Sam Blumenfeld (now deceased) created the Alpha-Phonics program many years ago, and it has been published by a few different publishers over the years. You can read my reviews of the currently available versions of the program published by Storehouse Press and Paradigm, which are all very similar. You can also purchase a PDF version titled Blumenfeld’s Alpha-Phonics Workbook through the publisher’s website. (I explain why you might do so later in this review.)
Alpha-Phonics provides comprehensive phonics instruction in a simple, straightforward manner. Rules are presented along with lists of words and syllables, and eventually, sentences. A parent works through lessons with his or her child, working from the book, or a parent can assist a child as they work through Blumenfeld’s Alpha-Phonics online.
The methodology is solid phonics. Alpha-Phonics teaches 44 different sounds for the letters of the alphabet. It teaches basic phonic rules, but not so many rules as we find in other programs like All About Reading or Foundations (Logic of English). Blending is taught via the vowel-consonant method, with initial consonants added next: e.g., "am" taught first, followed by "Sam" and "ham." Words are taught in families (e.g., an, ban, can, Dan, fan, Jan). However, many nonsense syllables are included in the early stages to help students develop phonetic fluency. Some of the practice lists of such syllables get quite silly as students read through syllables and words like gab, gac, gack, gad, gaf, gag, gal, gam, gan, gap, gas, gat, gav, gax, and gaz. Students practice with quite a few such lists, but they also move quickly into reading actual sentences.
This program does not use pictures for keywords as do many other programs. The intent is that students concentrate on the letters themselves so that they immediately recognize the sounds associated with a letter rather than taking an extra mental step to recall a keyword associated with a picture.
While the Alpha-Phonics program remains available from other publishers under that title, you can access the complete program based on the book for free online at Camp Constitution.
This online version displays one or more pages from Blumenfeld’s Alpha-Phonics Workbook along with each of the program’s 128 lessons, and it also has video and audio instruction presented by Blumenfeld for each lesson. A separate tab provides all of the instruction in a PDF which parents can use to present the lessons themselves. This allows you to use the lessons in a number of different ways. The video or audio instruction will save parents lesson planning and instruction time although they still need to be present and work with their child.
The videos show the pages from the book while Blumenfeld speaks, but the pages shown on the videos might sometimes be difficult for children to read. The full-size pages from the book cannot be displayed on one device at the same time as the audio or video is playing. You might consider using two devices—one to play the audio or video and one to display pages from the book. Or you can order a PDF of the book for a nominal donation.
The eleven-book set of Blumenfeld’s Alpha-Phonics First Readers works well alongside Alpha-Phonics for practice reading material. These readers include black-and-white illustrations. This set of readers is incorporated into the online phonics program at no cost. Children can watch the video lessons along with a parent or tutor, then practice reading with the free downloaded pages.
Blumenfeld recommended teaching cursive handwriting along with phonics, so the website includes Blumenfeld’s Handwriting Online. This section of the website has 73 free lessons for cursive handwriting and even includes suggestions for teaching left-handed writers. The lessons do not include student worksheets. The lessons show and tell what students should practice, but since there are no printable pages, you need to provide models yourself on a whiteboard, on paper, or in some other manner that students can easily copy.
The readers, lesson plans, practice assignments, a progress chart, and audio transcripts are all printable, but like the handwriting pages, the lessons pages for phonics are not. However, you can purchase Blumenfeld’s Alpha-Phonics Workbook, a PDF with all of the lesson pages for this program, for a minimal donation, but doing so isn’t essential.
Blumenfeld’s Alpha-Phonics online isn’t perfect, but it does provide an easy-to-use method for teaching phonics that has proven successful for many years for free
Other Blumenfeld Resources
The Camp Constitution website serves as an archive of Blumenfeld’s work, so there are many more free resources than those I have already mentioned. Among them is the complete text of his book How to Tutor in which Blumenfeld teaches parents how to teach both math and phonics.
Blumenfeld wrote articles and books about the sorry state of education in the United States. Many of those are available as free PDFs on the website, including his two influential books Is Public Education Necessary? and N.E.A.: Trojan Horse in American Education.
Those who prefer audio resources might want to check out the free recordings of Blumenfeld’s lectures and interviews on Podomatic.