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Rod and Staff Bible Nurture and Reader Series Review by Kelly Ann

Reading We Learn About God Set
Grade 1 Complete Set of Reading and Phonics
Rod and Staff Publishers, Inc.
Sold via Milestone Books

My son has just started kindergarten but has been proficient in his letters for a few years now. He’s just starting to learn the basics of phonics and how to read, so I needed a curriculum program that would offer him more of a challenge besides just learning the alphabet. At the same time, I wanted a program that would move at a gradual pace, without rushing things along. I like to work on mastery with my son, so it was imperative that we find something that had just the right balance for his learning level. It can be difficult to find a curriculum program that offers a happy medium, but at first glance of the Bible Nurture and Reader Series, Grade 1 Reading “We Learn About God” Set from Rod and Staff Publishers, Inc., I had a feeling that this might be something that would actually work for us. We are also a Christian family, so using curriculum that aligns with our core belief system is not just helpful, but extremely important. Rod and Staff offers Bible-based curriculum that follows a Christian worldview, which was another aspect that gravitated me towards wanting to give this phonics and reading program a try.

Rod and Staff officially begins their phonics and reading programs at a first grade level, and this was just the right starting point for us. We received the complete Grade 1 Reading “We Learn About God” Set, which includes three Readers, three Reading Workbooks, six Phonics Workbooks, three Penmanship Workbooks, three sets of Practice Pages, one set of Reading Worksheets, one set of Reading Blacklines, the Reading Worksheets “My Picture Dictionary,” and both the Phonics and Reading Teacher’s Manuals. There are also plenty of supplemental resources that can be added to this curriculum program. We personally received three of these items–the Phonics Flash Cards, Vocabulary Words Flash Cards, and the Vocabulary Phrase Flash Cards.

The lessons in the Grade 1 Reading “We Learn About God” Set are broken down into units. There are six units in the program, and the amount of lessons in each unit will vary. For instance, Unit 1 has fifteen lessons, Unit 2 has twenty-five lessons, and Units 3 through 6 each have thirty lessons. The workbooks and readers are broken down by units. For instance, there is one Phonics Workbook for each unit, however every Reading Workbook and set of Practice Pages will include two units in each. All of the components can be purchased à la carte and the prices vary. Readers range from $8.00 to $12.10, workbooks (Phonics, Reading, Penmanship, and Practice Pages) range from $4.05 to $10.65, Reading Blacklines are $14.40, Reading Worksheets are $4.05 (Unit 6 “My Picture Dictionary”) to $12.10 (Units 1 through 5), and the Teacher’s Manuals are $22.95 each. To purchase all of the main components in this set, the total retail cost is $195.75. The optional items that we are using with the program are not included in this price. A set of Vocabulary Phrase Flash Cards are $13.75, the Vocabulary Words Flash Cards are $14.90, and the Phonics Flash Cards are $17.20.

Upon initially receiving the complete set of curriculum items, it was a bit intimidating, because there are so many different components included. My first piece of advice to anyone who is new to the curriculum is to not become discouraged by this, because it really isn’t as complex as it seems. Yes, there is a lot entailed, so my second piece of advice would be to really get a feel of the method and direction of the program before presenting the lessons to students. This can be done by looking over all of the materials ahead of time, but by also reading over the Teacher’s Manuals. Once I was able to fully understand the direction and how the components were meant to be used together as a whole, I was able to relax my mind and plan each lesson with ease, while also establishing a steady routine.

Both the Phonics and Reading Teacher’s Manuals are organized and offer a pretty thorough lesson plan design that’s right up my alley. Physically, they remind me of high-quality textbooks, since they’re rather large and have solid hard covers. I did notice that some of the wording throughout eludes to this program being used for a classroom setting. With that being said, it can easily be used by homeschooling families without any additional adaptations. Sometimes the lessons can go even quicker, because of this. Every lesson is laid out with information such as what will be covered that day, the materials that will be needed (including optional flash cards, wall charts, etc.), and even answer keys for all of the corresponding worksheets and workbook pages. The Teacher’s Manuals also include sample discussion text to help guide students on the day’s lesson. This is highlighted in bold print to help instructors differentiate what is to be read aloud to the students and what is just a private note for the teacher.

Rod and Staff strongly suggests that more emphasis be placed on the phonics portion, over the reading. I agree with this approach, since phonics provides the building blocks for successful early literacy. This is what we typically start our day on. The phonics lessons begin with students learning about short vowels and how to sound them out. My son already knew about vowels and consonants, but it was time to teach him the differences between short and long sounds. Lessons then begin to incorporate consonants, one by one, to pair up with the short vowel sounds. As we moved through the phonics lessons, I began to see just how incredibly effective this method really is. One of the most interesting lessons, so far, included having my son learn how both “c” and “k” can sound the same at the beginning of a word. This can be rather tricky for a younger child to understand. Activities and worksheets in this particular lesson helped him easily decode words that start with both of these letters. He was soon able to tell me if a particular word started with either a “c” or a “k” just by listening for what vowel comes after the first letter.

After just a few lessons into this program, my son was already successfully reading basic words on his own with no help, whatsoever. I can write random words on the white board, even ones that weren’t covered in the lessons, and he will actually read them on his own. There is also plenty of review from previous lessons covered. These are incorporated into future lessons but are also included in a complete review lesson at the end of each unit. There is a lot of drill and repetition in the program, which I appreciate, because it allows my son to not only retain what he’s learned, but he can also see how it all connects. Having the optional Phonics Flash Cards to pair up with the phonics lessons can also be helpful if students need a visual tool. These are basic letter flash cards that show the upper and lowercase versions of each letter of the alphabet, along with cursive examples on the backside.

The reading portion is where we saw most of the Biblical content and Christian studies. There is Biblical training incorporated into the lessons, so while my son is learning how to read, he is also learning various Bible stories and even scripture memorization. We really enjoy the Readers, which are all based on stories from the Bible. The beginning units start off simple with one word here and there. Some of the earlier lessons don’t even have actual words, but instead use simple illustrations to tell a story. As my son begins to build up his grammar skills in each lesson, the stories start to include more text for him to read. This is where the optional Vocabulary Words Flash Cards and the Vocabulary Phrase Flash Cards come in handy. While you could easily write the information on a board, words and phrases from each lesson’s story are displayed on these cards. Having these flash cards allows my kinesthetic learner to actually hold them in his hands as he’s learning what is written on them. I also like to keep the cards out throughout the day, so he can pick them up and review them at his leisure.

As you get about halfway through the reading program, the Readers begin to pick up the pace and become more complex, using full paragraphs and chapters. The fact that my son could possibly be reading short chapter books by the end of this course is pretty amazing and quite an accomplishment. Of course, since this a Christian-based curriculum, I’m also delighted that he will be learning actual Bible stories throughout his early reading journey.

One pleasant surprise as we first started working through the reading program, was the inclusion of learning how to spell color words. This had actually been on my agenda for the current school year. My son had already been able to identity colors for many years, but now it was time for him to learn how to spell the actual words. Each lesson in the beginning of the reading program focused on one color. By the end of Unit 1, he was able to spell each color word, in addition to other miscellaneous words that were being taught for the lessons, such as “God,” as well as direction words like “Underline” and “Match.” In Unit 2, he started independently reading full phrases such as “God made light” and “He made the blue sky,” and then began to read full pages of text from the Readers.

Between the corresponding workbooks (Reading and Phonics), Practice Pages, Reading Blacklines, and Worksheets, there are plenty of activities to pair up with both the phonics and reading lessons. These activities will vary depending on the lesson. The beginning lessons will include activities such as handwriting exercises, matching items, and naming objects that begin with certain letters. Later lessons will include completing full sentences and spelling exercises. While it is possible to get by in this program with just the workbooks, I highly recommend the extra Reading Blacklines and Worksheets. For one, the Blacklines include sheets of additional flash cards that can be printed and laminated for review, as well as reading edge lists. These all come in handy for the lessons. With that being said, one of my favorite reasons for having the Reading Blacklines and Worksheets is that they offer creative activities that involve coloring, cutting, and pasting. My son just loves doing the cut and paste work. I honestly think this is the highlight of his day. There is usually at least one (sometimes more) cut and paste activity for each lesson. These always incorporate ideas and concepts that were taught in the lessons.  I personally couldn’t be without the Reading Blacklines and Worksheets, because my son really enjoys completing the special activities. Not only do these extra pages help reinforce what he’s learning, but he has a lot of fun working on them.

The “My Picture Dictionary” is a workbook that serves as the complete collection of Reading Worksheets for Unit 6, and actually provides an introductory course to using a dictionary. The workbook bears a resemblance to a simple dictionary, all in alphabetical order with blank assignment areas for students to complete as they progress through their lessons. Writing, along with cut and paste activities are used to help teach proper spelling and pronunciation of various words, as well as their definitions. By the end of Unit 6, the entire workbook will be completed and can even be used as a dictionary for later use.

Writing is one of the areas in our homeschool that is probably the least favored. I’ve used many different methods for my son’s writing practice, some work better than others. The Penmanship Workbooks included with this curriculum help complement each lesson, while also giving my child the extra writing practice that he needs. One of the features that I especially enjoy about these workbooks is that they start out right at the beginning, not just having my son trace full letters, but actually breaking down each one by simply focusing on the various lines and curves that make up that letter. For instance, rather than starting off with writing lowercase “a” (single-storey typeface, not double-storey), the practice lines initially ask the student to trace a set of short vertical lines and circles. The next page will demonstrate how if you take a short vertical line and pair it with a circle, you will essentially be writing a lowercase “a.” The earlier units start off with learning how to write letters and eventually move on to full words. As the lessons progress and students become more experienced in their writing skills, the Penmanship Workbooks will start introducing complete sentences, scripture, and even challenge students to write on their own without the use of trace lines.

One other note to mention is that this curriculum also incorporates miscellaneous subject activities and extras into some of the lessons. These can be anything from differentiating shapes and various patterns, to putting a series of images in the correct sequence (for example, first, second, and third).

The Bible Nurture and Reader Series, Grade 1 Reading “We Learn About God” Set is a solid, well-thought-out curriculum program that helps build a strong foundation in both phonics and early reading. So far, we’ve been achieving dramatic results from using it. The phonics and reading lessons are very gradual and break down various components in small bits. The overall program offers a slow and steady approach, building upon one concept to the next. This is just what we needed for our homeschool. I didn’t want a program that rushed my son through his lessons without giving him the opportunity to fully grasp what was being taught. The phonics portion in this curriculum takes care to really have students understand phonetic awareness, blends, digraphs, etc. Review and drill are key; current lessons are always going back and reinforcing what the student learned from the previous lessons, while also building up on any new concepts being taught. The reading portion does the same thing. It doesn’t just teach my son to memorize the words that he’s learning. Instead, the lessons engage him into understanding what they mean and how they fit into the stories. I like that everything is straightforward, and the lessons have a classic, old-time feel to them. Even the illustrations in all of the workbooks and readers are simple and do not distract students from the overall focus. Most of all, I really appreciate that this curriculum combines both phonics and reading all while using Godly instruction.

-Product review by Kelly Ann, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, October, 2018