Play ‘N Talk is based upon a phonics program first developed and used by an exclusive private school in 1961. That program became hugely popular with early homeschoolers as well as with public and private schools. Then the company went through a transition and the product disappeared. It’s back now, and the only change is the updated delivery method for audio files to MP3. All components except the audio files are sent to you as printed products.
This is a comprehensive phonics program that begins with the introduction of the letters and their sounds and covers all phonetic concepts. At the same time, Play ‘N Talk teaches spelling, eliminating the need for a separate spelling course. An unusual feature is the inclusion of keyboarding instruction, a skill not usually introduced when teaching phonics. Keyboarding is taught here to help reinforce reading and spelling skills.
Play ‘N Talk is best for preschool through about fourth grade. It should be taught at the child’s pace rather than at any specific grade levels. Although not specifically designed for children with learning disabilities, Play ‘N Talk has been used successfully with children with many types of learning challenges as well as for remedial work—even with high school students.
The methodology is intensive phonics. When it teaches blending, it uses vowel-consonant combinations (e.g., at, am, and ab). The phonetic rules are initially learned through rhymes (without music) in the audio lessons. Additional practice with the various components moves students beyond dependence on the rhymes when they try to decode words.
Children quickly begin reading actual words. The program gradually teaches more phonograms after children are already starting to read.
Play ‘N Talk requires practically no preparation by the parent. All of the teaching is done by the teacher on the audio files (MP3). However, parents do need to work with children to use the many other components. The Amplified Instructor’s Manual lets parents know which components to use when. Ideally, lessons should be presented in two 10-minute sessions per day.
The program is divided into three courses: introduction, basic, and advanced.
The introduction, the briefest part of the program, uses "Sing 'n Sound" lessons to teach the letters of the alphabet and their sounds. These ten lessons are presented through songs, and they are used along with 26 large alphabet flashcards.
In the remainder of this review, I will focus on the basic and advanced parts that are the bulk of the program. The basic course has 92 recorded lessons, while the advanced course has 125. There are two student books for each of these two courses that are used for reading practice. All of the other components are used along with the basic and advanced lessons to make this a true-multi-sensory program that can work with different learning styles.
As I mentioned previously, there are many components. The Slide ‘N Sound word construction set has 43 laminated plastic strips that are to be inserted into a card with windows and used to combine phonograms into words. Riddles ‘N Rhyme (three books with audio files) presents riddles that reinforce reading skills. Spell Lingo has 24 bingo games for practicing phonogram recognition. Ring ‘N Key teaches keyboarding and reinforces spelling and reading skills. The Flash Card Patterns book (with 790 flashcards) is used for games and activities to practice recognition of phonograms and words. A large phonics wall chart and a Manuscript Alphabet Chart (for learning how to form letters) can be mounted on the wall to be used as visual aids. The course components, including the student books, are durable and non-consumable. So this one-time investment can be used for many children.
Some of the auditory features are especially worth noting. Clear pronunciation is modeled and emphasized. Calm music provides an introduction and closure for each lesson, and rules and instructions are often presented in poetic form via the audio files. The audio instruction is still from the original recordings done by the program's creator Marie LeDoux, and the style of her presentation sounds a little out of date. I have been told by the publisher that they have plans to re-record these in 2021. New recordings will be made available at no extra cost to those who purchase the program in the interim.
Students practice reading in the four student books rather than typical readers. The program does not have traditional workbooks that include activity pages for reading, spelling, or handwriting instruction. Those types of written activities are replaced by the program's games, keyboarding, and other activities. While the program includes sufficient reading practice within the student books, adding some beginning readers should be helpful. As for handwriting, you can use the letters on the Manuscript Alphabet Chart as models to teach the formation of letters on your own. While there are a few supplemental activities that include practice writing the letters, there is no comprehensive handwriting instruction. So you might want to add a handwriting course.
Parents don’t have to teach the lessons, but they should stay abreast of the audio lessons to know what their children are learning. They need to listen to their child read aloud from the student books to make sure they are grasping the concepts, and they must be prepared to play the games and use the other Play ‘N Talk components with their children. Even so, Play ‘N Talk is one of the easiest-to-use comprehensive phonics programs available for homeschoolers.