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Monday, February 28, 2011

I See Sam, a review


Peter is an early kindergartener. He turned 5 about a month after the cut-off for this school year, so technically he could have waited until next year. I thought K would be pretty laid back this year…no point in stressing out over skills he might not be quite ready for, right?

The boy is constantly amazing me. He really wants to read, yes, but he really really wants to write. On any given day you can find him writing a new comic book, drawing the panels, adding the dialog (his sense of pacing and framing the shot is unbelievable…you’d think he’d been studying under Hitchcock. You can just imagine him seeing this as a movie in his mind).

He’ll stop and ask me, “How do you write ‘marauding creature’?”


And he uses little rebuses for words he can’t spell but recognizes as compound words. His rebus for “cliphanger” (a Peterism for “cliffhanger”) is a little drawing of a clip next to a drawing of a coathanger. “Meanwhile” is a drawing of a frowny face being punched by a fist (Mean!) next to a drawing of the sun.

He’s making his own learning happen. And he’ll learn to read and write whether I teach him or not.

When this box readers from Academic Success for All Readers arrived, his whole face lit up. A reading curriculum just for him!

We received the I See Sam Little Readers (sets 1-4), the instructor’s guide, placement and assessment manual, “certificates of success,” and flashcards:




The instructor’s manual is brief and easy to follow. This is not a fully scripted program. The manual gives you the procedure to follow for the readers and you just do it. No prep, no rehearsing.

Here’s how it works.

Each book has a pronunciation guide on the inside front cover. After the title and contents pages, you’ll find a page with “sound practice” and “new sounds.” These are phonemes that your child needs to be able to read in order to read the book. Once he can read this page without mistakes, you move onto the “word practice” and “new words.” These are the words that are used in this book that need to be mastered. Underlined words are irregular in some way (they are underlined on the word practice pages, but not on the story pages). Long vowels have a line over them (again, no line on the actual story pages).

Each reader contains a short story (about 10 pages) with adorable line drawings. We are enjoying meeting all of the animal characters (with each new book, Peter wants to know who he’s going to meet next). The pages in set 1 have about 1-3 lines of text on each page. Sentence structure is very simple and the new words are repeated frequently. There are prompts at the bottom of the pages with comprehension questions for you to ask your child alternating with reminders to praise his hard work.

It’s recommended that you have your child read each reader at least twice to help with fluency and comprehension. Every 5 or 6 books, there is a “looking back” section at the end of the book. This is essentially an assessment to check for fluency and comprehension. If you spot a problem, you can move back to the appropriate reader.

What do we think?

First a few notes on what I See Sam is not. It’s not a scripted program. Not all words are presented phonetically (some words are taught as sight words). Some sounds are not explicitly taught. For example, for “th” the pronunciation guide only gives the voiced examples of “then” and “bathe,” even though words like “with” are used in the readers. There’s no differentiation made between the two sounds, it’s left up to you to explain it (there’s no instruction for you on this) or for your child to figure it out.

And should “the” be thee or thuh? I prefer the way people actually talk, but the reader puts a line over the “a” and “e” when these words are first introduced. It’s easy enough to explain this to your child, though.

I See Sam is a very gentle reading program that involves a lot of repetition of the same words. Very few new words are introduced in each of the early readers and there’s lots of overlap between one reader and the next. I like that the program sets my child up for success. If a child can read by sounding out each word, that’s good, but the ultimate goal is to read the words, not the sounds, and that requires fluency. The repetition is a good way to gain automaticity. But I’m not in a hurry…I know he’s going to get there and I can see the progress he’s making. The slow pace might be frustrating in a remedial situation or for a child who is itching to read big words in a hurry.

Peter absolutely loves these readers. He does get a little frustrated when I have him stop and review the sounds at the beginning of each book (“I already know that!”), but he’s reading very well. We are nearly done with set 1 (27 books!).

So far, we really haven’t needed the flashcards. These are essentially for reviewing the letter sounds, but I’ve found that the review at the beginning of the books is sufficient for Peter. Academic Success for All Learners does offer a free download of the flashcards that you can print yourself (they have oodles of other free downloads to use with this program, too), so these are an optional extra. The flashcard set does include colored rubberbands for color-coding them according to which cards have been mastered and which ones require more practice.

So far, I have been really impressed with Peter’s progress. Before starting I See Sam, he was not reading at all (beyond his name). Now, not only is he able to read the readers, he is transferring the phonemes he’s learned to reading other words not in the readers. He’s also using them to spell things phonetically. I’m really proud of him! The small amount of reading on each page has been just about right for him (wish I had had these when Mary was first learning to read). I’ll post an update when we get further along.

I highly recommend that you take I See Sam for a test drive. You can download reader 21 from set 1 for free.

There are 8 sets of I See Sam readers available. Each set sells for $30 and contains 10-27 readers.

You can read other reviews of I See Sam here.

Disclosure: As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received these products for review purposes. I received no compensation. The views expressed here are my own.


  1. We loved this program too!
    My son also was not reading at all before I See Sam. We are on book 9. I know that is not that far along, but it is progress!

  2. Oh, this sounds perfect for what one of my kiddos needs. I love the progression you described as far as the sounds, words, story and periodic review. It sounds so gentle and easy...

  3. @Debra,
    Yes, we really like the gentle progression, it keeps it from becoming "work," if ykwim? Really good for a very young child, or maybe one who has become frustrated with learning to read.

    @Very Blessed-
    This one is definitely a keeper for us;0)

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