Review: Eclectic Foundations Language Arts Level A
The day Eclectic Foundations Language Arts Level A by Eclectic Foundations arrived in the mail felt like Christmas! I was so excited to get to use and review this product that I had a hunch was a direct and clear blessing sent right from heaven for Brother.
A year or so ago Brother received a preliminary diagnosis of Non-Verbal Learning Disorder (he'll need to retested when he's about 7 for a true diagnosis) by a developmental pediatrician at the local children's hospital. I was encouraged by the developmental pediatrician with whom I was working to immerse him in as much early learning as possible.
Instead I did the opposite.
I've read and studied a great deal about child development and the effects of our cultural push for little ones to start academics earlier and earlier and earlier. I've prayed over my little ones and their special needs, and I felt guided to teach them how to play out-of-doors and let their minds and bodies heal in the beautiful world God made.
I had no plans to start teaching Brother to read for another year.
Then he began showing me little reading readiness signs . . . playing with rhymes . . . noting sound similarities in words . . . wanting to know what words said on a page . . . being able to retell a simple story . . .
Simultaneously I learned about Eclectic Foundations Language Arts curriculum.
I changed my plans to God's plans.
Brother will be my 9th child to learn to read. Why not use what we've successfully used in the past? Why bother with a new curriculum?
Because Eclectic Foundations Language Arts Level A is a heaven sent match for Brother's exact needs.
Here's what we received in the mail:
1. Teacher's Guide--with lesson plans for every day
2. Student Workbook--with activity pages
3. Appendixes booklet--about half a dozen laminated pages that are used several times each week for various learning activities
4. Package of McGuffey Flashcards printed on cardstock. The words are in outline print for the student (or in my case, probably the parent) to color according to a grammar key. Not much grammar is done at this level other than noting that different words have different colors because they do different things when we speak and write. The cards are re-usable at the next level when more grammar is introduced.
To use this curriculum I also needed a copy of McGuffey's Eclectic Primer. It is available free to print or it can be purchased online. There are buttons linking to both digital and print purchase options right on the Eclectic Foundations store page. In my case the publisher sent me a (not available for sale) printed and spiral bound copy for my convenience in reviewing the product.
I love it!
I'll be printing and spiral binding any future McGuffey's Readers we use in the future. Having the book printed out the size of a regular sheet of paper is wonderful for my small reader-to-be, and because it is spiral bound it lies flat for easy viewing and can be folded over for easy concentrating.
This physical ease of use is also true of the Teacher's Guide, Student Workbook, and the Appendixes booklet.
Brother is 5 years old. He is deliberate, careful, emotionally fragile, and cognitively uncertain. I'm not sure the doctor's preliminary diagnosis of NVLD is correct, but I'm not quite sure it is incorrect either. My first priority is for him to continue his spiritual, physical, and emotional healing and to spend as much time as possible using his body in ways that are appropriate for a small boy.
In my opinion, academic study should take up only a very small part of his day, and it should be totally joyful.
Eclectic Foundations Language Arts A fits the bill.
The lessons take anywhere from 10-30 minutes, depending on how crafty we're in the mood to be.
There's plenty of flexibility to suit our various daily needs.
Each lesson begins with singing/reciting the alphabet. Brother loves this. We open our printed page of McGuffey's Primer to the capital alphabet page, and Brother points to each letter as he sings. Then we repeat with the lower case alphabet page. Then, as directed by the lesson plans, we review the names and sounds of each letter he's learned so far. Here's a video of Brother working on lesson 14:
After that each day has 2-3 more activities designed to familiarize the student with the sound and shape of the letters of the alphabet. The activities are varied within the week's work in style and appeal to visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning styles.
Eclectic Foundations lets you preview both the first two weeks and last two weeks of lessons in the Teacher's Guide and the Student Workbook. It's easy to see the kinds of activities the student gets to do and how easy it is for the parent/teacher to prepare for and implement them.
The lessons are set up in groups of 4, and each lesson is 1 day's work, allowing for an easy 4 day week.
We do school 5 days a week, and I'm wanting to move very, very slowly with him, so we've easily spun the 4 lessons into 5 or 6 days so far simply by repeating activities that he likes.
His absolute favorite so far are the letter mazes.
Instead of having him trace the route with a pencil or crayon, he simply uses his finger on the page, which allows him to repeat the activity endless times.
Another option would be to print and laminate the page (or slip it into a sheet protector) and let the student work with a dry erase marker for repeatable drawing and erasing fun.
On the flip side, for a student who catches on quickly, it would be very, very easy to move through the lessons at an accelerated rate by simply doing more lesson activities each day. The program gets quite advanced in the end for early reading, so while I'm planning to spin this curriculum out for well over a year (should Brother need to), I can see there being plenty of challenging material for a student who learns easily.
The activity that does not work for us is the handwriting practice page. There's not room for Brother's name after the word "name", and the practice lines and letters are too small for him. This doesn't bother me a bit because I simply printed off some really big pre-K writing guides and I write his name with a highlighter pen that he traces over (recommended by this program). I do the same with the letter he's learning.
My absolute favorite part of Level A is how the student is taught to read. From the beginning, there is reading practice that looks like this:
The initial practice sessions only appear on the schedule one time each week, but Brother needs lots of repetition to understand, so we actually do the practice 4 times a week. He loves it, and though it took him 3 full weeks (12 practice sessions) to understand that he was reading and that the sounds made words, now he's got it, and he loves these sessions.
Here he is on day 4 of practicing the reading in lesson 18:
I really appreciate how there are no pictures or graphics or colors to distract from the simple job of learning to read. Brother is highly distractible, but the simplicity of the design of the pages in Eclectic Foundations Language Arts Level A (coupled with the spiral binding so I can fold the book over to see only the page we're working on) allows him to stay focused and succeed.
I also appreciate how the lessons are so simple and need so few supplies from around the house that if we need to, we can "do school" quickly and effectively. On the other hand, if we want to, we can add in crafts and activities and luxuriate in school time together.
The format is the same from week to week as the student learns the letters and sounds. The repetition is perfect for Brother. He revels in the familiarity of the routine.
A final, emotional note:
Brother was 3 years and 9 months old when he joined our family. His life before was incredibly traumatic, and there was additional trauma inflicted by leaving the family he knew to join and adjust to ours. We've done our best to comfort and help him heal.
One sweet blessing has come from Eclectic Foundations Language Arts Level A. Each lesson ends with a nursery rhyme because the author of this curriculum believes these little poems are being lost but are of value to our children. I quite like that there is a consistent ending tradition to let Brother know that our school time together is done.
One day the lesson ended with Patty-Cake, Patty-Cake, Baker's Man. I started to sing and do the little finger-play actions that I thought were universal to American childhoods, but Brother stared at me blankly.
I was confused--certainly he'd at least seen me play this game with our babies!
But even if he had seen me, he hadn't picked up on it.
Slowly I taught him the actions and sang the words.
Slowly Brother copied and learned.
When he got it, a light turned on in his eyes.
In spite of all of the other finger-plays we've done in the year and a half since Brother joined our family, I got the feeling that this particular finger-play helped us touch some previously untouched part of his babyhood to initiate a healing that he needed.
He smiled a heart-melting smile, "Can we do it again, Mommy?"
Now we end every lesson with two rhymes--the rhyme of the day and Patty-Cake.
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