As I sit down to write this review, I feel like the Spaniard on The Princess Bride who says… “Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.” I could write four or five posts about Primary Arts of Language from Institute for Excellence in Writing, but I have to try and fit all of the information into one post. Yikes!
Primary Arts of Language (PAL) is a comprehensive curriculum for the beginning student integrating phonics, spelling, writing, reading, and handwriting. My mother-in-law had to teach for me a few weeks ago as she often does when I have surgery. Here is what she had to say. “Of all the different curriculums you have used to teach the kids to read, I like this one the most because it is the most comprehensive. You cover everything they need in this one curriculum and it all ties together. Plus, it all makes sense — everything has a purpose.”
Each day, Caleb and I start by reading a poem together. The poem includes several words that the child can soon read. It also includes many of the “helpers” which I will talk about later. After reading the poem, we spend some time composing and writing two or three sentences in our daily journal. He composes and I write it down. Usually, we just write about something that happened the day before or something important to him.
The day I came home from surgery he wrote: “October 18. Mommy just got out of surgery. Mom liked my card. I’m glad that Mom is home.” How precious is that? Sometimes, journal time reveals something to me that I didn’t know about but that is very important to him. I love those moments. On November 2 he wrote: “I am starting to read. I read 42 sentences during school. I got my orange belt and broke a board yesterday.” I’m saving this journal for sure.
After journal time, we spend a few minutes learning to write the new letters for the day on a small white board. Once he understands how to write the letters correctly, we have worksheets for handwriting to practice the new letters and each of the letters we have learned so far. During handwriting is the first time we talk about the letter story for each new letter.
Each letter has it’s own story. A is the Angry Letter. She is angry because all of the boys pull her pony tail. She says aaaaaah (short a sound) when the boys pull her hair. The review portion of each handwriting session is called spelling until all the letters have been introduced. Then you begin All About Spelling Level 1 which coordinates nicely with the other lessons.
Before long, it is time for games. A new game is introduced every day or so until all 35 games are completed. Mom has to spend a little bit of time getting the games ready, but it is well worth it. Each game is cut out of the game book and pasted into a file folder. The game pieces go in a little ziploc bag in the file folder. One of the games reinforces the letter stories through graphic illustration.
Another game has each letter on a bone that is fed through the mouth of a little dog called Mugs. Mugs can also vomit the bones up, which my son loves. As each bone is fed to the dog (or as it comes back up) Caleb has to tell me the sound that letter makes. A third game introduces the concept of the “magic-e”. The magic-e is on a wand and it makes the vowels each say their name. Three letter words are on the game board, but when they are visited by magic-e they magically transform into four letter words with a long vowel sound.
My son’s favorite game is the Word Monster game. This game is played using index cards on which we write words that he can actually read. The very first day words are introduced and are a combination of the letters and helpers (combinations of letters) learned that day. Every day we add two or three cards to our stack. These cards are fed to a monster who lives on an old Triscuit box covered with paper. Caleb helped decorate the box for his monster and loves to feed it. I cut my index cards into 1.5″ sections so that they easily fit.
At first Caleb really struggled to read many of the words even though we had learned and practiced everything he needed. He could read some of the words, but he just wasn’t getting it. We kept reviewing the games together anyway and one day it just clicked. November 1, 2012. The next day he read 42 sentences without hardly any help! We made a cake to celebrate.
After game time, we talk about a new helper — a combination of letters that make a specific sound. (Like the squealy ee’s say ee as in green.) These helpers are on cute stickers which are put into the Phonetic Farm Folder. Each day we also review the helpers from previous days. Many of these helpers are included in the poem of the day and in the various games so we are getting lots of review on these combination sounds from the very first day of the program.
At the end of our lesson, which takes roughly an hour altogether, we spend some time doing “work”. Right now, work time consists of one worksheet with words or phrases to cut and paste with pictures. Sometimes, there is a second worksheet with a list of sentences to read.
When the lesson from one day is too difficult and we are not ready to move on yet, we take a day or two just to play the games and review the reading and phonetic farm without adding anything new. This gives Caleb time to absorb the material and get extra practice. He is not used to sitting still for a full hour either, so he appreciates the days we “take off” for review.
Before receiving Primary Arts of Language, I spent an entire year trying to teach Caleb to read using the various methods that worked for his older siblings. We didn’t get anywhere. We fought about schoolwork every single day. When I told him we were getting something new for phonics he said, “Yay! I’m so glad because what we have is just not working!” Within just 12 lessons in Primary Arts of Language, Caleb was reading. I think this is due to several factors. One, the letter stories with the drawings and the games appeal to right-brain learning. Two, the repetition provides plenty of time for new concepts to sink in and take root. Three, the activities use all of the different learning styles and work together really well. Four, this is a really well-written and well-conceived program. (The gratification of success [reading words] comes with one day of using the material. The games are fun. The letter stories stick. The worksheets don’t require too much writing. The teacher’s guides are easy to understand and use. The games are pre-printed and the game pieces are printed on nice card stock. I could go on and on.)
Primary Arts of Language comes in two packages, Reading ($69) and Writing ($89). It is highly recommended that you use both packages together. The experiences I have described here are an integration of the two packages as they were intended to be used.
My Bottom Line: I love Primary Arts of Language from Institute for Excellence in Writing. My son is learning to read and even though he doesn’t always want to admit it, he is having fun. I highly, highly, highly recommend this program. I give it seven stars out of five.