Frequently Asked Questions
WHAT AGE/GRADE LEVEL IS THIS PROGRAM DESIGNED FOR?
These books were meant to be the first steps in a lifetime of learning and are designed to be used at each individual’s pace.
Typically, a 3-5 year old will start with Book One, Letter Mastery. This 26 chapter book introduces children to the alphabet one letter at a time, in an order that gives children the ability to build words immediately from the letters they’ve learned. The repeated successes build confidence, as small bites are added one step at a time. The practical application and positive reinforcement used throughout the book help children form a solid foundation for the fundamentals of reading and ensure mastery of the alphabet before more challenging concepts are introduced.
If a child is comfortable recognizing and identifying the shape and sound of each letter, at about 5-8 years old they would begin Book Two, Word Mastery. This book starts by reviewing the short CVC (consonant-short vowel-consonant) words that they learned to decipher in Book One. In Chapter Two, Silent E is introduced which establishes the concept that vowels can also make a long sound, opening up a whole new world of word patterns. From there, syllables are introduced, then Sounds of S, Consonant Twins, and so on. As sounds and syllables are brought to life in their natural context, sentences and stories come together with the basic principles of handwriting, spelling and punctuation, making reading fun and interesting. By the time a child has finished Book Two, they will have accumulated all the tools they need to confidently decode and read any word they encounter.
WHAT IS THE TYPICAL PACE/SCHEDULE?
As every child learns differently, there is no set schedule for this program. It is designed to be completed at the child’s pace. Typically, if you spend about 30 minutes/twice a week, or 15 minutes/four days a week, each book can be completed in one school year. Many children benefit from going through either book more than once, for fun, especially if they start really young. The ideal way to use this curriculum is to take it slowly. Lessons should be done when children are eager and excited to read. When they start to get tired, take a break and come back to it. It is best to present reading as a reward, rather than a chore.
WHAT SUPPLIES ARE REQUIRED?
Both books come with tear-out flashcards. The only other supplies you will need are a pencil and a box of crayons or colored pencils.
As a suggestion, Paper Mate “Mates” 1.3 mm mechanical pencils work great for little hands and eliminate the need for constant sharpening.
ARE THESE BOOKS CONSUMABLE?
Yes. Foundational Phonics uses a multi-sensory approach, so the books have many interactive activities and reinforcements that call for coloring and writing. In order to keep the books organized and still student and teacher friendly, they are consumable, though they are able to be read through multiple times for review and enjoyment.
When compared to other complete reading programs on the market, Foundational Phonics is very cost effective.
CAN I START MY CHILD IN BOOK TWO IF HE KNOWS HIS LETTERS?
If your child can recall all of the letters and their basic sounds easily and is able to comfortably read CVC (consonant-short vowel-consonant) words, he should be able to start with Book Two.
If you are not confident that he is ready, it is always better to err on the side of caution. Giving him a stronger foundation first, can help to eliminate a lot of frustration in the future. A review of the first chapter of Book Two will give you a good idea of his readiness
WHAT READING LEVEL WILL MY CHILD REACH BY THE TIME THEY ARE DONE ?
The graded reading levels that we have come to accept as standards, are criteria designed to accommodate the majority of modern reading programs. Often these programs teach children a combination of memorization (whole word/sight reading) and decoding skills and they are expected to master a specific number of words per age or grade level. These reading “levels” measure the repertoire of words they have learned. Teachers may then assign books that have been written to accommodate students at their level. Foundational Phonics is not limited by or to grade levels. True phonics instruction takes a non-reader from learning the basic sounds to forming simple words, syllables, sentences, and stories. The beauty of learning to read this way is in the natural progression. Like learning to ride a bike, as a child takes off and masters the deciphering of the written word, he becomes a reader. While improvements in his ability will come, and his vocabulary will increase over time, he has all the tools he needs to decipher any word he encounters. The process of building a child’s vocabulary, comprehension and literacy will only continue as he progresses into living books and good literature.
WHY THE “FANCY” HANDWRITING ?
The italic font used throughout this curriculum originates from the chancery cursive which was the common hand used by scribes, scholars, and savants in Europe during the middle ages. It became very popular because it was “lively yet disciplined in appearance; it was responsive to a variety of pen nib styles and tolerant of different writing speeds; and it was attainable by the novice and gratifying to the adept. *” The evolution of chancery cursive made the process of writing manuscripts and letters faster and more efficient, while remaining beautiful and legible.
Many modern educators have chosen this style over the ball and stick method, as it can easily transition from a simple manuscript to a legible cursive simply by adding joins. This is much easier than having to start over with a whole new set of shapes to begin learning cursive.
The varied fonts found at the top of each page in Book One are part of this program’s multisensory approach. By gently exposing children to the fact that letters can vary in style yet remain the same, we broaden their ability to recognize the many different forms that letters assume in the real world. As each letter is explored, these “fancy” fonts become quiet reinforcements, helping children make connections to the letters they encounter all around them. In an age when very little handwritten communication takes place after the formative years, it should be a priority to make sure children can recognize more than basic fonts.
* “Calligraphy”, Encyclopædia Britannica, November 10, 2017, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc
WHAT IF MY CHILD IS OVERWHELMED BY THE COPYWORK?
The handwriting exercises in this program are basically the copywork of letters in Book One and short sentences in Book Two. These can be adapted to your child’s pace as well. The purpose is to bring hand/eye coordination together while enabling children to make connections visually and kinesthetically. While we don’t recommend skipping the writing exercises, if it is too much for your child, feel free to go over the sentences with a finger instead of a pencil. Another option would be to just trace and not copy the first time through, until the child has gained more confidence.
CAN YOU USE BOOK TWO AS A SPELLING PROGRAM?
Yes! After children have begun Book Two, any word groups that they have covered can be used as spelling lists. This is a great way to reinforce spelling skills and solidify the recognition of word patterns.
DOES FOUNDATIONAL PHONICS SUPPORT THE ORTON-GILLINGHAM APPROACH?
In short, yes, but what exactly does that mean?
Dr. Samuel Orton, a doctor and neuropathologist, was a pioneer in identifying dyslexia and reading disabilities. He began his work with adult patients who had brain damage, which led him to study why some children with average or even above average IQ’s had such great difficulty in learning to read. During a time when the “whole word approach” (sight reading) had become the standard method of reading instruction in the schools, the increase in reading “disabilities” and what we now know as dyslexia, were at an all-time high.
One of Orton’s associates was a teacher and psychologist named Anna Gillingham who collaborated with him for several years at the Neurological Institute in NY. With the support and active influence of Dr. Orton, Gillingham and her friend and teacher Bessie Stillman, organized Orton’s principles into a successful remedial reading training system which became known as the Orton–Gillingham method. O-G’s original methodology brought back traditional phonics instruction in which “the sound of each letter is first thoroughly taught and these letter sounds are then built into words, like bricks in a wall”* and presented it in a way that engaged the visual, auditory and kinesthetic senses.
Their method directly confronted the damage that had been caused by the whole word method and the stigma of phonics being a “grunt and groan” approach. The O-G method was designed to train teachers to teach true phonics effectively, by using multi-sensory reinforcements to engage both sides of the brain. This proved to be especially effective for students with dyslexia.
Foundational Phonics follows the same traditional phonics framework, while presenting multi-sensory reinforcement in a simplified format made easy enough that any reader can guide a non-reader through the program. No teacher training or prep-work is necessary.
* Anna Gillingham, Remedial Training for Children with Specific Disability in Reading, Spelling, and Penmanship, fifth edition, 1979.
THE PROBLEM WITH MANY OTHER “ORTON-GILLINGHAM” PROGRAMS ?
Perhaps in an effort to streamline the process or put their own spin on it, some authors inadvertently overthought and overanalyzed the concepts of Traditional Phonics. This resulted in the creation of many complex, daunting systems with a myriad of rules and memorization requirements.
Today we have an endless variety of “Orton-Gillingham” flavored curriculums to choose from, but most of them have drifted from the Traditional Phonics Method. There are a handful of educators familiar with the history of reading and phonics instruction, who have helped to explain and bring clarity to the confusing task of determining which O-G programs meet the criteria that define traditional phonics. If careful study is done, one can see that many modern phonics programs don’t really follow the Orton-Gillingham method but have become confused with the Orton-Spalding method.
The core structure of most phonics-based programs, fall into one of two basic categories:
The Traditional Method, or the Spalding Method (see below).
Romalda Spalding was another teacher who studied under Dr. Orton and created her own program called The Writing Road to Reading. WRTR is a program that uses multisensory techniques to teach intensive spelling, writing, and reading simultaneously. Spalding’s work proved to be very difficult for the average parent/teacher to implement and required intensive teacher training which in turn, generated many spin-off programs to help educators more easily access her methods. Though numerous gifted users have found success through her method, many teachers and students are overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task set before them.
SPALDING METHOD VS. TRADITIONAL METHOD
Unlike Traditional Phonics, the Spalding Method requires students to memorize 70 phonograms (sounds) in isolation, without the natural context of words or patterns. Lessons can take up to 3 hours each day.
The Spalding Method is quite complex:
- Students learn the sounds of 54 of the 70 phonograms which include the 26 letters of the alphabet and all the various sounds they make (the three sounds of a, for instance)… plus er, ir, ur, wor, ear, sh, ee, th, ay, ai, ow, ou, oi, oy, aw, au, ew, ui, oo, ch, ng, ea, ar, ck, ed, or, wh, oa.
- Students analyze, mark, and spell in their spelling notebooks the most common 150 words in the English language, at a rate of 30 words per week. The spelling notebook consists of an analysis of spelling words taught in order of frequency of use in the English language. The words are analyzed using phonograms, spelling rules, and the Spalding marking system.
- Once Steps 1 and 2 have been taught, students begin to read.
- After reading begins, the remaining 16 phonograms are taught and students continue to analyze, mark, and spell words in their spelling notebooks for a total of 780 words by first grade.
- Students are tested weekly to measure their spelling and reading abilities.
Spalding’s Method uses a multi-sensory approach and phonetic principles, but in effect requires rote memorization before application and natural context which can be an incredibly intense and difficult feat for many to achieve.
The Traditional Phonics Method presents concepts in a systematic sequence, moving from the simple to the more complex in a logical order. The central idea of traditional phonics, is the presentation of each phonetic sound in the context of a word family. This systematic study of spelling patterns and word families (for example, the vowel team ai and groups of words containing that same pattern: rain, brain, pail, etc.), gives students the ability to recognize, master, and read words fluently. Students learn thousands of words by being exposed to their patterns in a natural context and in the process obtain the decoding skills to read thousands more.
Although the exact order in which phonics patterns are introduced can vary between programs, they all follow the same basic framework:
- Children learn the alphabet (one sound for each letter) and are taught to blend those sounds into words.
- Begin reading CVC (consonant-short vowel-consonant) words as soon as a few letters have been introduced (an, man, ran, etc)
- Silent E is presented and introduces the concept that vowels can also have a long sound.
- Double Consonants (ll, ss, ff, etc, )
- Digraphs (sh, ch, th, etc, )
- Consonant Blends (bl, cl, fl, etc, )
- Long Vowel words in which vowels say their name (ai, ee, ea, etc, )
- Soft c and g words (as in cent, gentle)
- And so on…
The sequence of Traditional Phonics Instruction is effective because it is systematic, not random. It doesn’t overwhelm or confuse children with all the different sounds a letter or combination of letters can make in isolation but uses real words and real sentences to reinforce acquired concepts. It reveals the underlying order of the great variety of English spelling patterns, one pattern at a time, revealing the logical simplicity of the process.
Cheryl Lowe, a brilliant teacher and co-founder of Memoria Press, wrote three excellent articles which more clearly explain the differences between “Traditional Phonics” and the “Spalding Method”.
You can read them here: