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Let's Play Learn Kit: The Sonday System Level 1 Kit and Workbooks Review by Dr. Anne Margaret Wright

By Arlene Sonday
Winsor Learning
1620 W. 7 th Street
St. Paul, MN 55102

Our family has always placed an enormous emphasis on reading, both for learning and for pleasure. In homeschooling our children, we saw reading as the academic key that would unlock the treasures of learning. After all, without solid reading skills, a student's learning in every subject would be seriously hindered. But with a solid foundation of reading skills, every subject is opened wide for a child to explore, learn, experience, and enjoy. I see this same passion for reading in Winsor Learning's The Sonday System by Arlene Sonday, which is why I was excited to review the Let's Play Learn and The Sonday System Level 1 reading programs. The Sonday program is based on the Orton-Gillingham approach, which makes use of extensive research on how children learn to read. It is designed for use by typically developing children, those with learning disabilities or special needs, older children or adults who need additional assistance with reading, and those learning the English language. Let's Play Learn is geared toward early childhood learners. The Sonday System 1 focuses on beginning reading skills and intervention, and The Sonday System 2 (not reviewed) focuses on intermediate reading skills and intervention. The three levels are designed to work together seamlessly, but I believe they could also be used separately as needed.

The Sonday program uses phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension, and ongoing progress monitoring. As with many other programs, the focus is on phonics, but common sight words are also taught to increase fluency. Let's Play Learn helps students from preschool through kindergarten with school readiness skills, such as oral language, phonological and phonemic awareness, print awareness, alphabet knowledge, phonics, numbers, and counting. The Sonday System, Level 1 is a structured language program, using multiple senses for teaching reading, writing, and spelling. The entire program focuses on helping children "hear, see, and feel" as they learn to read, write and spell. In other words, the goal is to engage as many of the senses as possible to increase learning and keep the child's attention strong. The program is very systematic, moving easily from one skill to another as the student masters the material. Regular review and assessments are built into the program at every level.

Let's Play Learn uses a variety of activities to teach many important preschool and kindergarten skills. The kit includes the Learning Plan Book, an Alphabet Book, a Shapes and Numbers Book, a Name Strings Book, several card decks and Printing Practice pages, Number Grids, letter and number strips, a Music and Pronunciation CD, and a box for storing all of the supplies. The Learning Plan Book works like a teacher's manual, with all of the instructions and ideas needed for the program divided into short, daily activities. The instructions are very clear and easy to follow. The included books and card decks, such as Sound Cards and Letter and Number Tactile Cards, help to reinforce the skills learned. The books have bright, colorful pictures and engaging text to keep kids interested. The Name Strings Book contains rows of shapes, numbers or letters for the child to practice reading to increase fluency. The Music and Pronunciation CD contains fun, peppy songs that help reinforce the skills being practiced in the lessons. Multisensory activities, such as feeling the tactile cards and singing along to catchy songs, help increase and deepen the learning for the students.

Sonday System Level 1 takes up where Let's Learn Play leaves off, with beginning reading, writing, and spelling skills. As with Let's Play Learn, the Learning Plan Book functions as the teacher's manual and includes all the lessons, directions, and other information. The kit also includes an Instructional Video with more detailed information for each lesson; a Music and Audio Pronunciation CD; a Word Book with various word lists and sentences for reading practice; a Resource Book, with Pretests, Post-tests, and tools for monitoring student progress; Printing Practice Pages to practice writing skills; Alphabet Strips; a Reading Window with Reading Strips to practice reading; 14 card decks with sounds, words, or sight words; tactile cards for upper and lowercase letters; and a game board to be used with the card decks. This kit also comes in a carrying box to organize the materials, and it includes a tote bag to keep the materials together.

There are five PreReading Levels to assess the child's readiness for the program, followed by 36 Reading Levels, each designed to be covered in three to five days, or over as many days as needed. Each lesson is designed to be completed in approximately 30 to 40 minutes per day, three to five times per week. The lessons in Level 1 are all divided into the same six steps, which helps the child and the teacher know what to expect each day. Each lesson begins with a Read Sounds exercise in which the student reviews the Sound Cards rapidly to increase automatic responses. Next is the Spell Sounds activity, in which the teacher dictates letters or multi-letter sounds for the student to write down. Next is the Read Words activity, in which the student reads from the Words Cards, Word Book, or Sight Word Cards. Fourth is Spell Words, in which the teacher dictates and the student spells a list of words related to the current lesson. Next comes the Introduce New Materials section, in which new sounds or other material is presented for the first time. Finally comes Read Aloud, which uses the Reading Strip, Word Book, Board Game, Sight Word Cards, or other materials to practice reading. Each step has a time limit of 2-7 minutes to keep interest high. There is a Mastery Check for reading and one for spelling after every three lessons so that the teacher can evaluate the student's mastery of the material before moving on. Any areas that need additional review can be identified and incorporated into future lessons. Level 1 has four workbooks (and a Teacher's Guide) that can be purchased separately. Each workbook covers nine levels of the program and provides additional practice for the material through a variety of exercises. Depending on the needs of the student, the workbooks would be an excellent opportunity for more review of the various skills being learned.

My family was very impressed with this comprehensive and well-researched program. The kits are simple to use and very well organized, with all materials included. The detailed instructions make it easy to help your child achieve success. The emphasis on multi-sensory learning helps each child learn best in the style that helps him most. Either program can be easily adapted to the needs of each particular child and could be used either one-on-one or with a small group. The various card decks make practicing easy--just grab the needed deck without having to sort through hundreds of cards to find what you need. The music is peaceful but fun, and it adds a nice component for reviewing and practicing various skills. The books have lovely, colorful pictures and engaging text to keep the student interested in learning. I particularly like the broad range of activities to present and review materials; learning is generally much more successful if the child can practice a skill in different ways using all of their senses. Many assignments offer several options for tailoring the program to meet your child's needs. I also very much appreciated the focus on mastering the material before moving on, rather than just completing lessons so they can be marked off the list. My only hesitation about this program is the price of $449 for each kit. I think this is an excellent product that would provide a wonderful springboard in the areas of reading, writing and spelling skills. But I would like to see the price come down a bit to make it more accessible for homeschool families.

The Let's Play Learn program would likely be wonderful preparation for any student ready for a jumpstart on early elementary skills. The Sonday System Level 1 and workbooks would provide a solid foundation for building important reading, writing and spelling skills. These kits could be used very successfully by gifted students who are ready for a challenge, by students with learning or developmental disabilities, or even by older students who need some additional assistance to master reading skills.

Product review by Dr. Anne Margaret Wright, Senior Product Reviewer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, April 2011