Monday, November 9, 2015

Fun-Time Phonics! (Schoolhouse Crew Review)

With a young first grader who is right in the throes of learning to read, I'm certainly intrigued by phonics and reading programs right now.  We were recently given the opportunity to review Fun-Time Phonics! from The Critical Thinking Co, so I decided to try it out with him.

Fun-Time Phonics! from The Critical Thinking Co.

What is Fun-Time Phonics?
Fun-Time Phonics is a systematic phonics program based on scientific findings from the National Reading Commission.  It is geared for students in Pre-K to 2nd grade, and is available as a non-consumable book that is just over 300 pages.  Soon it will be available as a Windows download as well.

The program is designed to emphasize vowel patterns, teach children how to isolate vowel sounds, and help them recognize how vowels influence the sounds of the words.  It is a multi-sensory approach that has children listening, speaking, seeing, and touching (pointing, and possibly tracing/writing letters and words) in order to work different areas of the brain.

It starts with an Introduction that explains why children need to understand how speech and print are connected, and how the program works to reach this goal for children.

Then you will find the Teaching Suggestions, which emphasizes sequence and mastery, vocabulary, multiple meanings, modeling correct reading conventions (reading left to right, correct enunciation, etc), writing and motivation.  It is noted that while the act of writing can help improve memory, it should not become a frustration or burden during this process, as our focus should be on reading.

The Lessons
The program is broken into four major sections, with a total of 100 activities.

Phonemic Awareness:  Activities 1-14, which focus on helping children hear the individual sounds within a word, and it focuses on vowels

Alphabetics:  The first section here includes Activities 15-19 and a review on short vowels.  The second section is the consonants, which are then taught alphabetically B-W, and in combination with vowels, so this makes up Activities 20-94.  The letters X, Y and Z are not assigned an "activity" and are simply given one page each.

Beginning to Read:  Activities 95-100 are transition activities that take the student from pointing to a picture that matches the sound, to looking at a picture and finding the correct letter sounds.  Then they move into reading first words and two word phrases that utilize primarily CVC words.  (examples:  wet, zip, bad dog, fat bug)

Words I Can Read:  This is a list, approximately one and a half pages, of simple words for the student to practice reading.

How Do We Use It?
I aim to use Fun-Time Phonics about 4 days per week, completing one activity each day.  Sometimes we can do more when he asks.  The lesson format has been very simple.  Each activity gives very simple instructions for the teacher to give the student.  Any clarifying information for the teacher is at the bottom of the page.  Each page generally has 3-4 rows of "questions" and the entire activity is usually 4-5 pages long.  Essentially, I read the instructions and he points to the answer.  He often just answers the question instead of pointing, but it's still so very simple!

Fun-Time Phonics!

Fun-Time Phonics is designed for a beginning reader, but I started at the very beginning anyway, because it takes a different approach to phonics than the reading program we were using, and I also wanted him to master the auditory discrimination that these exercises stress.  Starting "easy" and building confidence is important with reading, and listening exercises are important for training the habit of attention.

This program is so easy to use that I use it in conjunction with the other reading program I already had in place.  His other reading program moves quickly and sometimes feels intensely all over the place with phonics and sight words, while Fun-Time Phonics is very slow-paced and systematic.  Fun-Time Phonics is mastery-based so it moves slowly, and all of the activities are essentially the same format, so the opposite format of the two programs I use compliment each other well.  For very young children or those who need repetition and predictability, this is a great program.  However, we need a little . . . more.  We use it alongside of something that uses a more spiral approach, with hands-on/game type activities, and the combination works well for us.  Plus, since the lessons are so quick, I can use both in one day without it overloading him.  On busy days, I can use just Fun-Time Phonics, or his "Blue Book" as he calls it, and feel confident that he's getting a good foundation.

Final Thoughts
Fun-Time Phonics is simple to understand, easy to implement and is open and go.  It is truly a NO-PREP curriculum, which is always a huge plus to me!  Because this curriculum doesn't require writing or worksheets or any additional activities or materials, this is kind of a "cuddly" curriculum, which you could easily do on the couch for a more casual approach to reading lessons.  The book is kind of thick, but since there's nothing else included, you could use for on-the-go homeschooling too if necessary.  Because of this approach, it can be used alongside any other curriculum, if you choose, but it's not necessary, since it is a complete reading program if this style works for your child.  Since it only goes through CVC words, you'll need to continue reading instruction afterwards for most kids.

The graphics are simple and cartoonish, and children who need black/white and minimal pictures may not do well with this program, but my son likes to tell silly stories about the pictures.  He likes it and calls it "The Blue Book" when he his choosing what lessons to do each morning.  I've noticed that since we have started using this, he is hearing sounds more distinctly and differentiating vowels more easily.  We will continue to use this each morning to build his confidence and a strong foundation in reading.

Learn More
To find out more about Fun-Time Phonics or The Critical Thinking Co., be sure to find them on social media:


The Crew has also reviewed four other programs for different ages up through high school, so be sure to check out the rest of the reviews!

The Critical Thinking Company Review
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