Of all the multi-sensory programs we carry, this one is by far the most weighty - and I do mean in pounds! On a by-the-pound basis, you get the most for your money here! Retailing for less than the Sing, Spell, Read and Write Combo Kit, this program will definitely appeal to parents using the Classical approach, parents who want solid, moral readers (by Christian authors) with historical and biblical content, and parents who love the idea of incorporating art appreciation into their phonics program.
The museum theme is a wonderful concept that is carried throughout the program, beginning with The Alphabet Quest, a story about a boy and a knight (actually a suit of armor) who find objects beginning with each letter of the alphabet on a trip through a museum. At the K level, as you progress through each letter sound, students will "hang" a painting showing this object in their own museum. The flashcards, likewise, have reproductions of all the pictures referred to in The Alphabet Quest. Illustrations throughout the workbooks and playing cards have an "antique" look as well - in keeping with the museum theme.
There's a lot to like in this program. First, it very thoroughly covers the phonetic constructs from letter sounds to silent consonants and everything in between. Secondly, I love the student workbooks. This is the first phonics course I've seen in which the student books are actually thicker than the teacher manuals! They are chock full of useful, well-conceived activities to teach phonics skills. I appreciate that handwriting (D'Nealian-style) is included and instructions for forming each letter and for writing in general are in the teacher's manual. Instead of having children form letters from a model or dotted line, "hollow" letters are supplied and children write within them. This is a sensible approach. It gives young children boundaries until good writing habits are formed. Another good idea here is the introduction of both printed and written forms of the letters right from the beginning. Then, the 31 Primers. These are real books, many about real people, places and events, not just slapped together for phonics practice. The eight Kindergarten Primers, for example, are stories about Pan (Greek god), St. Patrick, the Pilgrims' trip on the Mayflower, Pepin the Short, the Oregon Trail, Greek mosaics, Ben Franklin, Daniel in the Lion's Den, Axum (the historic kingdom in northeastern Ethiopia), and the Civil War. These books are quality constructions with nice, glossy covers and colorful illustrations with original art done by a variety of artists using a variety of media. In fact, all of the components of the program are impressive in quality.
Another facet of the program I think most parents will appreciate is the incorporation of real art activities for students to complete, correlated to the instruction. In Level K students make apple prints when learning the letter "A," construct a monster mask for "M," make butter for "B", and so on. In First Grade many art activities are based on the stories from the Primers. As in the K level, these use different methods and media. Reading comprehension exercises are also welcomed into the mix of student sheets in First Grade.
Teaching instructions for the program are very complete and easy to follow, but not scripted (Yea!). Minimal preparation time is required. Daily lessons tell you just what to do when and how, correlating worksheet exercises, games, and other activities to the skills. Workbook instructions are here as well, along with the reduced student page, so you don't have to juggle two books when preparing. It would be helpful to read through each lesson before teaching. No time estimate is given, but with all the worksheets, art projects and activities, I would expect each lesson to last about an hour. Two games (with variations) are also included and used by both levels of the program. At the K level they practice letter sounds and letter recognition. In first grade they practice blends, long vowel words, sight words and phonograms. Unique puzzle pieces are also supplied and used to construct sound combinations and words.
I guess the only component of the program that I'm not personally thrilled with is the music CD. The vocal and production quality is great, but they strike me as more entertaining than instructive. I was a little surprised at the rock 'n roll and contemporary beats here - being from a publisher of Classical materials. The tunes are catchy, even zippy, and include a variety of styles. However, the lyrics, speed and musical composition of the songs would make it difficult for children to sing along. It's confusing to me that "wr" is treated as a blend in the blends song and in the program, but also covered with the silent consonants. I thought a blend was a blend of two sounds... It's difficult to make out the lyrics to the Ing Ang Song (sung as an Al Jolsen-like vocal), though the lyrics are included in the back of the Teacher Manual. While I grant that this CD is more entertaining to listen to than your standard phonics fare, I would have preferred something with less vocal range, more repetition, and blander music that was easier to imitate and learn from. Sometimes, simpler is better. Bob thought the music reminded him of something from Sesame Street, that would be heard as various letters or visuals popped and jumped across the screen - only sans visuals. But the music CD here is more an ancillary to the program - it's not used as a core instructional tool in the way the songs are in Sing, Spell, Read and Write. So this is not a major consideration if you're considering the program.
My only other quibble is minor, also. In the K level, a third sound of "a" is introduced as "ah" as in father. But, included in the instruction are words like call, ball, fall, etc. I would have trouble pronouncing call as "cahl" rather than "cawl." Then, in First Grade, you ask children what sound is made by "a" in "All," "Call," "Fall," and "Wall." After the student responds with the "Ah" sound, you proceed to explain that, when "ah" is followed by "L," both sounds change a little and together make the sound of "aw." Then you "affirm that this is a completely new sound." If I were using the program, I would omit the initial, less-than-correct teaching at the K level.
And I would most definitely use the program. In fact, if I were Siskel and Ebert, I would give this program two thumbs up!
The Combo Kit contains everything you need for Grades K and 1. Included in the hefty Combo Kit are: The Alphabet Quest (book), 31 Primers, Kindergarten Teacher Manual, Kindergarten Workbook, First Grade Teacher Manual, First Grade Workbook, 1 Deck of Kindergarten Archives Game Cards, 1 Deck of First Grade Archives Game Cards, 2 Decks of Playing Cards (alphabet), 2 Decks of Playing Cards (digraphs), 46 5"x8" Flashcards, 1 Pop-Up Museum/Game Board, 1 Music CD, 1 Packet of Game Pieces, 1 Deck of Fine Art Cards, 1 Paper Doll Sheet, 1 Paper Clip Packet, 1 Iron-on Museum Bag Decal. The Kindergarten and Grade 1 kits contain everything needed for that specific grade. The Kindergarten Kit includes all of the components from the Combo kit except the Teacher Manual, Workbook, and Primers for Grade 1, and the First Grade Game Cards. Likewise, the First Grade Kit likewise includes all of the components from the Combo Kit, except the Teacher's Manual, Workbook, and Primers for Grade K, and the Kindergarten Game Cards. Additional student sets are available with and without primers.