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The Sonday System: Learning to Read

Publisher: Winsor Learning, Inc.
Author: Arlene Sonday
Review last updated: 2009
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The Sonday System I: Learning to Read

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Master teacher Arlene Sonday created this reading program based upon Orton-Gillingham methodology to teach reading from beginning letter and sound recognition through most phonograms. This is the methodology shared by Writing Road to Reading type programs. However, this program is much simpler to teach than many others; it requires no special training other than the 90-minute video tape that provides detailed how-to-teach information the parent/teacher watches before presenting each of the 41 levels.

The program is very systematically structured, with detailed lesson plans that include time to be spent on each section. Multi-sensory techniques are used, and students learn to read, write, and spell, simultaneously.

The kit includes the Learning Plan Book which is the teacher guide, Word Book for student reading practice, 14 small decks of cards used for instruction and practice, alphabet strips, "glue cards," audio tape, Reading Strips and Reading Window®, doublesided game (laminated, light-weight board with playing pieces), small plastic sand tray, transparency sheet, transparency pen, and practice printing pages. The printing pages are the only consumable item, and using the transparency sheet and pen will preserve even those pages.

Starting with letter recognition and printing, students work on prereading skills through the first five levels using multi-sensory activities. The parent/teacher must prepare the glue cards by obtaining white glue, then tracing letters with glue on the special "glue cards." This makes a ridged line for children to feel as they learn how to from each letter. The sand tray can be filled with sand, cornmeal, salt, etc., and it, too, is used for children to feel the shapes of letters and words. The audiotape introduces children to a differently-cadenced alphabet song and other auditory listening and practice exercises. (I'm not excited about the style of this tape--elevator-style music in the background, sections that go too fast to be very helpful, some speeded up sounds or words that seem to be thrown in for no reason.) 

While the program essentially teaches with word families (e.g., an, at, mat, sat), it uses some blending and "taking words apart" exercises at the beginning before children have learned individual sounds. The point is to help children learn how blending works. Although I'm skeptical of using this as a preliminary learning tool, the author tells me that this technique is particularly helpful for children with both diagnosed and undiagnosed learning problems. Children begin to work with individual letter sounds in the fifth and final level of prereading. The sixth level begins the reading lessons, renumbering levels again beginning with level one.

The course continues to work through a logical progression from simple to more complex phonograms. Children begin to read actual words in the first reading level as they. Learners practice reading, writing, and spelling in every subsequent lesson. Card decks are used in conjunction with most lessons and with both games on the lightweight game board. (The game uses a die and playing pieces, and players move around the board by correctly reading words from the cards that they have already learned.) A sight word deck ensures that such words are included in the program. The Word Book includes lists of words and sentences for reading practice. You can supplement with other beginning readers (e.g., Bob Books), a list of which is at the back of the book. Reading Strips are lists of words and sentences that are moved through the Reading Window, revealing one at a time for practice. There is quite a bit of dictation for student writing toward the end of the program. However, it does not require the creation of a student notebook with all the rules as is typical of Writing Road to Reading programs.

All of this requires continual interaction of parent/teacher with the child. This is not for independent learning. 

The program easily covers the main concepts of phonics. Many children will not need a formal program beyond this. However, it doesn't cover some of the more challenging phonogram (e.g., the various sounds of "ough") and more complex words. (The Sonday System II is where these are taught, but most children probably won't need that much work to learn them.)

Although the program is highly structured, it still encourages parents to review, slow down, and otherwise accommodate the needs of children who need more time or practice before achieving mastery of a concept.

The price seems high, but this is a nicely packaged and presented program that should make reading instruction easy for homeschooling moms.

It should also work in remedial situations, but Sonday generally recommends Sonday System II ($300) for both remedial reading intervention and intermediate/advanced reading instruction since it reviews the concepts taught in System I then goes further with phonograms, syllabication, prefixes and suffixes, vocabulary, and comprehension. While I haven't reviewed the second program, I don't think most children need that expensive a program to learn the missing phonograms. However, it might be appropriate to purchase it for the broader reading skills coverage.


System I $390
System II $390

Instant Key

  • Learning Modalities: all
    Suitable for: 
    one-on-one or group
    beginning through advanced readers plus remedial
    Need for parent/teacher instruction: 
    Prep time needed:
    moderate to high
    Need for Teacher's Manual:  this book is your manual
    Religious perspective:

Publisher's Info

  • Winsor Corporation

    1620 Seventh St. West
    St. Paul, MN 55102
    (800) 321-7585
    (651) 222-3922
    (651) 222-3969 FAX

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