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Go Phonics: A Multi-sensory Phonics Program plus K-2 Language Arts Review by Donna Campos

Sylvia Davison
Foundations for Learning, LLC
246 W. Manson Hwy., PMB 144
Chelan, WA 98816

We have been searching for a phonics program that would help us teach our autistic spectrum/learning-delayed 8-year-old how to read. After trying an old version of Play'N Talk, Hooked on Phonics, and Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, we were frustrated and beginning to wonder if he would ever handle reading. He is very much a visual learner rather than auditory. Although the previous programs certainly offered some skills, nothing was coming together for him. Go Phonics finally brought together all of the things he had been picking up from the other programs. It was designed by a teacher with 40 years of experience, including 18 years teaching a full class of dyslexic and struggling readers.

Go Phonics covers phonemic awareness, decoding and encoding (reading and spelling), handwriting, grammar, punctuation, comprehension, and fluency. It is ideal for beginning readers, dyslexic students, and struggling readers of any age. Though not designed specifically for homeschoolers, GoPhonics offers a very complete phonics program that could be used with an individual student or several students. It uses a multi-sensory process and a systematic approach that builds on skills learned as the child works through each level. Course length varies from one and a half to three years, depending on the age, ability, and maturity of the child.

The Go Phonics program comes with a Teacher's Guide, assessments that are printable from a CD-ROM, five workbooks (Levels 1-5), four charts, a set of 108 letter cards, a Word Lists book, mini-stories for use with Level 1, a songbook with audio CD, four decodable storybooks for Levels 2-5, and 50 colorful phonics games (the kit can be purchased with or without the games). Our review materials also included two optional books for additional reading practice. The entire program comes in a handy storage box. We discovered that a complete set of additional workbooks, Levels 1-5, will also fit inside the storage box, which means materials for two students will neatly store inside the box together.

The essentials of the program are included. All you need to add is the usual school supplies--crayons, colored pencils, paper, index cards, etc. The only items on the list that we did not have immediately available were small Post-it notes (size 1.5" x 2") and a 1-2-3 dice for use with the games (optional). Most of the optional supplies were things that could be found around the house or could be made using the well-written instructions that are provided. The only optional item that is somewhat expensive is the small resonator bells.

The Teacher's Guide is very extensive. It includes a Scope and Sequence and detailed profiles for Levels One and Two. The detailed lesson plans are in a step-by-step (but not scripted) format. Each lesson includes visual and auditory review, handwriting practice, worksheets from the workbook, reinforcement activities and/or games, and oral reading. More advanced lessons include detailed phonics instructions, questions for guided discussion, and creative writing assignments that correspond to the story. Language Arts skills are blended into the lessons throughout the program. The Guide concludes with a listing of all the answers for all five workbooks.

The songs on the CD are catchy and fun, bringing to mind the old "Schoolhouse Rock" songs from my childhood. Our favorite was the syllable song as it was very rhythmic; our son caught on easily to the concept of syllabication because of this song! "Let's Rap with 'ck'" would be fantastic with words written on a chalkboard or placed into a pocket chart as the child is singing. "Give Me a Word" would be a great song to use with older siblings as they can offer more words until a younger child gets the hang of it.

Another fantastic support part of this program is the book of Word Lists (spiral bound; 77 pages). Covering 26 letters and 42 sounds (phonemes), the 142 separate lists range from simple "vc" (vower-consonant) and "cvc" (consonant-vowel-consonant) combinations to digraphs and trigraphs. There are also eleven detailed "Useful Spelling Rules" and five "Useful Reading Rules." We will find extensive use for this book as we improve spelling and vocabulary.

The 50 phonics games include 12 game boards, 3 spinners, game pieces, 2 card storage trays, over 1100 cards, and a Game Rules Guide. The games offer vital decoding and fluency practice along with added fun. The game boards are durable and vibrantly colored boards, and they could be written on with write on/wipe off pens if desired. Creative families could add unique playing pieces, such as small dogs for the "Sit!" game, tiny boats for "Boat Race," or real buttons for the "Button Your Shirt" game. The games teach more than just words; counting by 5s, adding money, and using addition skills to calculate points are all additional benefits. The games add a playful component to the learning process, but they are a definite part of the learning process as they help to solidify the knowledge gained within each lesson.

The stories in the storybook volumes are decodable and phonetically sequenced, using a system of controlled vocabulary so that a child's confidence builds as new sound/spellings are taught. Non-decodable words are listed at the start of each story so that they can be taught in advance and explained as necessary. We found the stories to be fun and well written. It is difficult to build a volume of stories with a minimal amount of words, particularly at the early part of a program, but this set of readers works well from beginning to end--all while keeping the interest of the child, an accomplishment in itself.

The stories cover a broad range of subject matter. Knowing that some homeschools are very particular about their reading material, we wanted to comment specifically on a few stories. The Level Two book includes a reference to spanking, but it pertained to a birthday party and one spank for each year of age. The birthday was being presented by a Dad and two kids with no reference to a Mom (because short o has not been taught yet); those who prefer to see some single parenting presented in stories would appreciate this one. The optional book that is available for Level Two includes a person in a wheelchair, a story about eating too much junk food and then throwing the food away, and a story with an environmental message (ducks are negatively affected by a spill but then get cleaned up). The Level Three book includes a story about a kite that gets stuck in a tree. Because the wind "thinks" the child kite owner was such a fine helper, the wind "thinks" he will help him a bit. So the kite is blown from the tree. The story ends with the child thanking "Mr. Wind" for helping him get his kite back. A skillful parent would use this story to highlight God's help and care for us, even in the little things. A reference to a "robber" in one story might necessitate additional discussion to allay any fears that might arise. A particularly enjoyable story includes a blind Grandpa--who "was not frail"--teaching his granddaughter how to paint a portrait by using her sense of touch. One Level Four story tells of a man who cares for deer living around his home. Eventually, the deer repay him by scratching at his door to warn him of a tornado. (The deer are presented as having human emotions and thoughts.) In Level Five one story comments on homes taking the place of forests, and another explains away a haunted house. On a positive note, many stories include helpful neighbors and families working together as well as information about animals, clocks, and other subject matter that the Go Phonics lessons build on with additional activities.

Go Phonics was a hit in our household, and we've already ordered additional consumable workbooks for our younger children for the future. The multi-sensory approach, the simple songs, the great assessments, fun workbook pages, handy letter cards and charts, fantastic word lists, fun games, and interesting stories all combine beautifully into a well-rounded program. We did our best to utilize every last aspect of the program, and we found it to be wonderfully complete--except for one glaring omission. There was no mention of God. This is somewhat understandable, given that the program was designed to comply with legal and social requirements for public school use, but we truly desire to see a program like this that proclaims the love of God, His wonderful hand in creation, and His complete love for His children. All of these things can be added by families who are diligent in their love for God and their desire to put Him first in their homeschools.

Other suggestions for improving the program include the provision of hard-copy assessment tools for families that do not have computer access (although it would add to the price of the kit) and two-sided printing of the game boards to save space. The program is not inexpensive, but when you consider that it can be used over three years as a phonics/language arts curriculum (requiring only the purchase of consumable workbooks to be used by siblings), the cost is reasonable. The company even suggests obtaining components at intervals to spread the expense over some time.

We've never seen a more complete phonics program than Go Phonics. We look forward to using it for years to come and know that other families will find it as rewarding as we do. I know it's corny, but our final opinion is: "Just add God and Go with Go Phonics!"

Product review by Donna Campos, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, June 2007