Sunday, May 25, 2014

Homeschool Review: All About Learning Press

As I dig into the resources we use for elementary school, I would like to highlight one company--All About Learning Press.

Before I get started, let me say up front that I am not including any affiliate links (ie: links I earn money for), I wasn't paid to review, and I didn't even get any of the products for free.  Shucks, I didn't even buy any of the products used.  I paid full price.  You know how much I love a bargain, so when I'm willing to fork over full retail price for something, it had better be worth every dime!

I received Level 1 of All About Spelling (AAS) bundled in the Primary Art of Learning (PAL) Writing kit I purchased from the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW).  I was only mildly interested at first.  Up until that point, I had been unimpressed with every other spelling curriculum I had encountered.  I don't remember when Malachi and I first cracked the book and got started, but I do remember feeling quite impressed before too long.  In fact, I soon had Zeke (who hates spelling...seriously crawl-under-the-table-and-cry hates spelling) trying it out as well.  Before the end of the school year last year I purchased Level 2 so we could keep going without interruption.  One day my teacher's manual got absolutely drenched with water on the table.  It was beyond saving.  (Remember how I'm a miser/penny-pincher.)  I grieved over the loss of the book.  Ugh.  I dreamed about the day when I could re-order it and Level 3 as well.  Something was seriously wrong with me. refund came, my homeschool budget was funded, and we added to our collection.  In addition I was able to invest in several reading products as well.  Whew!

Ok, all that to try to convince you that I'm excited and dedicated to this product.  Big deal.  What is so great about it?  How is it different than other offerings?

For years we used A Beka to teach our kids to read.  Micah, Eden, Caleb, Zeke, and Josh all learned to read using A Beka.  Out of the five of them, only two are good spellers, and I suspect it is because it comes naturally to them.  Zeke struggled for a long time with "sight" words (words which can not phonetically be sounded out), which slowed down his reading and was a discouragement to him.  So obviously A Beka's method--while building a strong foundation in phonics--had some gaps that my children couldn't jump over with the decoding skills they had.  A Beka's program teaches the basic (first) sounds of each letter, then teaches a long list of phonograms such as "ck in duck" called "special sounds."  This is a very long list of phonograms for a student to memorize, however slowly they try.

All About Spelling and All About Reading (AAR) use a similar but fundamentally different approach.  Each letter is taught with its own phonograms.  For example, b has only the phonogram /b/ but c has the phonograms /k/ and /s/.  Later easy-to-remember rules are added for helping a student decode when to use which letter.  The teaching methods follow a logical-sequential pattern.  I don't know much about it, but it is the Orton-Gillingham approach.  Apparently this method really works well for students with dyslexia or dysgraphia.  My children don't have this struggle, but that certainly doesn't diminish the benefit to them!

As a mom to nine children, homeschooling 6 (soon to be 7) of them, and running a daycare, I do not have a lot of time for one-on-one instruction.  In order for AAS and AAR to be used correctly, I need to teach each student on his or her individual level.  If I am going to make this work, then I need to maximize my time with the student and minimize any prep time.  All About Learning Press does that for me.  I have my board ready to go all the time.  I only need to open the book and teach.  I learned the hard way that all the components of the program are necessary.  They may not be necessary every day.  What one child needs on one lesson, another child may not need.  But all of the components for all of the children are necessary.  I thought I could get away with purchasing only the teacher's manual for spelling, so that's what I tried for Level 3.  I thought, "I'm saving $17!"  Several lessons into the book I looked up at Josh and said, "That's it.  We have to order the student package.  Spelling is on hold until next week."  On a happy note, it is quite easy to use the products in such a way that they may be reused for future children.  My life would be easier if I purchased boxes and dividers for each child, but I developed a system that works for me and saved a few bucks.  Copyright permission is given for individual (household) use of the reading activity books--hurray!

You may use either program--spelling or reading--without the other, but if your student is learning both, it makes sense to use both.  They work so well together, and one reinforces the other.  Malachi is doing this, and Tirzah will eventually (we are working through Pre-reading together now).  Malachi is in Level 2 of both reading and spelling, but we don't strive to make him be on the same step or to have them "match up."  Reading and spelling are different.  Reading requires decoding the phonograms, and spelling requires building the phonograms back together.  If you would like to read about this further, I recommend this blog post:  So what happens with Malachi is he gets review and reinforcement.  He exercises using phonograms in different ways, cementing them into his mind.  He had a good start with PAL learning to read, but it was so different from A Beka's method that I personally struggled with teaching him.  We started using All About Reading a little over a month ago and I've already marked improvements.  I purchased Level 1 and Level 2, but he was ready for Level 2 so we went with it, always prepared to back off and review if needed.  I will work through the AAR levels until Malachi is comfortably reading on his own, and choosing to read on his own.  Zeke and Josh already do this, so I do not feel the need to do a formal reading program with them.

With Malachi and Zeke doing spelling, and now Josh too, that is three boys needing individual spelling instruction.  Malachi also needs individual reading instruction.  Where do I find the time?  I allot approximately 15 min per kid for spelling, but sometimes it is only 10 or sometimes up to 20 min, depending on how many times I am interrupted or how much fun we are having, or if the student has already mastered it.

So, the programs cost a bit of money.  It is an investment.  Is Pre-reading worth it?  Yes.  This is far more than teaching a preschooler to recognize the letters of the alphabet and their sounds.  They learn the beginnings of decoding in creative, fun ways.  A "step" or lesson typically takes less than 10 min of my time (not counting the 30 min of reading a day we should do together for fun).  It's amazing to me what Tirzah has been able to pick up during this structured 10 min a day.

Discovering All About Learning Press has been invigorating for me.  It has inspired and motivated me to keep going with this homeschool thing.  That may sound a bit silly, but it's true.  It has made learning fun for ME, and hopefully that is rubbing off onto the kids as well.  At least Zeke doesn't crawl under the table to cry anymore.  I think he is starting to believe me when I tell him that it's ok to spell a word wrong during spelling class--that shows us where we need to work, and where he is able to learn.  :)

Stay tuned for more...I'm heading out to do some shopping (at the thrift store, of course, LOL)!

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