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American Language Series: A Complete Reading Program Review by Dawn Peterson

Lighthouse Publishers
PO Box 570
Greer, SC 29652

When I noticed that the American Language Series reading program came up for review, I was absolutely thrilled! Why? Because it's the reading program I have used with both of my daughters, now 7 and 10, and the one I plan to use when my son is ready to read. I can tell you from experience that it is a fantastic reading program!

I was first introduced to it by a veteran homeschool friend of mine whose excitement over how well the program worked for her sons was contagious. Once published by a large curriculum company, the American Language Series (ALS) has actually been around for many years. Most homeschoolers who use it hear about it by word of mouth. However, that is beginning to change thanks to the new publishers of ALS. I am so excited to have the opportunity to share this goldmine with you!

ALS is a complete reading program that covers spelling, vocabulary, phonics, reading, and comprehension. It's designed to be used over the course of two years: K-1. When the child completes it, he or she is ready for second-grade work.

The program consists of six readers, a Phonics and Reading Guide (for the parent), two Phonics and Reading workbooks (one per year), two Spelling, Writing, and Vocabulary workbooks (also one per year), and a CD with the Teachers Manual, An Introduction to the Alphabet and Phonetic Sounds and 6 songs.

Everything you need to teach your child to read is in this program. What I love about it is how thorough it is. It was not designed to teach the child to read fast (though your child will be reading within the first several lessons), but accurately. Each lesson builds on the previous one, teaching in a way that flows easily for the child and the instructor.

The workbooks are systematic and incredibly well put together. Both decoding (blending letter phonemes together in order to read) and encoding (listening for sounds and deciphering the letters which represent the phonemes) are taught simultaneously. Phonics rules are taught as the content is covered and applied. It is not necessary to memorize a bunch of rules because they are learned through application and very gentle repetition.

The six readers are keyed to the workbooks and cover every single-syllable word in the English language. Fun in the Sun covers simple short vowels, Scamp and Tramp covers consonant clusters, Soft and White covers Silent E, At the Farm covers controlled vowels, On the Trail covers Vowel Digraphs, and Sounds of the Sea covers diphthongs. Nothing that the child reads in the readers will be new to him because he will have already learned how to recognize the material based on the previous workbook lessons. In this way, the concepts are applied and cemented, and the reading is rewarding and motivating for the child. The readers themselves are delightful. The content in each one is wholesome and engaging, with short stories about family life, God, church, and friendships. My girls' favorite part of their lesson was reading to me from their readers! Reading was never a chore for them.

So what does a lesson look like? Exactly how much time does it take? Is there a lot of teacher prep? Does the child work independently? How much direction and tutoring is needed?

To begin with, teacher prep is very minimal, though I did spend a bit more time preparing for the lessons during the first few months than I did later on as the first year progressed. By year two, the child is working much more independently. Initially, it takes about 10 to 15 minutes to read through the teacher notes prior to each lesson (which consists of one lesson from the Phonics and Reading workbook and the corresponding lesson from Spelling, Writing, and Vocabulary; the readers are introduced in Lesson 25). What I appreciated about the detailed teacher's notes is that they really helped me understand much more clearly how to tutor and direct my child, and what the purpose was for each activity. For a new homeschooler, particularly one who is teaching their child to read for the first time, ALS really helps the parent to know how to teach and to become more confident in doing so. Eventually, I only needed to browse the teacher's notes during the lesson itself or to simply use them as a key.

As far as the lessons themselves, I usually took no more than about 10 minutes with my child and watched her for signs of tiredness. I allowed her to pace her learning--slowing as needed and then moving forward as the concepts "clicked." As we continued through those initial weeks, I gradually added in more time. Eventually, most lessons were taking about 30 minutes a day. I sat next to her and worked through each worksheet with her. We would listen to one of the catchy songs when appropriate. A typical worksheet from the Phonics and Reading workbook might have the child draw a line from a word to its correct picture, read several sentences together, identify a word from a list by listening to the parent read it out loud, and circle the correct vowel digraph or diphthong after identifying the sound of an illustrated word. That would complete that day's lesson. The next day I would sit next to her while she worked on her Spelling, Writing, and Vocabulary. During that time, she might practice printing a letter a few times (lessons begin with printing one lowercase letter per lesson and then move on to uppercase), read a word that is listed and copy it on the right, read each word in a short list and write it underneath the correct picture, and choose the correct word to finish each sentence and write it on the line. At the bottom of each worksheet there was a small yellow box listing rules that had been introduced and practiced in that lesson. I often had my child read from them, and eventually she knew some of the most common ones by memory. Then she would read 3 or 4 short stories (out loud to me) from the appropriate reader, and I would ask a few questions at the end (listed in the teacher's manual on CD). It was as simple as that!

As your child progresses through the program and becomes more confident and fluid in their reading and comprehension, they'll naturally transition to a greater independence in their work. By the end of year two, most work was done independently.

The American Language Series gives a child a very firm foundation for all their future learning. It is thorough, enjoyable for the child, accessible to different learning styles, and user friendly. If I had to choose one curriculum we have used that I feel has had the most benefit, it is this one--hands down. My children both love to read, and spelling has not been a struggle for them. In this reviewer's opinion, it is one of best programs for learning how to read, and I enthusiastically recommend it to any homeschool parent!

Product review by Dawn Peterson, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, January 2009