The Scaredy Cat Reading System has been used by parents and teachers for fifteen years, formerly offered as a reading program through JoyceHerzog.com, this improved third edition of the program offers a fun, logical, multi-sensory method that is easy for children to learn. As developer of the Scaredy Cat Reading System, Joyce Herzog taught in public and private school environments and worked with home educators for many years. She discovered many students were confused by the many rules in the traditional process of learning to read. Her development of the Scaredy Cat Reading System includes fun, easily remembered stories and characters, as it progresses through three levels for learning to read.
Level One, Alphabet, teaches the alphabet letter names and sounds as it prepares students for learning to read. Level Two, Vowels, includes reading and spelling of short (scared) vowel words and sentences with beginning language and comprehension skills. Level Three, Words, teaches reading, spelling, and language skills as the various components of learning to read culminate in this final reading level. Each level builds on skills previously learned in earlier levels, the website offers a printable placement test to determine where your student should begin in the program. Each level requires the LetterMaster story which is available on DVD and as a Comic with an Audio CD and is the launching point of the program, one copy will be used throughout the levels.
The bulk of the system consists of the three levels, each with a Teacher’s Pack with Manual, DVD, and Fun Learning Kit, along with a Student Activity Book. Additional support materials include a Read and Draw for the Vowels Comprehension reader, Read and Draw for the Words Comprehension reader, laminated Reversal Prevention Charts, and a School In a Box with Mini-book. Still more materials are available from the website as free downloads in PDF format, including Reversal Prevention Charts, Bingo game boards for each level, and various general game boards to use however you desire.
The components of each level include a Teacher’s Manual with comb binding and glossy cardstock soft cover, each with single sided print pages and lay open flat binding--the comb binding does not flip back onto itself to lie flat as a single page. Teacher’s Manuals include a list of components, a Summary of the Scaredy Cat Rules, an Introduction, Teacher Training, Daily Planning, a Pre-Test for Levels 2 & 3, lessons (sixteen in Alphabet, ten in Vowels, and twenty-six in Words), an Achievement Test, Appendix, and contact information for a local representative.
Posters, songs, games, and detailed lesson instructions are included in each Teacher’s Manual and coincide with the Student Activity Book for each level. Student Activity Books include matching, coloring activities, fill in the blanks, word completion, word finds, simple crosswords, and plenty of drawing activities. The illustrations are imaginative with clear portrayals and well placed hints to help with early word recognition and spelling throughout all three levels.
Additional components fit securely into sturdy cardboard boxes with edge markings for each level so that when stacked the level name is visible. The Alphabet Level Fun Learning Kit includes the LetterMaster Comic with CD or available DVD, an Instructional DVD, an Audio song CD, flash cards for the Alphabet in both upper and lowercase, beginning sounds cards, container game cards, various posters and game boards, and reversal prevention charts. A total of 25 pages of flash cards, charts, and posters are in the Alphabet Level. Additional items included for the purpose of this review, but optional in the Scaredy Cat Reading System, were the School In a Box multi-sensory box of small items with a teaching guide and the laminated Reversal Prevention Charts that include frequently used font styles to assist children with the different letter styles, both are available separately.
The Vowels Level Fun Learning Kit begins with use of the LetterMaster Comic with CD or DVD, an Instructional DVD, 18 cardstock pages of flashcards, 11 pages of charts and posters (some of which are two sided), a laminated 11 x 17 inch game board, and a small zipper baggie of playing pieces. The School in a Box activities, Reversal Prevention Charts, and the Scaredy Cat Audio CD are optional and recommended, as is the Blue Read & Draw comprehension reader designed for the Vowels Level and included for this review. The Read and Draw readers are 5 x 8 ½ inches with glossy soft cover, comb binding, and pages printed on both sides, unlike the Student Activity books that have only one side of print. The Words Level Fun Learning Kit components include two Instructional DVDs, four 11 x 17 inch two-sided laminated game boards, six posters, 21 pages of game cards, 54 pages of word cards, and a zipper baggie of dice and pawns. The School in a Box activities are recommended for this level, as well as the Green Read & Draw comprehension reader designed for the Words Level and included for the purposes of this review. Additionally, you will need standard schooling supplies, including pens, pencils, crayons or colored pencils, and scissors, along with preparation time to cut apart all necessary flash cards and game playing cards before working with your student. The series will take your child through the alphabet letters and their sounds, vowels and the rules for the long sounds, and completes with words and their usage, including the various endings, multi-syllable words, contractions, homonyms, and more.
The Teacher’s Manual encourages flexibility in planning and working with your student. Each lesson may be completed in one week, or could take two weeks or more, so that the length of time the full program takes to complete is entirely left up to each student’s needs and process of learning.
An encouraging explanation of learning plateaus and learning spurts is included and stresses the importance of maintaining skills without forcing progress. A typical week may include three days of working directly on the lesson work, including watching the DVD, going over letters or words, playing included games, and completing portions of the Student Activity book, with a couple of days enjoying games and activities not directly in the Scaredy Cat program, such as Memory, pretending to be LetterMaster, and reading together.
The program includes entertaining games, sensory activities, and a Progress Report to chart success. The appendix at the back of the Teacher’s Manuals includes a wealth of activities, games, and tips to be used throughout the program and most are easily adapted to many other subject areas or skills your child needs to learn. The School In a Box is a tool each of our student’s enjoyed tremendously, it provides the small collectables children enjoy and has a broad range of colors, shapes, textures, and items so that children stay enticed by the various suggested activities to use with the box. The box is a sturdy plastic with hinged lid divided into seven compartments and includes a magnet attached on the lid to separate magnetized pieces. Small craft sized zipper baggies are also included with beads, dice, and various other tiny sorting items, please note that contents may vary and include choking hazards. The included booklet of activities for the School In a Box is a folded and stapled 5 ½ x 8 ½ inch size, just a bit larger than the contents box of 5 x 7 ¼ inches and 1 7/8 inches high.
The Read and Draw comprehension readers are the perfect opportunity for your child to illustrate and personalize a written book. Complete with “Illustrated by” line to include their name as the illustrator, each book is written by Joyce M. Herzog, with space above each sentence for illustrations to complete the book. The Vowels Level reader has single reading lines and space for one illustration on each page, while the Words Level reader has two reading lines on each page with spaces above each for an illustration. Each reader includes words learned at the particular reading level, Vowels includes CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words predominantly, while Words includes more difficult words, including those with various endings and multi-syllable words. Each book is entirely black on white, leaving all of the full color illustrations for your child to add, and provides section titles at the top of every few pages. The lay flat when opened comb binding works well with the Read and Draw comprehension readers, allowing the student to comfortably add illustrations. The Student Activity Books are also all black ink on white paper and offer plenty of opportunity for colorful additions to the pages. The Vowels and Words Levels include opportunity for illustrations as a way to increase and verify comprehension, and word finds, crosswords, spelling, and beginning alphabetization will all be found in the Student Activity Books. Great illustrations are also included, ready to be creatively colored by your student as they read. Instructions and tips are included in the Teacher’s Manuals for the many pages in the Student Activity Books and Lesson plans include directions as to when to complete pages for any given Lesson as you work through the book. The many flash cards, games and game playing pieces, are also referenced in the Teacher’s Manual, along with open ended opportunities to choose activities from the appendix and enjoy learning activities with your child. The flash cards and games include adorable illustrations, and the laminated game boards are brightly colored with excellent pictures that will entice children to play longer.
The entire LetterMaster story is reminiscent of Adam naming the animals and brings a feel of Biblical story to the program from the very start. There are teaching gems spread throughout the Scaredy Cat Reading System and it is incredibly easy to use, new teachers and seasoned teachers will equally enjoy using the system. We found the digit span method, used to assist in determining a child’s readiness for particular aspects in the process of learning to read, an incredibly easy way to see readiness. I will take each of my younger children through this program, and even those with an understanding of the letter names and sounds will still enjoy the Alphabet Level and it offers excellent repetition regardless.
The program is very well planned and has fantastic inclusions like the charts for frequently used font styles to aid in letter recognition, and Bible quotes for those wanting to blend Bible into their reading and spelling curriculum. The Teacher’s Manual offers a peek at upcoming concepts to be taught later, keeping you informed as you work, as you look forward to what is to come. The humor used throughout the teaching DVDs is incredibly entertaining and was very well received by our son. The style of the lessons and concepts taught with stories has worked very well for our son, who functions on the autism spectrum. He began recalling the stories the day we started using the Scaredy Cat Reading System.
For families familiar with social stories, this program is an excellent addition for use with special needs children, as it fits right in with many of the teaching methods so well used by our children. The DVD lessons offer a good presentation of the material, and also provide you with preparation beforehand with the Teacher Training sections. We placed our various charts and posters one at a time on the wall near our television, so that our son could touch the letters and various concepts being taught on the relevant chart as we worked through the lessons. This allowed him the opportunity to “play teacher” throughout the use of the system, as well as offering regular visual reminders of whatever concept he was learning at any given time.
The many activities include coloring, cut and paste, writing, drawing, turn taking, collages, large muscle games, outdoor and indoor games, drama, manipulatives, and many options that various learning styles will benefit. The Student Activity books and Read and Draw comprehension readers are consumable, but the novelty of the readers becoming “illustrated” by your student, and the personalization within some of the collage and writing activities in the Student Activity books makes the expense of a consumable more than worth the additional price for additional children.
Notebooking and Lapbooking students can creatively design items for each level of the program, with a notebook representing each letter and sound, or a lapbook with some of the games implemented into fold out game board areas and pockets for flash card activities. Visual and auditory learners will enjoy the DVDs as they playfully present learning concepts in very memorable fashion, then carry over into the Activity books and games for each lesson.
Our son thoroughly enjoys humor and I found him laughing hysterically at some of the sillier antics portrayed in the DVDs, and even in the reading of the activity books. There are tremendous opportunities consistently to teach math facts, basic science, life skills, enjoy field trips, or expand activities into every school subject, if so desired.
Joyce M. Herzog has done an excellent job designing the Scaredy Cat Reading System. The rules for reading are so well presented that even I grasped rules in new ways I never understood before! The presentation by the LetterMaster is entertaining and child friendly; he is very skilled at keeping the attention of special needs children with his vivid facial expressions and contagious excitement.
The double sided pages in the Read and Draw comprehension readers may bleed through when children add illustrations, either by using markers or by pressing too hard. We suggest using colored pencils and adding a thin cardboard backing between pages during the illustration process if you have a heavy handed writer. The LetterMaster DVD has some sound quality issues with some of the letter characters as you can not always hear them clearly. There is no menu on the DVD or chapter differential to fast forward to a particular area you wish to review, which was disappointing. My son has difficulty with certain letters, as many children do, and liked to watch repeatedly certain areas of the DVD without always watching the entire program again. That was not an option without chapter availability on the DVD, which was frustrating.
The other DVDs offer excellent division of groups of lessons, include Teacher Training portions, and are easy to maneuver through. The booklet with the School in a Box is a bit larger than the plastic box that contains all of the various manipulatives for the kit, and it would have been very convenient if the book had slid into a clip in the lid or into the top of the box some how. The cardboard boxes that store the Fun Kits for each Level are regular corrugated cardboard; a plastic coated finish would have made them much more durable for a longer period of time.
The LetterMaster DVD is entertaining and has an incredible message to convey about the sounds and jobs of the many letters of the alphabet, but fighting is presented as “k” and “w” cannot get along, and quite a few of the letters are mischievous and lie to gain additional sounds. The end result is a story that will stick with most children, as even I will now picture the k/w fight every time the sound of “qu” comes to mind. Although the end does not always justify the means, if you can handle childhood squabbles and manipulative childish behavior, your children will learn many of the letter sounds in very memorable ways because of the LetterMaster story. It also provides an additional teaching opportunity by discussing the various poor behaviors of some letters, as well as the more admirable ones when some letters share their sounds or willingly help out their counterparts.
We wholeheartedly recommend the Scaredy Cat Reading System, especially for families with struggling readers and special needs children, though all children will benefit greatly from this system. It is completely understandable that this program has won so many awards for quality and offering an excellent educational value.
The additional support materials are available, but not essential, allowing many budgets to enjoy the program. Opportunities for drawing abound throughout the program, as do penmanship improvements, imaginative illustration examples, and open ended activities for parents to expand at will into many other subject areas.
The Teacher’s Manuals are well organized and provide a seemingly endless amount of material to extend teachable moments, while providing the required lessons if that is all that is necessary for your home school. LetterMaster quickly became a welcome member of our educational arsenal and will provide years of education for our children. The most difficult rules in reading will be clearly understood by students learning to read with the Scaredy Cat Reading System, as well as by their parents. Children will enjoy learning to read with a broad range of teaching environments: from DVD viewing, to table games, indoor and outdoor activities, Student Activity books, and the optional Read and Draw supplements or the School In a Box manipulatives. Reading is FUN again with the Scaredy Cat Reading System! Every child, whether typically developing, special needs, learning delayed, or late reader, will understand the rules of reading in a fun and easily grasped presentation that will stick with them and motivate them toward more reading. The Scaredy Cat Reading System took the fear out of reading for our son, and will successfully teach children to read without the frustrations and difficulty often found in other programs.