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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

All About Spelling Review

People who know me know that we began as unschoolers and are gradually working our way toward more structure. Gradually :-). On most days last year, I covered reading, Bible, and math with the 3 older kids, piano with Scott, and MFW Exploring Countries and Cultures, and that was it. This year though, we've traded MFW for the products we are reviewing for TOS, and wow have some holes in our learning been exposed! Especially in Spelling, which is why I am excited to tell you about this product.
All About Spelling is a great curriculum. I used Reading Made Easy for my kids as a reading curriculum, and it has worked great for us so far, but it is definitely NOT a complete phonics program. I saw how not-complete it was our first day with All About Spelling as we reviewed what sounds different letters make. While Reading Made Easy taught words such as "water" and "want" as sight words, All About Spelling actually addresses the fact that "a" says 3 sounds: a like in cat, a like in cake, and ah like in want. When students know all the sounds a letter can make, it is easier for them to spell correctly. That was one of those "DUH" moments for me-it had never occurred to me that my daughter was misspelling things because she tried to do it phonetically, but her phonics knowledge was incomplete. Just mastering the full list of correct sounds for each letter was a great starting point for my children, and reinforces All About Spelling's suggestion that all students start in Level One no matter their age as each level builds upon the previous one. Levels are not organized by grade level but by concept, and by starting in Level One, older students can progress quickly through early lessons gaining confidence and picking up any skills (like spelling rules) they may not have learned before so they are well equipped for later lessons.
I can't say enough good things about All About Spelling. The lessons are short, and they lay out everything you are to say and the responses to look for from your child, so it is very user friendly with a minimum of prep work. The books are NOT consumable, so you can use them over and over. Beyond the books, there is a materials packet for each level, letter tiles you use through the whole program, peel and stick magnets for the tiles, and a phonogram audio CD. The materials packet is necessary for each student you are teaching at the same time, as are letter tiles. TRUST ME! I seriously overestimated my ability to keep straight in my head who had mastered what and ended up ordering a set of materials and tiles for each child.
Why do you need materials for each child? To me, the best part of this program is its multi-sensory approach. The students hear you give the instruction, and then they use their letter tiles to make it happen, providing a visual and kinesthetic learning experience too. Each student will progress at a different pace and their materials will be arranged differently on their work space to reflect that. That's why the magnets are a good idea too. If you have a large magnetic white board (2' x 3'), you can have the tiles set up all the time so you don't have to set it up each day. Those white boards are available inexpensively and just in case you worry about having a place for it (or them, if you have more than one student), I want to share with you that we slide ours under the couch when we are done everyday. Since the tiles are magnetic, they don't slide around and they are totally out of the way until the next day.
The only drawback to All About Spelling is soon to be remedied, but I will mention it for now. The materials and letter tiles are all printed on full sized sheets and you have to cut out all the individual manipulatives yourself. This was a serious amount of work, but they did that to keep the cost down. After several suggestions from TOS Crew members, they have decided to go to micro-perforated cards which will require much less time to separate. I am not sure if they have made the switch yet.
The bottom line for me is that this is a great spelling program. Their goal is to release another book in 2009 and for the program to cover spelling through the high school level. It is really a complete system and is a wonderful value too. I'd totally recommend All About Spelling, and I imagine we will be using it for years to come.
All About Spelling is available HERE. The books for Levels One and Two are $29.95 each. Materials packets (you'll want one per student if you are teaching them at the same time-otherwise you can use the same one over again for later students) are $12.95 each for those two levels. The letter tiles are $9.95 and the optional magnets are $5.95. You use those for the whole program. For Levels Three and Four, the books are $39.95 each and the materials are $17.95 each.
To read what other members of the TOS Crew had to say, go HERE.
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