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Sometimes being a seasoned homeschooler (does that convey the correct picture to you? I’m thinking of meat that’s been marinating a long, long time . . . like in Little House on the Prairie, where they seasoned it and hung it to dry in a shed . . . but I digress!) sometimes makes it difficult to do reviews, I’m finding. The reason? Usually, we’ve tried several products. SEVERAL products. For each and every subject we want to/hope to/eventually need to teach our children. And we have our favorites. We also come fully stocked with opinions. We know what we think about learning to read, and whether the review or mastery method is better in learning math, and whether or not history needs to be learned in strict chronological order. Not that our opinions are always correct, mind you. That’s why they’re called opinions. And yet opinions, while not always correct, are generally strongly held among those of us who bear the name of homeschoolers (in case you haven’t noticed.)
Poetic waxing aside, I was excited to receive Rocket Phonics in the mail. My four-year-old daughter was especially thrilled about it, as she loves to "do school" like everyone else and isn’t always successful at finding something to do when mom isn’t quick with a suggestion. Rocket Phonics is a program developed by Dr. Stephen and Maureen Guffanti. They wrote the program while teaching their own daughter to read. Part of their goal was to address the problem of the many different sounds one letter can make and the confusion that causes children. Another issue was that of "dumbed down" curriculum. This book uses simple sentences along with classical stories to give children practice in reading.
The package consists of:
1. Two sets of Play & Read sound-picture cards that introduce the sounds of the English language, along with instructions for games and variations.
2. Two books and Peeker focusing tool, and bingo chips. The book combines a Teacher’s Guide and Student book of games, jokes and stories. The stories began at first grade reading level and progress to sixth grade level.
3. A Supplement Folder that includes common word lists suitable for duplication, additional game sheets and additional teaching tips.
4. Two Rocket Phonics Treasure Hunts: Your children will love reading each rhyming clue to find the next clue (all leading to a hidden treasure), in these exciting activities – prizes included.
5. Free supplements: With your Rocket Phonics, you’ll receive by email 28 free supplements to your kit. These materials will help you more effectively meet the needs of your individual children. You and your children will enjoy these additional stories, riddles, games, beginning reading helps and more.
6. Rocket Phonics Word-Find Treasure Hunt and the Rocket Phonics Phrase Game. Your students will delight in reading one word or phrase at a time, such as desk, window, bookcase, or behind the computer, and running off to find the bingo chip you’ve hidden by that object.
The symbol cards are a very important part of the program, and one of the very first things you’re to work on with your child. The Guffanti’s process starts with the child learning that every letter has only one sound, and these are represented on the cards with a picture–i.e. "a" is an apple. When the student moves on to words where the letters are using a different sound–long a rather than short, for example–they employ a system of prompts using different colors of print as well as sound-corrections beneath the printed word, to help the child read the word. These prompts are dropped later in the program.
I wrote to Dr. Guffanti for some clarification on the statement on their website about 700 sight words being learned by the end of the program. While we all know that there are some words in English that don’t appear to "follow the rules" and therefore need to be learned by sight, those words are comparatively very few. I have to admit that a major "red flag" goes up whenever I even see the term "sight words." I’m a phonics girl, and it appeared to me from looking over the program that the Guffanti’s were, too, so I had to check that one out with an email to them. Mrs. Guffanti was kind enough to respond to me right away, and I asked if I could share her note with you. Here it is (please excuse the funky formatting, as I tried for 30 minutes to get it looking this good!)
Thanks so much for writing. We want to know what literature talks about
children learning 700 sight words - if it's anything current, we want to change the wording for the very reason you state-it is confusing. As Steve explained,
we now use "learned words" to describe the words children
have learned to read, the words that are now stored in their brains. When we
used to use the phrase "sight words" for those words, we kept having
to explain to people we did not mean non-phonetic words like "of" or
You are touching on a key point why Rocket Phonics works so well. The way we
use our helpers to show the word's pronunciation allows us to teach reading
in ways research and experience demonstrate work best:
1. Rather than a traditional text with rules and examples to read, we can use
games like Simon Says or the various treasure hunts. These would be too
difficult to read without the helpers. And because they are games they are fun -
the kids want to do the lesson, and they want to do it for longer periods of
2. The activities allow movement, which is essential to kinesthetic learners -
and boys are kinesthetic until age 7, long after most parents ask their kids to
"sit still and learn to read".
3. The activities link the word to the object, speeding learning - as in the
word find game. Child reads "table" and runs to the table to find the
4. Research repeatedly stresses the best way to learn to read is repetition and
emotional involvement. In other words, reading stories rather than lists of
words or examples in a text. But engaging stories like Aesop's Fables are often too difficult for beginning readers - or the stories used are
too stilted because they use only a limited short list of words, and the kids lose
interest in them. But the way we structure our story lessons, the kids will read
wonderful, rich and engaging stories that also teach cultural literacy (they are
where many of our sayings like "don't count your chickens before they are hatched"
come from). And they read each story at least 3 times! (With helpers, without helpers,
then to the parent)
5. PLUS with Rocket Phonics' approach the kids love the ease of reading and we hear over and over from parents who say their child went from hating
reading to loving reading. And that may be the biggest plus of all.
I know this is a lot of answer but your question turns out to be central to our approach.
Rocket Phonics is a great looking program. We haven’t been able to do much yet here with Savannah because she’s only just now working through the very first step–phonemic awareness, meaning she’s learning to identify which sounds are being made at the beginning and endings of words. We’ve got a ways to go before we can get much further into it. But it looks very good to me, and I agree with much of the philosophy lying behind this program.
Rocket Phonics is available for $160, or you can get started for $53.34 if you’d like to do 3 payments. You can read much more about it at www.rocketphonics.com .
Now, on to the opinion part I promised at the beginning.
This seems to be a really great program. It’s nice that they’ve designed it with the needs of kinesthetic learners in mind–and the reminder that most kids are primarily that way at young ages is a good one. Our kids need a *little* seat work time and a *lot* of outside wiggle time–and that doesn’t change until they’re about . . . mmm, I’m not sure if it ever changes! I’m sure most kids would enjoy the picture cards and Simon Says, the bingo game, and all the activities that go along with it. HOWEVER . . . I’m a minimalist when it comes to teaching. I’m not the type who’s looking for bells and whistles; in fact, I believe bells and whistles often detract from what you’re trying to teach. I’ve taught 5 of my children to read so far, all starting pretty much the day they’ve turned five, since that was the beginning of the school year, anyway. Four of them were boys. Each time, I’ve found that an extremely simple, black-and-white workbook approach worked just fine, and all of them are solid readers. If I had a child who was having difficulty with a simple approach, or if I had only one child and wanted to spend more time on reading, or if I personally loved playing games (I don’t) or maybe even if I wanted to teach 2 kids at a time who could play together, perhaps my thoughts would be different. So my bottom line? I think this program is really good. But I couldn’t personally justify the expense of it compared to other, simpler programs out there which focus on the most important thing . . . PHONICS, PHONICS, PHONICS. Take a look at it for yourself and decide what you think. Reading is the most important thing we teach our kids, period! So pray about it, while you’re at it.