Wednesday, February 18, 2009

TOS Review: Rocket Phonics

If there's one thing that I've learned as I've traveled the road we call homeschooling, it's that no one approach teaches every child to read. This, in a nutshell, is the main shortcoming of the institutionalized school system's modus operandi. Child A learns through doing. Child B is an auditory learner. And Child C needs someone to hold their hand through the entire process. How, then, can the method designed for Child Q work for all 26 of the eager would-be-readers staring at the board?

Thankfully, as parents who've chosen to home educate, we have more options on the table than we can process at one sitting. There are whole language programs. Phonics-based learning. Songs. Curricula built around sight words. Bells. Whistles. Bare bones methods. Readers. Finger plays. Primers. Programs for infants. CD-ROMs. Resources, people. We have resources!

Homeschoolers also have the benefit of the ultimate teaching ratio when it comes to specific skills; generally 1:1, unless you happen to have twins or an especially precocious toddler who wants a bit of what Big Brother's being served.

And then there's what I think of as the "I know you so well .... " status. Frankly, you know whether your child will sit still long enough to learn silly songs about the letter of the day, or whether a plain black-and-white line drawing will drive him to distraction. No classroom teacher has this information ... or the time to truly care.

Anyone who has settled in to the idea of teaching their own child to decode the English language has stood, baffled and in awe of the never-ending stream of offerings. And let's not get into how many fellow homeschoolers are ready to que up and outline why the curricula they chose is clearly the one that will work for your child, too. It's enough to make you shrug off the responsibility altogether, if you ask me.

Selecting a reading program is a highly individualized science, as far as I'm concerned. Actually teaching a child to read is not. Once you relegate the two seemingly at-odds truths in your mind and get on with the business of helping Johnny learn to read, you'll be that much the better for it.

All of that said, Rocket Phonics is a wonderful example of what I think of as a "full service" approach to reading. More involved than 100EZ, less complicated than Sing, Spell, Read & Write, Rocket Phonics offers bells, whistles and games without the kiddy entrapments that make many learn-to-read programs a bust for older phonics learners. In addition, there's a specialized alphabet code (similar to the 100EZ approach) that tips students off to the many nuances that make reading English challenging to the newly initiated, opening doors to a more mature reading experience right off the bat. This kind of instant success is a confidence boost for reluctant readers, and incentive to keep moving forward. It's also just the kind of feedback that older readers need if they've been struggling with other programs.

Rocket Phonics relies heavily on games, visual tools such as colorful cards and scripted, systematic instruction. If you've taught general phonics before, the directions are overly detailed, but the newbie should find them a comforting backup in times of uncertainty. The focus on interactive, experiential exposure to phonics is contagious; children taught with this program will almost instantly find themselves picking out the letter combinations they've learned in the signs and labels that surround them in everyday life.

One added benefit of this program is that due to the large amount of time spent involved in card-type games, younger siblings will no doubt ask to join in. This is a time saver for the busy mom of littles who wonders how she can possibly occupy her preschoolers while she covers reading instruction. With Rocket Phonics, any child who's old enough to keep bingo chips out of their mouth can be dealt in to the fun and may even pick up some beginning skills along the way.

Rocket Phonics has a "real school" feel to it that will appeal to traditional homeschoolers and families who worry that a bare-bones approach will somehow shortchange their child. Younger learners will take to the fun-and-games approach with little awareness that they're learning (unless mom points it out) while older children will be able to largely overlook the fact that they're receiving remedial instruction thanks to the fact that the method moves at a fairly quick clip.

In the realm of complete phonics instruction programs, Rocket Phonics is a stand out. Not all children will benefit from--or need--this kind of intensive, step-by-step method. Take careful stock of your child's personality and learning style, and select an approach that will fit his or her needs. If you know that your own son or daughter will enjoy and learn from a deep dive into the phonetic waters, then by all means, take note of this program.


blessedmomto7 said...

Thanks-I have one almost ready to read and was looking for something new :)

Kindred Blessings said...

I used this for a while with Peter. I really enjoyed the way it showed all of the phonetic sounds including blends and vowel combinations.