This simplified phonetic reading program is presented in one large book that can be purchased alone as well as in a set that includes both the book and the companion The Reading Lesson with Giggle Bunny CD-ROM.
Phonetic concepts are presented in twenty lessons. Rules are kept to a bare minimum. For example, the sound for "ou" is taught as the sound in "ouch." But the alternate sound as in "would" is not taught; instead "would, could, should" are presented as sight words. A unique marking system of underlining and other supplementary marks such as hollow circles above vowels is used to alert children to phonetic groupings, alternate vowel sounds, and the difference between "b" and "d." The system is fairly unobtrusive; it does not play a major role as do marking systems in programs such as The Writing Road to Reading.
Letters are taught in groups that allow children to begin reading words immediately; lesson one teaches the letters "c,o,s,a," and "t," so children can begin reading words such as "cat" and "sat." Children are not taught the alphabet in its entirety first, although it won't hurt if they already know it.
Words, sentences, and short stories are interspersed throughout the lessons for reading practice. The authors recommend that students first work through the CD-ROM presentation for each lesson, then the lesson as presented in the book. (If you do not have a computer, you can teach only from the book and provide adequate instruction.) In both cases, a parent needs to work alongside his or her child, providing explanations as needed, helping a child know what to do next, listening as they read, etc.
You will find numerous places where the book presents words representing a new concept, but no explanation is included. For example, contractions are presented in lesson 16 with a list of examples and no explanation. In such cases, parents should supply whatever explanation is necessary for their children to understand the concept.
Capital letters are introduced beginning in lesson eleven in the book. However, writing the letters is not taught within this program. Mountcastle sells a separate CD-ROM called The Writing Lesson. It includes printable worksheets for ball-and-stick, slant-print, and cursive styles. You will need to work with this or other resources to teach letter formation. Also, be aware that the letter "a" in this book is printed only with the standard typeface form rather than the ball-and-stick form typical of many early reading programs. This is unlikely to pose a problem, but be aware just in case.
The Reading Lesson is a beginning reading program. While it does introduce compound words, the vocabulary is almost exclusively one- and two-syllable words. Some suffixes (ing, s, ed) are taught. The program does not try to cover everything (e.g., there's no instruction on syllabication rules), but it should do a fairly good job of bringing children to the point where they can read all first grade readers. You can download a demonstration at www.readinglesson.com/dnlds.htm.
The Reading Lesson with Giggle Bunny CD-ROM sometimes comes bundled with the book but it can also be purchased separately. Created with Macromedia, it features animations and sound along with simple games to enhance the learning process. It is arranged in sections that correlate with the lessons. It's nicely done, but it isn't always obvious how to proceed. The publisher tells me that the interface was purposely designed very simply with only a forward and backward button and no menus to keep it simple for children to operate. I think most children who have worked with such programs are fairly proficient at figuring such things out, probably better than most adults. In any case, trial and error work quite well. The CD-ROM is particular helpful for animated demonstrations of blending that are accompanied by an audio track.
This CD-ROM as well as other Reading Lesson CD-ROMs run on either Windows or Macintosh systems. They each need to be installed before they will run on your computer.
The optional The Storybook CD-ROM features 40 animated stories that move from very simple to more complex as children learn new words in The Reading Lesson. Beginning stories are only a few pages in length and do not qualify as real stories. In the first few stories, all words are clickable for pronunciations. Children are to read these stories on their own after completing correlating lessons in The Reading Lesson. The audio assistance helps them to read independently, but you must watch that students do not use the audio rather than work to sound out words they have forgotten. As stories progress, audio help is gradually removed for words that should be familiar to children. Stories can be printed from PDF files if you wish. As with other CDs in this series, it's not always obvious how to proceed. In this case, you need to click on the bottom right hand corner and a finger will appear for you to click to move to the next page.
The Sounds of the Letters is an optional DVD presentation that teaches letters and sounds, but it moves so slowly that I would not recommend it.
You can buy a complete package of the reading resources I review here or you can purchase items individually. Even if you don't use The Sounds of the Letters, it should be less expensive to purchase the package than the rest of the items individually. However, the book alone will suffice if you do not want any of the extra items.