100 Gentle Lessons in Sight & Sound: Level 1 is a reading course based on Charlotte Mason’s methodology as presented in her book, Home Education. Charlotte Mason used a combination of sight words and phonics that relies on the former more than most programs that are popular among homeschoolers. Author Julie Ross wrote 100 Gentle Lessons to fit within her A Gentle Feast curriculum, but it can also work as a stand-alone program.
Children need to know letters and their individual sounds (only the short sounds for vowels) before beginning this program. While you might use it with kindergartners, it might be even more appropriate for first grade. Since this is a gentle approach, lessons should last only about 15 minutes per day, and don't move on to the next concept until you've given children time to master each one.
The core of the course, a 204-page book that will be used by both teacher and student, is available in either print or digital format. If you use the digital book, you can view the pages of the book on a screen, but many pages are activity sheets that will need to be printed out for students to write on or for cut-and-paste activities. (You are given permission to make copies of pages for immediate family use.)
There are also course components with sight word flashcards, letter tiles, and a Word Building Mat (a page with squares for arranging letter tiles into words). These, too, are available in print or digital formats. Print versions come on cardstock. Digital files should be printed in color on cardstock. These supplementary files also include an appendix with instructions for games to be played with the sight word flashcards.
In addition to print or digital components, you also need a chalkboard and chalk (or a whiteboard and a marker); a pan filled with sand, salt, or shaving cream; dice; game pieces; and an optional toy car.
How It Works
Nursery rhymes are the basis of the lessons, with a new nursery rhyme introduced for each group of three or four lessons. The program uses familiar nursery rhymes such as “Little Miss Muffet,” “Old Mother Hubbard,” and “Two Little Blackbirds.” Much of the lesson material─the nursery rhymes, the illustrations, and some of the instructional material─comes directly from The Natural Method Readers: A Primer by Hannah T. McManus and John H. Haaren, which was published in 1914. 100 Gentle Lessons injects phonics instruction into the sight-word approach used by the original text.
Lesson 1 begins with a short, illustrated rhyme that the parent or teacher reads to the child. The language of this rhyme is a good example of how the course mixes sight words with phonics instruction. The rhyme reads:
“A B C,
Tumble down D.
The cat is in the cupboard,
And can’t see me.”
Many words in this first rhyme─the, down, is, in, and, can’t, see, me, tumble, and cupboard─are treated as sight words even though children might be able to sound out some of them. Children will listen to the rhyme as you read and point to the words. You will then lay out the flashcards and have your child point to the individual words in the rhyme as you read them. Next, you will help your child write these words in the pan filled with sand, salt, or shaving cream. You will also explain to the child how the word can’t is formed and how it is related to can.
Lesson 2 reviews the nursery rhyme and sight words. Then students will practice forming three-letter, short-a words like sat, cat, and fat with letter tiles on their Word Building Mat. You can use the toy car to illustrate blending as the car first moves slowly across the letters and gradually speeds up.
In the third lesson, children review their flashcards then practice reading phrases and sentences from the nursery rhyme. Illustrations accompany each phrase or sentence, and these help children verify that what they read matches the illustration. The fourth lesson has a page with the nursery rhyme written in sections. Children will cut these sections apart and paste them in the correct order on another page.
Other groups of lessons follow a similar format as they teach each nursery rhyme, but some aspects of the lessons vary. Many nursery rhymes include a lesson where students practice phonics with letter tiles by changing initial and final consonant sounds, for instance, by changing lay to way (p. 33).
Copywork is introduced in Lesson 11, with both the model to be copied and blank lines included on the student worksheet. Copywork is the first step in spelling since, as Mason says, “Children should be encouraged to look at the word, see a picture of it with their eyes shut, and then write from memory” (Home Education, p. 238).
Game pieces and dice are used with a page in Lesson 25 and with some of the games explained in the appendix. Some lessons have children copy or write words onto a chalkboard or match words to pictures. Children sometimes construct sentences from word cards that are cut out from a lesson page. They also practice adding silent-e to short vowel words to transform them into long vowel words as in changing hop to hope.
More-challenging activities appear in the last quarter of the course such as filling in blanks in sentences with the correct word from a word bank and coming up with their own rhyming words to write on worksheets. Those who are ready might try to write words on their own from dictation.
Since this course is a primer, little time is spent on reading comprehension. The intention is for children to build a foundational vocabulary that will enable them to read, with reading comprehension and other skills left for future lessons. Because the nursery rhymes often introduce unfamiliar words and ideas, children might want to discuss them—something Mason would heartily approve of. So parents can spend time discussing rhymes and images if they wish, even though it is not included as part of the lessons.
Children are not taught how to form letters in this program, so you will probably want to add instruction in handwriting.
While opinions differ about how many sight words should be taught at this level, 100 Gentle Lessons in Sight & Sound: Level 1 balances its heavy reliance on sight words with phonics instruction so that children learn decoding skills. The result is a program that seems fairly close to what Charlotte Mason used, but with a bit more emphasis on phonics.