the phonological awareness activity. He isn't used in every single lesson and Ava often begins the lesson by asking me if it will be a "Ziggy Day".

Almost all of the preparation is when you first receive the materials in the mail. It takes time to review the materials, separate all the perforated cards, and if you wish - transfer the teacher's manual and activity pages to a three-ring binder. After that, the program requires very little day to day preparation. If your child is doing the craft, you need to gather a few simple materials. Otherwise once you're into the program, you can pretty much sit down with your bin and go.

A Typical Lesson

  1. Grab bin.
  2. Introduce letter of the day.
  3. Read selection(s) from hardback book.
  4. Do phonological awareness activity.
  5. Do craft (optional).

Download Free Samples

You can download free samples of the key program components (scroll down a bit). I recommend it. It gives you a good look at the teacher's manual, activity book, and the two hardback books that are integral to the program. (I love the hardback books in the AAR programs. I particularly like the poetry in Lizard Lou.)

Which of the products I actually bought.

I bought the basic package and added on the activity box and animal stickers. Essentially I skipped the reading tote bag and the ziggy puppet. In retrospect, since I ended up making my own ziggy sock puppet I think some kind of zebra is a nice addition to the program. Buy their puppet, make one from a sock, find an inexpensive stuffed zebra, or just print a picture of a zebra, but I do recommend some kind of zebra visual aid for the phonological processing activities. Want to see our Ziggy sock puppet? Promise not to laugh? Squint your eyes and use your imagination and maybe, just maybe, this looks like a zebra...

Great Supplemental Materials for the Pre-Reading Program

I found that Ava wanted to do a little more so I found some materials to supplement the AAR: Pre-Reading Program.

Usborne Farmyard Tales - Alphabet Book: This book is a perfect complement to the program. It has a sentence on each page with the targeted letter in red so it stands out. There are many items included in each picture that begin with the targeted letter. There is a little duck hiding in each picture and Ava loved to search for the duck. We would read the page in this book for the letter that matched the letter in the AAR lesson of the day. Unfortunately the book seems to be out of print, but there are many used copies available here.

ABC Sing-Along Flip Chart & CD: This product is amazing. There is a song for each letter of the alphabet - one per page. Each page has a full color illustration. The songs are sung to familiar tunes. The songs are really, really well done. Ava and Michael can sing every one from memory (up to V - that's as far as we've gotten). We often sing these in the car or while I'm fixing Ava's hair to pass time. We use dry erase marker to circle all the targeted letters in the poem as we sing the song on the first day. (You could also listen to them on the CD - the production value on the songs is really nice.) We actually sing through all the songs we know, looking at the page and reviewing the highlighted letters at the beginning of each lesson. The songs are short, so it only takes 5 minutes or so to do the entire set and Ava loves it!

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you click on one of those links and make a purchase a portion of your purchase will go towards offsetting the costs of running this blog. I purchased all of the products I reviewed in this post on my own, long before I started using affiliate links and the opinions expressed are completely my own.


  1. Hello, thank you for your helpful review! I am beginning homeschooling with my 3 1/2 year old son and am trying to decide whether to start him on AAR pre-reading or AAR Level 1. He knows his upper and lowercase letters and some sounds. Do you think the pre-reading will be too much review? I've read many reviews but am having a hard time deciding without actually seeing the program. Thanks!

    1. That is a great question! The level one gets pretty intense pretty quickly for a little one. The nice thing about the Pre-Reading level is that the lessons are just the right length for 3 year olds and fun. It gives you a chance to establish a routine of having reading lessons and gives a really solid foundation in pre-reading skills before moving on to the longer, more structured lessons in Level One. Yes, there will be a lot of review, but I'd say it is worth it.

  2. Hello :-)

    Thank you SO much for your review. I like how you completely broke it down and made it easy to understand the program from a parent's perspective. Just like you I come from an education background and have loved every moment of researching to find just the right curriculum. I'm going to be starting my son with just reading this coming fall. I hesitated to buy the pre-reading program, but again, just like you, I decided he'd really benefit from the other essential components that are in this program. He is in speech therapy and I'm sure the extra practice will definitely be good for him. Anyway, I will end up using this program for 4 children through the years. My husband and I are trying to get an accurate picture of cost for doing this, including any 'little' things that might pop up. So my question is: how durable are the materials? What would you laminate? Or are these things printed on material that will withstand being used multiple times?

    Thanks for your help! I'll be bookmarking your site and will come back to click through and actually order in a couple months to give you that affiliate bonus.

  3. Thank you for your review. I was just wondering if I will need a different curriculum for writing letters? Thanks.

  4. Thank you for this review! My daughter also struggles with phonetic awareness, and after I purchased level 1 it was very clear that she needed more practice first. I was worried that the pre-reading level would be too easy because she knows most of her letters and some sounds already, but the phonetic awareness games will be perfect.

  5. Thank you for your review. I didn't start homeschooling my older children until 3rd grade, I now have two littles (ages almost 2 and almost 1) and I want to give them a headstart on reading. Someone in my local Co-Op group was selling this curriculum for half price. Your review made it easy to make the decision. I can't wait until they are old enough to get started.

  6. This was so helpful! Thank you for doing this review.

  7. This was so helpful! Thank you for doing this review.

  8. I'm curious - with the AAR program, how far in to the program is the child actually starting to read sentences? My older child was in a public school program for K-2, so he learned to read mainly by sight words and was reading simple sentences by second semester of his kindergarten year. What should be my expectation for my daughter starting this year in K with Pre-Reading? Thanks!

  9. Curious...we are just starting homeschool. My 4 year old son did not start preschool in public school this year due to his birthday being Sept. He had to be four by Aug. 31. He receives speech therapy. He wasn’t diagnosed with apraxia. His brain just can’t get his mouth to work. He is improving every day though. We know what he says usually. My question is now with having they kids home and to eliminate running, do you think the program would be fine to with and drop services? Just asking sugesstively?

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