Can Saxon repeat its unquestionable success in the math area with their relatively new foray into phonics? Only time will tell, as homeschoolers "test the waters." If you are already acquainted with Saxon's elementary math program, it will be easy for you to visualize Saxon Phonics. It is very much the same in format and in the intense, systematic, and incremental approach employed. Another similarity - and one that will be much appreciated by the novice - is the ability for a teacher with absolutely no previous experience in teaching the subject to be successful with the program. It certainly wins my vote for "easiest to teach." Every lesson is scripted - telling you just what to say when. Lessons are totally laid out for you, following the same review, incremental learning, and reinforcement approach that makes Saxon Math so effective. Any materials needed are clearly listed. Even if you've never opened a book on how to teach reading and have never heard the word "phonogram" before, you will be comfortable using Saxon Phonics.
The curriculum provides integrated reading, spelling, and writing instruction for each grade K through 2. The Home Study Kits contain everything you need (except for some around-the-home objects used primarily to illustrate letter sounds). Each grade level kit includes a Teacher Manual, Teaching Tools, and Student Materials packet. The Teacher Manual contains a program overview, teaching instructions, charts and pronunciation guides summarizing instruction covered in that level, a lesson-by-lesson list of all materials needed, reading word lists, and detailed directions for games and activities (many use the card decks provided with the program). 140 scripted lessons each provide a thorough review of previously-learned material and introduction of new skills. Prior to actual instruction is a shaded box containing a list of materials needed for the lesson, and any pre-class preparation. Daily lesson elements vary (not every lesson has all of the components mentioned below), but provide a good mix of activities appealing to all learning modalities (multisensory). Usually, lessons begin with either an Alphabet/Language Activity, or Phonemic Awareness. As you might guess, Alphabet Activities practice alphabetic skills. At K level, a full ¾ of the lessons include them. At levels 1 and 2, these activities are extended to practicing dictionary skills, including accenting and syllabication. After this introductory activity, phonics and spelling skills are reviewed, usually via flashcards and spelling exercises. New Learning presents the skill introduced in that lesson - learning new letters/sounds, spelling rules, syllabication, etc. Many of the lessons at levels 1-2 include a Boardwork section to practice these skills. Every lesson also includes worksheets constructed to reinforce newly-learned concepts and track student progress. Some lessons also include readers (that children assemble and color themselves) as direct reinforcement for phonics skills taught. Manipulatives - primarily card decks, letter tiles, and charts (all included) - are used at all levels, throughout the lessons. Assessments are incorporated into the lessons. At K level these are primarily oral. At levels 1-2, assessment lessons occur after every four regular lessons and consist of oral and written elements. Teaching Tools include Review Decks, Kid Cards, Rule Book, audio CD, and home instruction video (on DVD). The Review Deck is different at each level, corresponding to the presentation of skills at that level. Each Review Deck has a letter/letter cluster card set, a picture card set, and a spelling card set. Levels 1-2 also include a sight word deck, an affix deck, and alphabet/accent decks. These card decks are used like flashcards during instruction. Kid Cards similarly correlate to each grade level. These cards are used by both teacher and student to reinforce phonics concepts and are the basis for several games as well. Each set of Kid Cards is color-coded for easy identification. The Rule Book consists of charts of the rules taught at that level that are used as visuals during instruction. The same audio CD and home instruction DVD are included for each level, so these will be redundant if you purchase more than one level. The audio is for the teacher's use - to help you correctly pronounce each phonogram in your presentation. The DVD is also for you. It explains the method and materials used in Saxon Phonics, then shows moms and dads using the program, so you can see just how it works. Student Material Packs contain a laminated alphabet strip (block letters on one side, D'Nealian on the other), worksheets, letter tiles (K-1), spelling word lists, spelling sound sheets, readers, activity sheets (2), and irregular spelling booklet (1-2). The Packs are consumable, so you will need a pack for each child using the program.
Phonics K begins with auditory discernment skills and other reading readiness assessments. Provided the student is ready, instruction proceeds with lessons teaching each letter name, sound, and written form. One week is spent per letter, with constant review assuring retention. After just three letters are taught, the student begins to blend to create words and "unblend" to spell words (this is ideal reinforcement for phonetic instruction). After all letters are taught, instruction includes open (long) vowels, consonant digraphs, short and long "oo," "magic e," r-controlled vowels (ar, or, er), and the vc'/vc syllabication rule. Each lesson requires 30 minutes for instruction plus additional time for handwriting, worksheet, practice, assessment, and reading activities.
Phonics 1 begins with a long and short vowel sound review. It reviews all letter and letter clusters at a rate of one per day. As soon as two letters are learned, the student begins to read and spell. Lessons at this level teach consonant digraphs; suffixes; vowel digraphs; spelling rules; some syllabication rules; "magic e," final stable syllables; open vowels; y as a vowel; some trigraphs; compound words; r-controlled vowels; soft c and g; "two vowel together" rule; "wild colt" words; silent letters; some quadrigraphs; unaccented ar/or; scribal o; accents and syllable division. Reading instruction includes comprehension quizzes to insure understanding.
Phonics 2 begins with a quick review of vowels and consonants. Lessons review skills from Phonics 1 at greater depth plus include more complex digraphs, trigraphs, and quadrigraphs; sight words; French endings; prefixes; multisyllabic words; accenting; and remaining rules for syllable division. Reading comprehension skills from level 1 are reviewed, then progress to deeper levels of understanding.
At each level, phonics, spelling, and writing instruction are very complete. You will need to supply additional level-appropriate literature for children to read (as with any phonics program). In looking through the volumes, I was generally impressed with the presentation, variety of activities, and coverage. I was puzzled, however, by the choice of the word "off" to illustrate the short o sound. As a test, I asked several people to say this word from a written card. Not one said, "ahf." Most often, the "o" in this word has an "aw" sound as opposed to the "ah" sound of short o (I would have preferred "on" as the lead word!). Then, the very first word to be blended, after introducing "g," is "log." Although "lahg" may be the technically correct pronunciation, I believe "lawg," "dawg," and "frawg" to be more typically spoken. Oh, well. I guess irregularities have to be addressed at some point. I just would have put it "ahf" until the child progressed a little way through more agreeable words (I can see my child saying "Why are you talking so funny?"), and introduced it as a variation (along with frog, hog, cost, lost, toss, etc.). The beauty of homeschooling, though, is that you can modify what you want.
Bottom line - this phonics program is worth its price. Method, instruction, materials, support, ease of use - all get thumbs up. This is definitely a program that should be considered by anyone either fearful about teaching reading, or too busy to spend time researching methods or constructing lesson plans. Unless you've already decided on an approach different than the one used here, or prefer more free-form instruction, you'll probably want to consider using Saxon Phonics. Saxon will provide a free sampler of the program if you call 800-289-4490.