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Reading Made Easy Review by Dawn Oaks

By Valerie Bendt
Greenleaf Press
3761 Highway 109N, Unit D
Lebanon, TN 37087

Are you about to embark on teaching your child to read and feeling a bit intimidated? Are you already in the midst of teaching your child to read and running into some hurdles and challenges that seem almost insurmountable? Our family has truthfully answered "Yes" to both of these questions. 

Two of our children learned to read almost immediately once we started the process. They were the picture of readiness. When that time rolled around for our third child, our experience was much different. Sleepless nights filled with desperate prayers became a routine as my anxiety grew. Our son was displaying visual tracking difficulties and some dyslexic tendencies. Our old familiar reading program just did not work for him. We spent hours and hours researching and trying various techniques and strategies to assist him in his quest to read. Now, several years later, I can say he is well on his way to reading--and without it feeling so much like burdensome work. 

That whole left me feeling a bit overwhelmed and intimidated when it came time to teach our fourth child to read. As many times as I tried to leave this burden before the Lord, fears of what we would encounter along the journey crouched in the corners of my mind. About that time, I was introduced to Reading Made Easy by Valerie Bendt. Upon first leafing through the main guide, I thought it looked very similar to the reading program we used with our first two children. As I dug deeper, I found many interesting attributes of this curriculum that I would like to share with you.

Reading Made Easy is a wonderful blend of phonics and sight-word training. I was somewhat concerned about the early integration of sight words into a phonics-based program, but it was an unfounded fear. Mrs. Bendt does a wonderful job of explaining that most of the time certain letters make certain sounds. However, there are times that we run into sight words, words that just don't "sound out" the way they should. The early introduction of these words has assisted our youngest son in beginning to read more quickly and has also helped me as a mom to realize that he does much better with sight words than with phonics. This realization and glimpse into his learning style goes beyond his learning to read; it assists me in knowing the way that he learns the best across other academic areas as well. 

The second attribute that I would like to mention is the program's use of index cards in teaching word families. This technique helps children to see similarities between different words, builds rhyming skills, and integrates kinesthetic learning as different word parts and sounds are physically moved together to form words. Children are also very excited to be building words of their own. We laughed over silly words and celebrated the reading of new words that could be integrated into their reading. Our son began to see that not every word is in a world all its own. He began recognizing the word family endings to words and became much less overwhelmed in sounding out new words.

A third feature of Reading Made Easy that on the surface may not seem like a big deal is the integration of color in the word family index cards. The color of the letter helps the student distinguish short and long vowels as well as consonants. From our experiences with our third child, I cannot overemphasize what a help this is. Right-brain learners struggle with the written word, but they respond amazingly well to color. The color-coding in this curriculum helps the student remember the nature of the letter he is about to read. The visual association that is imprinted in the brain is much more powerful than auditory reminders. 

The fourth feature is the integration of grammatical features from the very beginning of the curriculum. Early lessons explain the function of a period at the end of a sentence as well as a couple of reasons for using capitals (at the beginning of a sentence or to show that a word is a person's name). Our youngest was so proud to be able to share the big word "period" with his daddy and to be able to explain its meaning: "We are done. Everything that is in the sentence is in there, Daddy."

Finally, the reading guide does not come alone. There are four hands-on workbooks that accompany the reading guide. After completing each lesson, the student has the opportunity to reinforce his or her reading skills by completing word slides for new word families that were just introduced, finding the word that represents the picture, identifying the sentence that talks about what is happening in a picture, and practicing the formation of words through copywork from their "story" of the day. 

Reading Made Easy has 108 lessons. The author recommends that lessons be scheduled for every other day or every third day so that what the child is learning has time to "sink in." This schedule allows for reinforcement of word families through playing word family games with the index cards on "off" days. You may also choose to do the lesson on one day and the workbook activities on the next. No matter what schedule you set up, the author emphasizes the importance of continuing to read aloud to your child as she is going through the process of learning to read herself. If you follow a schedule of one lesson every other day, this curriculum would span a full academic year. If you spread each lesson across three days, a full calendar year would be needed. Based on our prior experiences, we believe that a child who successfully completes this curriculum will be ready to take on any first grade reading curriculum--and possibly go right into second grade reading materials. 

My hat goes off to Valerie Bendt in her creation of Reading Made Easy. She has done a superb job of combining phonics with sight words, incorporating exercises and techniques that address various learning styles, and building in strategies to help children struggling with dyslexia and visual tracking issues. My intimidation in teaching our youngest child to read has begun to melt more and more each day, as he begins stating right after breakfast, "Mom, I am ready to do my reading lesson. Come on." 

Product review by Dawn Oaks, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, March 2010