100 Gentle Lessons in Sight & Sound: Level 1 and Level 2 present a reading program 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 much more on sight words than most programs popular among homeschoolers. Author Julie Ross wrote the 100 Gentle Lessons reading program to fit within her A Gentle Feast curriculum, but they can also be used as stand-alone courses.
Much of the lesson material—the nursery rhymes, stories, illustrations, and some of the instructional material—comes directly from The Natural Method Readers: A Primer by Hannah T. McManus and John H. Haaren, published in 1914. 100 Gentle Lessons injects some phonics instruction into the sight-word approach used by the original text.
Children need to know the letters and their individual sounds (only the short sounds for vowels) before beginning Level 1. You might want to precede Levels 1 and 2 with 100 Gentle Lessons in Letters & Sounds: Level 0, which introduces the letters and their sounds. Level 1 might be used with kindergartners, but it is most appropriate for first grade. Since this is a gentle approach, lessons should last only about 15 minutes per day, and you shouldn’t move on to the next concept until you've given children time to master each one.
The design of both levels is very similar, although Level 2 teaches more complex vowel combinations and has more stories to read than does Level 1.
The core of each course is a large book—204 pages for Level 1 and 278 pages for Level 2. The books are used by both teacher and student, and they are available in either print or PDF format. If you use the PDF, 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 use for cut-and-paste activities.
While each course has 100 lessons, each lesson might take more than one day to complete, and some children might complete more than one lesson per day. You should spend no more than 15 minutes per day on lessons in Level 1 and 20 minutes per day for Level 2. At this pace, you will probably complete each course in about one year.
Other course components are 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 using the sight word flashcards. Level 2 in the print edition comes with the Words I Can Read Blank Book. If you order the digital edition, you can have your child copy their sight words into any blank book you choose.
In addition to print or digital components, you 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
In Level 1, nursery rhymes are the basis of most lessons, with a new nursery rhyme introduced for each group of three or four lessons. Level 1, Lesson 77 introduces a three-page story, and the rest of the lessons in Level 1 and Level 2 shift toward stories with only occasional poems or nursery rhymes. Level 1 uses familiar nursery rhymes such as “Little Miss Muffet,” “Old Mother Hubbard,” and “Two Little Blackbirds.” The story passages are surprisingly lengthy for beginning readers. However, before reading a story, parents teach sight words to their child with flashcards, then have their child identify those words within the story. Often, the parent will read the rhyme or story to the child first, then have them read it.
Level 1, Lesson 1 begins with a short, illustrated rhyme that the parent 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, can’t, see, me, tumble, and cupboard—are treated as sight words even though children might be able to sound out some of them. In this first lesson, children will listen to the rhyme as the parent reads and points to the words. Parents then lay out the flashcards and have their child point to the individual words in the rhyme as they read them. Next, the parent helps their child write these words in the pan filled with sand, salt, or shaving cream. Parents will also explain to the child how the word can’t is formed and how it is related to can.
Level 1, Lesson 2 reviews the nursery rhyme and sight words. Then students 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). Level 2 has children spend more time learning sight words and reading stories since the reading passages are much longer. It continues to insert lessons on phonograms and word families such as in Lesson 74 where children learn two sounds of ough and words such as enough and brought.
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.
Copywork is introduced in Level 1, 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).
More-challenging activities appear in the last quarter of Level 1, 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. In Level 2, children write their new words in a blank book, then practice reading those words.
Game pieces and dice are used with both levels; the games are explained in an appendix, found either at the back of the course book or in a separate file. Lessons sometimes direct you to play a game, but you can use many of them whenever you wish.
Since both Level 1 and Level 2 teach beginning reading skills, 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, stories, and images if they wish, even though it is not included in 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 balances its heavy reliance on sight words with some phonics instruction. The result is a program that seems fairly close to what Charlotte Mason used but with a bit more emphasis on phonics.