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Phonics Time CD-Book Set: Learn to Read as You Sing with Miss Jenny and Friends Review by Kendra Fletcher

Grades PreK-2
(808) 728-8863
2067 Rurline Dr.,
St. Louis, MO 63146

I have now taught my first four children to read, and although they all learned at their own pace and with their own strengths and weaknesses, I had not had the challenge of a very busy, very kinesthetic learner until this year. My 5-year-old kindergartener is that very busy, very vocal girl. When presented with the opportunity to test and review Phonics Time CD-Book Set: Learn to Read as you Sing with Miss Jenny and Friends, I knew just the child to try it out on.

My daughter was excited to start the CD. She is always enthusiastic about anything musical, and the CD cover is cheerful and inviting. But at the outset I had several concerns. I struggle with phonics programs, workbooks, or (in this case) CDs that present only one sound (phoneme) per letter, or phonogram. This often proves to be confusing to the child. For example, Phonics Time CD-Book Set: Learn to Read as You Sing with Miss Jenny and Friends initially teaches that the letter A makes the short "a" sound, as in cat. In actuality, A makes three sounds, short "a" (cat), long "a" (as in bake), and rounded "a" (as in tall). Many phonics programs assume that the child can learn the secondary letter sounds later, but it is my belief after several years of teaching reading that learning all of the sounds of a phonogram at one time requires less memory skill and brings less confusion to the beginning reader.

Still, I don't mind reinforcement. So I popped the CD into my computer and let my daughter listen. She liked the peppy songs and began to sing along as soon as she knew a line or two. I, on the other hand, was put off by the voice on the tape; the singer is often flat and monotone. Because I actually earned my bachelor's degree in music, this really bothered me. There are so many good singers available to tape these types of materials, and I am always chagrined to find that an annoying or less-than-musical voice has been used. One could argue that the tape is designed to teach children phonics so it doesn't much matter, but musical ears are developed by listening to good music. In our musical home, it does matter.

Now, that being said, there are some good things about this CD. There are songs that cover the concept of rhyming, an important first step in early reading awareness. There are songs that introduce the child to sounding words out, to hearing the ending sounds of words, and to understanding how the letter e at the end of a word changes the word's pronunciation. The CD does eventually cover alternate phonemes, so if you don't have a problem with your child learning them progressively, you might be just fine using Phonics Time CD-Book Set: Learn to Read as You Sing with Miss Jenny and Friends.

The book contains extensive suggestions for using each song, but because this set was written by a teacher for teachers in a classroom setting, you may find that many of the ideas aren't helpful or applicable to your homeschool. One of the songs is called "Homework Time," and the accompanying suggestion is that you teach it to the parents on Back-to-School Night so that they become involved in their child's education. Well, one would hope so!

Will I allow my daughter to listen to the Phonics Time CD-Book Set: Learn to Read as You Sing with Miss Jenny and Friends? Of course. I'm certain she'll enjoy learning the songs, and she might even gain some good reinforcement of our time spent learning all the phonograms and decoding first words. But the product is not an essential part of our reading program. I have confidence my daughter will follow in her brothers' and sister's footsteps to be a strong reader with or without it.

Product review by Kendra Fletcher, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, October 2006