Go Phonics is a very thorough, multi-sensory, systematic phonics program for grades K through 2, and it is also a fairly complete language arts program for kindergarten and first grade levels. In addition, this is a particularly good program for students with learning difficulties.
It begins with introduction of letters and sounds and continues through fairly advanced phonics concepts. Go Phonics also teaches reading comprehension, handwriting (manuscript), punctuation, capitalization, contractions, sentence formation and similar beginning language arts skills.
For those who might be interested, Go Phonics is compatible with Orton-Gillingham methodology, which teaches multi-sensory, systematic phonics with a specific sequence to minimize confusion for students. Six consonants are taught first, followed by the short "a" sound. Then they immediately begin blending to form "at" then "bat, hat, fat," and "cat." Children begin reading little "short a" storybooks early in the program after 15 letters have been taught.
Go Phonics is a "direct instruction" program. Parents/teachers follow a prescribed, sequential plan for teaching. Multi-sensory learning methods are used throughout the program; these are critical for successful learning for some children and also improve retention for all students.
Manuscript printing instruction is included using the "stick and clock letter approach"—a more continuous approach to manuscript than "ball and stick" and designed to help eliminate reversals.
An audio CD has songs that reinforce some of the concepts. The CD is packaged with a book with the music and words to all of the songs.
An assortment of 50 phonics games includes 50 card sets; 12 full-color, plastic game boards; three spinners; instruction booklet; and game pieces. These games are integral to the lessons, providing decoding practice prior to actual reading. A set of 108 large letter cards is used for instruction. Note that setting up the program requires separating all of the cards (both game cards and letter cards) that come on perforated sheets.
In addition to the above, there are four full-color charts. Three charts have 96 key words, and a prefixes and suffixes chart completes the set. They can be posted in your learning area to provide children with visual reminders of the letters and their sounds.
Of course, the program also has readers. There are five Mini-books that serve as the beginning readers. These Mini-books are "constructed" by the parent from black-and-white preprinted pages. After completion of these beginning readers, students move on to a set of four spiral-bound readers that range in length from 64 to 118 pages. Two additional readers are also available if students need additional practice with either short-vowel or long-vowel words. Vocabulary in the readers is limited to only those words with the sound/spellings that children have been taught. Children therefore get plenty of practice decoding words in advance so they are much more likely to read the story successfully. The sight words children will encounter are also taught in advance, before they come across them in a story. Story content revolves around everyday life with all ages and nationalities so the readers are not limited for use with a young audience.
There are five companion workbooks that are also integral to the lessons. While most written activity is done in the workbooks, there are also suggestions for creative writing activities beyond the workbooks. If you are teaching two children, you will probably need only one additional set of workbooks for the second child. (They can share the readers.)
A computer CD has a 77-page printable book of assessments. This includes instructions, assessment forms, and record keeping forms. While you can print them out as needed, it is probably more efficient to print these out and put them in a file folder ahead of time.
The Teacher's Guide is the core of the program. It provides detailed explanation of the program as well as step-by-step lesson plans. The Teacher's Guide repeats information from time to time so that you won't miss it. For those who prefer brief instructions, this might seem a bit much to wade through, but those who really want to make sure they don't miss a thing will feel very secure.
There's one more tool primarily for the teacher, and that's the Word Lists book. Here you find charts and lists of phonograms and their sounds, basic principles of phonics explained, spelling rules, reading rules (including syllabication), and lists of words that feature each of the phonograms taught in the program—the latter making up the bulk of the book. You might also use these word lists for student practice.
The program is written for both classroom and homeschool settings. The Teacher's Guide generally refers to a single "student" most of the time rather than "students." The program is designed to be taught by the parent/teacher with little independent work. Many of the games can be used without a group of children, although a parent will have to play with the child. Even when there are two or more children, the parent (or possibly an older child with excellent reading skills) needs to be present to ensure that children sound out words correctly. Note: The publisher tells me: "the games are designed so that if the mother is the other player, the student reads both his own card and her card (but she gets the points). That way the student gets double the practice."
The instructions direct the teacher to construct some additional items to be used throughout the lessons: a Feel Box, an Earphone, a Screen Board, and a work surface for practicing letter formation. This seems a lot of work for a single student! Depending upon a child's learning style and modality strengths, you might or might not need all these items. The Earphone will be helpful for children who have difficulty distinguishing sounds; it will amplify the sounds. The Feel Box adds a hands-on element as children feel an item hidden in the box and identify it with a letter being taught. This might be unnecessary for some children. I suspect that as parents proceed through the lessons, they will find some parts of the instruction in each lesson plan useful and other parts unnecessary, depending upon the needs of each child. Nevertheless, the lesson plans are written to address most learning style needs, so parents should have all the help they need to teach their children successfully.
The appearance and quality of the program components are excellent. Even though everything is not printed in full color, plenty of components are. Both the color and black-and-white items feature outstanding artwork. I was also very impressed with the quality of the game boards. Some of these are "path" boards that might be used for other educational purposes when you've finished using them for phonics.
Go Phonics requires some initial set up time (about 3 hours) and more lesson preparation and presentation time than some other programs, but it also provides a more comprehensive teaching methodology. It should cover all of your language arts for kindergarten and first grade, and most of second grade.
What I have described here is the "Home Edition Kit with 50 Phonics Games Set" that sells for $445. There is also a "Home Edition Basic Kit" that sells for $275. It includes just two of the game card sets (for Level 1) and does not include the rest of the games (for Levels 2-5). If you want to save money, purchase the Basic Kit and use the Word Lists book to make up your own sets of cards, and then use generic game boards from other games. If you are beginning instruction with a young child (e.g., 4 year old), you might want to split your purchase up and buy the Basic Kit first, then the rest of the games when you reach Level 2 - Short Vowels. The 50 Game Set can be purchased separately for $189. Basic Kit purchasers receive a coupon for a $10 discount to purchase the remaining 48 games in the set.