Thursday, April 16, 2015

First Start Reading from Memoria Press (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

Jude is plodding along reading, and Damien is showing signs of being ready to start something more sophisticated than Super Why! videos.  When the Crew gave us the chance to review the complete  First Start Reading  program from Memoria Press, I thought it would be perfect for us.  Since we would receive the Teacher Guide and and one complete set of student books A-D, I thought Damien could start at the beginning, and Jude in the middle.

Memoria Press is well known for their classical-style homeschooling programs.  This curriculum teaches:
  • consonants
  • short and long vowels
  • 45 common words
  • manuscript writing (printing)
Though Jude's penmanship skills are actually pretty good (copywork is a staple here), I really thought reading-wise that he'd be ready for Book D, given all he had been "taught" were short vowel sounds.  (Book D adds long vowels, diagraphs and common blends into learning to read.)    I glanced through the very introductory Book A, just to see what it was like, before handing Jude Book B.  I was sure this was below his level, but I wanted to just take the five minutes to be certain he didn't have any holes in what he knew, plus I wanted to give him the confidence of "I'm too smart for that book." Apparently, he's picked up enough other rules and patterns in reading/being read to that he just started and kept on going!  The books also contain a total of 31 short stories to practice reading skills.  He read a few passages and then the final passage easily, so I handed over Book C...and then D...and then asked him to read the final passage.  When he read that with reasonable ease for a cold reading, Neal and I looked at each other in amazement. 

While he's figured out all of the sounds in Book D on his own, it put Jude in a really awkward spot with several of the other programs that we have.  I'm not certain where he actually is, but basing placement from "knows everything in Book D" is very difficult with all of the programs we do have.   I'm not overly familiar with the rest of Memoria Press' offerings, but at a quick glance, it looks like Memoria Press' first grade complete curriculum includes phonics work that would build on what is learned in Kindergarten level First Start Reading.  However, since we are not doing a complete packaged curriculum with Jude because of his skill range, I found it a bit awkward to transition to higher levels of the other programs we already have. first bit of advice is if you're a brand-new-to-phonics student, this is a good choice. Lucky Damien now gets the entire program to himself!

I like the simplicity of the program.  The teacher’s manual and student books (along with pencils and crayons) are all that you need -- I don't have any prep work to do.  Additionally, we've tried a lot of different programs with Jude, and they've run the gamut from literal bells and whistles (for online programs) to other paper-and-pencil ones that were exceptionally austere.  While I prefer a simpler program where the focus is on language and not guessing from the pictures, I liked that this had a little bit of picture to help engage Damien's interests (the program is for Kindergarteners, after all), but not so much that he became focused on the program as a coloring book, or that the child starts to be able to decode from the pictures and not the words.

 We worked in Book A three, sometimes four, days each week - not every day. First, though we are dipping our toes into kindergarten work, Damien is still only four.  The opposite of his brother (of course!), he's doing well with phonemes but struggling a bit with fine motor skills.  Because of this,  we're working on pre/non-writing skills as well. I think a lower-key approach for younger children is better - I'd rather go more slowly and build confidence than try to push through and have him in frustrated tears.

In addition, in the teacher's manual there is a comprehension guide with questions.  I have a separate comprehension book for Jude, so after he showed he could read the passages, I didn't go back to see if he could read them for content.  However, I liked that comprehension was part of the program, because it doesn't really matter much that you can read a story if you can't figure out what is going on in the story!

 I'll admit that it's not my favorite program - but then again, if I was an average homeschooling parent who had only tried one or two programs, it likely would be.  (We are a bit odd here -- how many parents need three hands to count all the phonics programs they've attempted in search of THE ONE that will work for their child's abilities?)  Overall, I think this is a good program, and one we will likely continue to use with Damien.

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Memoria Press Review

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