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. All components except the audio files are sent to you as printed products. Audio files are sent to you as MP3 files.
This is a comprehensive phonics program that begins with the introduction of the letters and their sounds and covers all phonetics concepts. Play ‘N Talk simultaneously teaches spelling, eliminating the need for a separate spelling program. An unusual feature is the inclusion of keyboarding instruction.
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). Phonetic rules are narrated in rhyme without music in the audio lessons. Additional practice with the various course components moves students beyond dependence on the rhymes when they try to decode words.
Children quickly begin reading actual words. Using a spiral methodology, the program gradually teaches more phonograms after children are already learning 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 course 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 parts, an introduction to letters and sounds (using the Sing 'n Sound lessons in the program), basic, and advanced. With Sing 'n Sound, children first learn the letters of the alphabet and their sounds with ten lessons presented through songs. These ten lessons are used along with 26 large alphabet flashcards.
In the remainder of this review, I will focus on the basic and advanced parts which are the bulk of the program.
The basic course has 92 recorded lessons, while the advanced course has 125. There are two, non-consumable student books that are used with each part of the course for reading practice. All of the other program 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.
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 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 course creator Marie LeDoux, and they sound a little out of date. I have been told by the publisher that they have plans to re-record these by sometime in 2021. New recordings will be made available at no extra cost to those who purchase the program in the interim.
What the program does not have are traditional workbooks with activity pages, readers, or handwriting instruction. Workbook activities for reading skills are not needed because students accomplish the same type of learning through the four student books, 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. There are a few supplemental activities that include practice writing the letters, but there’s 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 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.