When Kira was little, I was determined to make sure she would learn to read before she started Kindergarten, and at that time, preschools/day cares did not attempt any type of instruction. Without knowing there was a wealth of resources available, I found a couple sets of books and went from there. It was tough. There was more frustration than I care to remember, all because I was trying to make one program work, regardless of how effective it proved to be.
This time around, I’m much more aware of learning styles, and I’m more willing to adjust a curriculum to match what my child responds to best. With that said, I’ve tried a few things with Aamina to see what she seems to respond to.
What we’ve tried
My First Steps to Reading: This is the set that I used with Kira when she was little, and I still think it’s a great supplement. For me, it was hard to take the step back from the full words and teach the letter sounds using these books, but I think they are still great to use in a letter of the week curriculum, or something similar. I tried again to use it with Aamina, hoping maybe it would come easier for me, but it’s still in the category of a great supplement.
Bob Books: I like how the Bob books are setup, and how they introduce enough letter sounds to make words, then you practice using them. I found that Aamina very quickly memorized the books, though, defeating the purpose of practicing using the Bob Books. We do have the very beginner set, also, that introduces letters and shapes, but there didn’t seem to be enough repetition to really make anything sink in.
The Ordinary Parents Guide to Teaching Reading: I picked this up a few years ago when it was just a few dollars at a used curriculum sale, while I was still a Well Trained Mind fangirl (I still love The Well Trained Mind, but Aamina doesn’t seem to be a budding WTM student thus far). When the other two options fell flat, and I remembered I already had this book, I was super excited! Then we tried it the next day, and Aamina just said, “I don’t want to do this.” After only two minutes. Even if we wait until she’s older, I think the discussion style of the curriculum isn’t something Aamina really wants.
Lapbooks: I do enjoy lapbooks, quite a bit. Still, I want to introduce letters in an order that she can start using them for reading early on. I don’t feel it’s necessary to learn all the letter sounds before learning the joy of using them. There are lots of resources, but these are the alphabet lapbooks we use.
Okay, so you see where we’ve been (and maybe you’ve tried some of these, too), but here’s why I love where we’re going with Jolly Phonics.
Scroll to the bottom to watch the YouTube video where I highlight each of these also!
I love workbooks, and fortunately, Kira loved workbooks, too. Aamina does not love workbooks, at least not for very long. If she’s in a good mood, she’ll do a couple pages, but in general she’s not keen on following instructions to fill in a page, and she especially is not keen on repeating one thing over and over (practicing writing the letter A 20 times, for example). The Jolly Phonics activity books are easy to just pull off the shelf and start, and they are varied enough on each page to keep Aamina’s attention.
Many small elements
Each activity book includes a small storyline that continues throughout the book, coloring pages, matching, very short periods of practicing writing each letter, plus suggested activities and a relatively generous amount of sticker pages. Really, the sticker pages are what keeps Aamina interested in moving forward, and even the sticker pages are educational.
Actions for each sound
Aamina doesn’t just want to sit and listen to me talk about letter sounds. She’s not a “repeat after me” type of kid. She loves the actions that go with each sound, and it keeps her interested in her phonics work. She loves moving her body when she practices her sounds!
Letter sounds vs. letter recognition
Jolly Phonics actually suggests teaching the sounds of the letters before the letter names. Now, Aamina already knew all the letter names before we started, but I like that it takes out the work of equating a letter shape to a letter name to a letter sound. That’s a lot of information for a preschooler to digest! You can always learn the letter names at a later time, and many say kids will naturally pick it up. Still, for the purpose of loving the alphabet because it allows you to read, learning letter sounds first seems logical.
Jolly Phonics Supplements
The activity books are the core of the curriculum, and you could definitely just use them as your complete phonics curriculum. To spice things up, or to help solidify concepts, they also have a DVD, Games CD, Songs CD, story book, letter sound poster, and my favorite, the Read and See books where the child tries to read a word, then you can fold out the page to see the corresponding picture and find if they are correct. Beyond the Read and See books, they also have early reader books available.
Things to know about Jolly Phonics
Jolly Phonics is used quite a bit in schools in the UK and other parts of the world, so there are numerous classroom resources. For instance the workbooks are intended more for a classroom than at home, and the activity books are vice versa. I always take a look at the My Jolly Phonics set, which is marketed to home users, for what products would fit with our homeschool.
Also, since they are based in the UK, make sure DVDs are suited for US DVD players. I’m unsure if there’s a difference in CD encoding or not. My assumption when you buy from Amazon is they are suited for the US, but just be mindful of that. You likely do not want to order a DVD from their UK based site without asking ahead of time.
Overall, I’m really impressed with the low entry cost of Jolly Phonics, and how you can add supplements at your pleasure, without feeling like you’re completely missing out. I’m surprised this isn’t more widely used in the homeschool market!