If you’ve been around homeschooling for any length of time, you have at least heard about Institute for Excellence in Writing.
The first program that our family used was their Student Writing Intesive program, as well as Teaching Writing Structure and Style which we had the great privilege to review with the Crew. After this grand introduction to IEW, we fell in love with the company and have used many more of their awesome products.
I have been particularly interested in their reading/writing/spelling program for K through 2nd graders for a year or so after running across it on their website, hearing about it from fellow homeschoolers, and then following discussions on the IEW Yahoo group I joined when we first started using IEW products. With a first grader struggling to learn to read in my house, I was just overcome with joy when I found out we had the chance to review the Primary Arts of Language!
The Primary Arts of Language program actually comes in two parts, which are best used together. We reviewed both the Reading and Writing portions of the program together.
The Primary Arts of Language: Reading Complete Package ,which can be purchased on the IEW website for $69.00, has all of the following components:
~PAL Reading Teacher’s Manual
~PAL Reading DVD-Rom
~PAL Phonetic Games Manual
~PAL Phonetic Farm Folder with Stickers.
The reading program uses poetry to integrate the program together. It is divided into four stages: Foundations in which the phonetic rules and sight words are learned using games and hands on activities; Activities where the student plays games daily to master the phonetic rules; Discovery where the student applies the knowledge he has gained to decode individual words presented on Discovery cards; and Library where he gains access to the books in the individualized library.
During the Foundation stage the teacher’s time is crucial, and the lessons are expected to be “short and snappy”. The student is not expected to master everything, everyday, but rather the system of repetition grows his knowledge base over time lessening his frustration level. No pressure, no strict schedules, no time frames here. Just plenty of practice and plenty of fun to encourage and motivate your student to learn!
I would totally recommend a visit to the PAL product page to watch a very complete introduction to the program by IEW’s Andrew Pudewa, as well as a very well-done and extensive webinar on how to use the program. This is well worth the time it takes to watch it!
The second part of the programs is the Primary Arts of Language: Writing Complete package which can be purchased for $89.00 on the IEW website.
~PAL Writing Teacher’s Manual
~PAL Writing DVD-ROM (which is packed with instructional information, student e-books as pdf files, extra mp3 presentations, etc.)
The writing portion is divided into three parts: printing, copywork, and composition. Spelling is included throughout the course.
The goal of the writing lessons is to “lay a foundation for the student to respond to what he reads and hears in writing”.
This portion includes a complete handwriting program, as well an an introduction to literature and story analysis with spelling included.
Another Chapter in the Gunn Ranch Academy Learning-to-Read Adventures with PAL:
Ok, I keep thinking I’m sounding like a broken record as we write chapter after chapter of our Learning-to-Read masterpiece.
Maybe this time he’ll get it.
Maybe this will be the answer.
Maybe this approach will click.
Maybe he’s ready now.
For some children, learning to read just “clicks”. My two girls were that way. They began reading before they were four and practically taught themselves to read. Teaching the “rules” and all of the ins-and-outs of reading seemed nothing more than review once they took off reading chapter books around Kindergarten. But then along came my boy who really didn’t care to even learn his alphabet. While he seemed to pick up the phonetic sounds of the letters without much trouble, we seemed to run into the same wall, program after program, formal and informal teaching. The reason? He just wasn’t ready. He didn’t want, or care to focus, and stressing him out, well, just didn’t make sense to me. Making him progress in any of the programs we had started seemed like putting him behind the wheel of the car and turning him loose at 5. He was gonna wreck, and I could see it being fatal to his future. So we continued to work on letters, sounds, basics. Things I knew he didn’t really had no interest in or desire to do, but didn’t stress him out. We kept trying new programs, kept hitting that wall. All the while I tried to stay calm and focused. He wasn’t really “behind” for his age, but outside pressures seemed to heap down upon me, as well as inside ones and I just kept wondering if it would ever happen.
When given the opportunity to review Primary Arts of Language from the Institute for Excellence in Writing, my hope was renewed and I became excited and confident this would probably be the answer. I was already familiar with the program from being a part of the online IEW group that I joined when we began our IEW journey a couple years back. IEW has become another cornerstone of our homeschool and a vital part of our curriculum each year. I had been following many discussions of the PAL program, secretly hoping to glean some useful information, but seeing very clearly that this program looked to be just what we needed. The many different facets, parts, jewels of the program from the poems, to the hands-on activities, to the letter stories, to the file folder games sounded like it would hold my boys attention and would allow us to progress as he needed.
The second part of my confidence that PAL might just write the final chapter in our learning-to-read story is timing. Levi has seemed much more open and ready to tackle his schoolwork in this fresh new year, even expressing his desire to read, but also sounding things out and recognizing words on his own. So this program, well, it came just at the right time. 🙂 Imagine that.
When this big ole box of stuff came, I opened it and began to dig in. Whew. There are LOTS AND LOTS of parts to this! Fortunately for me I expected that, and the PAL people knew I’d be overwhelmed from the gitgo. So they included a 4 x 6 card right on top that says:
Welcome to PAL!
Primary Art of Language
View the Reading DVD with the Teacher’s Manual in hand. This will walk you through the entire program, making it simple to use.
Assemble Phonetic Games. This step is optional but will streamline your day by having the games ready to play.
View the first section of the Writing DVD. You will watch the remaining portions when needed.
Start enjoying PAL with your children! Email if you have questions.
So I did just that. First I opened the big bag of the reading part of the program goodies and flipped through it all. Then I opened up the big bag of writing goodies, and then looked through the amazing phonetic farm folder with stickers. OOOOO!!! Fun, fun, fun!! Levi was going to LOVE this!! I put aside the third baggie, because we wouldn’t be needing it for awhile. It contains Level 1 of the All About Spelling program. While the brightly colored phonogram cd rom, cards, student packet and book with the familiarly cute bee buzzing around on it looked ever-so-inviting, I resisted opening it up because I already knew the materials from using the program with my older two girls. I have planned to use this with Levi also, and was delighted when I saw it was a component of the PAL program.
And so I began my preparation by popping in the Reading DVD, teacher’s manual in hand. Jill Pike, the creator of this program, does an amazing job at walking the teacher through the program, from how to get started, to assembling the games, to scheduling, materials, to organizing it all. She makes it super-simple to just go ahead and jump right in. I felt like I was sitting beside a good friends showing my how to work through it.
I dug out the PAL Phonetic Games book and found the very first game: Letter Stories. I cut the pages out and glued them to the inside of the folder, then put paper clips in place to hold the game cards, which I found in the back of the book and cut out, putting them in a baggie and attaching it inside the folder. Easy! I couldn’t wait to get started!!!
But, alas, I needed to view the PAL Writing DVD. The video instruction further clarified just how a day in the life of PAL would look, and just how brilliantly it all fit together, according to your very own child’s needs and progress. I found the student book which is in three parts on the Student Material PDF Files portion of the DVD and printed off the first few lessons. I then saved the book to my desktop for easy access. I went back and put the Reading DVD back in and printed off the first few lessons, also saving it to my desktop for easy future access.
From here I was just ever-so-anxious to view the many other “extras” on the DVD including MP3’s about the Blended Sight-Sound Program, Poetry, and even a little video showing Anna Ingham singing/teaching “Robin in the Rain” to her students that is just delightful! I wasn’t able to listen to every program at the first sitting, but I really had a hard time saving any of it for later. It’s just that good. I did the same with the Writing DVD which also has many, many “extras” on teaching reading, writing, little kids, etc. I viewed a couple and it was really like a pep talk from a favorite professor. The support and encouragement that comes with these programs is nothing short of phenomenal!!
I feel the need to apologize at this point for those of you who are still reading this lengthy review, but I hope I’m getting the point across here about how perfectly amazing this program is. This program is for all learning types, all stages of learning to read, all frustration levels, and any kid who likes the “fun” approach. It’s for all kinds of teachers, especially those who like something spelled out, easy to follow, and mostly already done for you. Best of all, it comes complete with the encouragement and pep talks. It’s all in there!
So what does a day at Gunn Ranch Academy’s PAL Adventures look like anyway?
We start with Levi rolling his little cart-of-magic drawers over, and after digging out the PAL Reading Teacher’s Manual and opening to the current lesson, we start with a poem. The poem used in the first 10 lessons is called “September”, and we read and discussed it from many different perspectives. I LOVED hearing Levi recite this poem (honestly something I NEVER thought I’d hear him do!!). This part usually lasts around 5 minutes.
Next we move to the Class Journal, Printing and Story Time. The instructions are to make an entry into your class journal (further suggestions are discussed in the intro to the book and throughout the process). For this we were already using a program in which we made daily entries, so we continued that. Next we look back over the pages of sentences and reading practice sheets we accumulated in a binder notebook from previous lessons, reading what we can and avoiding frustration as needed.
Next, I set aside the Reading manual and open the PAL Writing manual to the current daily lesson and begin following through it. Here is where the letter stories are introduced and writing practice happens. This usually takes around 15 to 20 minutes, followed by a story which is printed in the Writing manual. These are short stories such as Goldilocks, Little Red Riding Hood, or an Aesop’s Fable. This takes another 15 to 20 minutes as we read through and use the Story Sequence Chart to discuss the story. Sometimes Levi gets frustrated when it becomes a bit too “academic” and so try to just have fun with this part.
We usually take a bit of a break here if needed for bike riding or such, and I work with another child if he seems to need one. Some days he’s ready to move on, though.
When we resume our adventure for the day, we move back to the reading manual for “Foundations and Reader Words” time: aka game time. The manual instructs which games to play and what to add. At this point we are still working through all of them. First he matches little letter cards with the same letter on the game board as he says the sound and slides it into the paper clip. After all the letters are matched up, we take them off and put them back in the baggy and get out Mugs. Mugs is a dog with a cut-out mouth where Levi can feed him bones that have letters on them . Once he picks up the letter from Mugs’ dish, he says the sound or sound combination and feeds the bone to Mugs. Once all the bones are gone, we put the bones back into the bag for the next day and move onto the Painter’s Palette where Levi matches the color word with the color splotch on the palate. After putting that one away, we get out the Letter parking lot where he parks the cars with vowels on them in one lot and the consonants in another lot… and so on. Some days we use 3×5 cards that we create throughout the lessons with sight words, animals, colors, etc on them to play additional games. Once the games are all done, we move on to the Phonetic Farm which is a tri-fold card folder farm scene that we stick “phonetic” stickers onto to create the whole farm. This is a really awesome little tool that Levi really loves!
Moving on, we spend 20 to 30 minutes on the printed student work pages. Students can work on these alone once they get older, but we still work on them together. They have coloring, cutting and pasting activities and activities that re-enforce the daily helpers, sight words, homophones, etc.
Here is where our lessons end and we take a break before moving on to other subjects. At the end of the afternoon we try to go back and tour the Phonetic Farm (sometimes we wait for Daddy to come home to share it with him if he’s not working late or out of town!), play the card game again (we don’t usually do this as review, though, because it stresses Levi out when he can’t remember and I want review to be “fun”), and do an “informal” spelling test of the letters and/or words we’ve learned so far. Right now this includes me saying the letter sound and him writing it on our white board. He also likes to tell me the letter story with the letters he writes. Sometimes we include a review of other activities or games we played or other things we learned or talked about, but keeping the review “short and snappy”.
We are progressing through the program amazingly well so far. I’m not rushing Levi, and have found much of what we are doing a pleasant review. But I am also seeing things “click” that really didn’t before. I’m seeing his focus and attention much better, and when he is not able to focus, it’s really easy to take a break right where we are and pick it back up once he has a chance to let off some energy. I love how the program has so many little steps, many different parts that fit all together so that it may be done in small bites at a time, adjusted accordingly.
As we get further in to the program, I am enjoying listening through more of the MP3’s, reading back through the wonderful introductions in the manuals which give TONS of information on teaching reading, writing, and teaching in general. I’ve enjoyed learning more about where this program came from, and the blended sight-sound program. I had heard this spoken about when we started our other IEW writing program for the older kids and it sounded really interesting then. I love how there is so much information included to keep encouraging and helping and holding your hand all the way to success. I’m looking forward to seeing Levi’s confidence in his reading skills as we continue to progress through this program. It’s really just the best thing I could ever imagine teaching reading and writing with!
Highly recommended for all learning types, all learning methods, and anyone who wants to give their child a solid foundation in reading and writing!
For more Crew adventures with Primary Arts of Language, visit our Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog!
Enjoy the Journey!
~Disclaimer~ I received these products as a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew for review purposes. No other compensation was received and opinions are my own.