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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

ROCKET your way through reading

Mary just celebrated her 5th birthday last month and is soooo ready to read. At just about the same time, I found out I would be receiving a complete phonics program from Rocket Phonics to use and review for the TOS Homeschool Crew. Woohoo, how's that for timing!

The complete Rocket Phonics Kit comes with 2 spiral-bound books, 2 decks of sound cards, bingo chips, a "peeker," and extras including more games (like treasure hunts!). With your purchase, you will also receive periodic emails with even more resources which include more games and helps. The entire program is non-consumable, so you can use it with all your children, and you won't even need to make copies.

Rocket Phonics is based on an ITA (Initial Teaching Alphabet) where the student is taught that a particular letter (or pair of letters together) make 1 particular sound. For example, in Rocket Phonics, "a" makes the short "a" sound. For the long "a" sound they use "ay." In cases where words are "non-phonetic" (meaning that they don't fit the ITA), the words will be presented in the book with "helpers" beneath them to prompt the child with the correct sound.

I haven't yet formed an opinion on the use of an ITA for phonics instruction. My gut instinct on this topic has always been that it's a bad idea, after all, at some point the child needs to stop relying on "helpers" to sound out the words... will she be able to make that transition? At the same time, I've seen first-hand how difficult it can be for children to master the multiple sounds that letters can make (particularly the vowels) and the confusion it can cause when trying to figure it all I was willing to give it a whirl.

We've dabbled in phonics before now, in fact I've mentioned some things in previous blog posts that have helped Mary become more aware of phonemes. She's very aware that letters are just symbols that represent particular sounds, but any attempts to teach Mary how to sound out words using beginning readers has been met with the ole "this is boring" or "this is too harrrrd" complaints. So, how to make it fun? Mary likes to copy letters that Mommy writes out for her, but tracing letters in oatmeal or shaping strings of beads into letters just isn't her thing, though we do play lots of rhyming games.

Rocket Phonics tries to put the fun back into learning phonemes through games and activities. You start by learning individual sounds while playing bingo. Bingo?! Yes, bingo. And, believe it or not, Mary actually looks forward to playing those bingo games and playing fish with letter sounds. So far, she's doing quite well with the program and is taking the initiative in sounding out words for herself with little or no prompting. She is blending her sounds and comprehending the words she is short, she's making real progress.

I do have a couple of issues with the program so far that I'll briefly mention here. The kit comes with playing cards that have the letter symbols on them and pictures to remind the child of the sound the symbol makes. For example, the "t" card has a picture of a tiger. There is some inconsistency with these as some of the letters are not for the initial sound of the picture words. One example is the card for "u," which has a picture of a duck. It would have been simple to use an umbrella, for instance.

The other thing is that Mary does not like the "peeker." This is a piece of cardstock with a rocket printed on it that has a small window in it. The idea is that you use it so the child can only see the word they are sounding out and not be distracted by the other words on the page. Mary finds it disorienting not to be able to see where she's at on the page, so we've opted for using a ruler or similar tool so she can see the entire line.

We are still in the beginning stages of this program, so the transition from the ITA is not yet an issue. We'll continue to use the program as long as Mary is benefitting from it, so I'm giving it a tentative "thumbs up" at this point. Since the entire program is designed to get your child up to a 5th grade level, I've been asked to revisit Mary's progress with it over the next several months, so be on the look-out:-)

In the meantime, check out the Rocket Phonics website for more information. The cost of the complete program (and remember, it's completely non-consumable) is $160.

For reviews of this program by other homeschoolers, click the banner below:


  1. My complaint is that it teaches only one sound per letter, when many letters have more than one sound. And the peeker (?) also seems like a bad idea because words are not freestanding in literature, they are grouped with other words for a reason. It seems like using this would mean another transition for the child- from one-word sentences, to real sentences. It also seems like this peeker would affect the kids ability to develop a "flow" while reading.

    I do, however, see the benefits of using this program as a supplement to another well rounded phonics program. But for the price, who would be able to do that? I am looking forward to seeing how the program measures up in the long-term for your little phonics learners. We have always used "Sound Beginnings" for early phonics instruction. It's no workbook approach has worked really well for us. But it isn't flashy, but it is non-consumable and not even close to $160

  2. As for the peeker...I agree and really for the same reasons. After all, we read sentences with ideas, not single words or letters. So, we don't use it, as I said in the review.

    As for the single sounds...yes, that was my main hesitancy in trying this program. The concept of an ITA does not sit well with me. On the other hand, I can see by reading forward in the program that it is a temporary contrivance, kind of like a scaffold for building word recognition, the ultimate goal being to read words and finally sentences, not sounding each letter out one at a time. I think the peeker is probably meant as a temporary contrivance as well.

    Will the ITA ultimately be a hindrance? That's what I'm waiting to see.

    Would I personally pay $160 for a phonics program? I decided months ago not to make a judgment based on price for any of these reviews, because how much something is worth (money-wise) is highly subjective and really contingent upon an individual's needs. For example, if I had a child who had struggled and struggled to learn to read over a period of a few years, in spite of one-on-one instruction and numerous approaches, and this turned out to be the one that helped her "get it," it would be a bargain. If, like me, my child wasn't struggling and I was just looking for a phonics program to start her with, it would be highly unlikely that I'd start with a $160 program. My goal is to examine the program warts, beauty marks, and all, and provide as much information as I can to help others make their own decision.


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