Phonics Program Round Up for Reading Instruction


One of the greatest homeschooling joys—and greatest challenges—during my thirty-two years of homeschooling has definitely been teaching my kids to read. My undergraduate degree is in elementary education, and my master’s work is in reading specialist. So, um, yeah, I should have been a specialist.


But learning to read is hard work. And teaching a child to read is hard work. And well, it is really just hard sometimes. (Those amazing four year olds who just start reading road signs along the road, notwithstanding!)


(If your reader is struggling, you might want to watch my video on Solving Reading Difficulties)


I was blessed with a program that taught me more about phonetic instruction than six years of college did! And my kids were blessed to be taught using what was touted as “the Cadillac of reading programs—Play ‘n Talk. It helped my dyslexics become truly accomplished readers (even my three super late readers), and I am forever grateful for the visionary and genius lady who invented this program.


But today programs are a dime a dozen. Seriously, they are everywhere. So how can you know what to turn to in teaching your child to read?


I have some personal benchmarks that I talk about in this video:

1) It must be phonetic-based (not sight word based)

2) It must be word-family based (at family; ad family; ag family ) vs ladder letter based (ba, be, bi, bo)

3) It must have a lot of real reading built into it (preferably a reader with each sound that is introduced)

4) It must be incremental—one skill upon another

5) It must have the option of going slowly (with extra practice as needed) whenever necessary


So here are some thoughts about four programs that I recommend (or those whom I trust recommend):


Phonics Tutor

a. Two options:

(1) Phonics Tutor; good for all ages; lots of practice.

(2) Frequent Words Program by Phonics Tutor; especially good remediation for older students since it moves quickly.

b. No-nonsense program that works with all learning styles; has auditory, kinesthetic (students types in letters on the keyboard), and visual exercises

c. Is a cd-rom for the computer; appeals to struggling children because it isn’t “another phonics book”

d. No bells or whistles—as Timberdoodle says, “no dancing bears”—but a solid program with sequential learning, based on true phonetic components

e. May move at own pace or follow easy to understand lessons

f. Can literally load it on the computer and begin—the least teacher preparation I have ever seen in any curriculum

g. Multiple students may use it at the same time (i.e. multiple log ins allowed)

h. Non-consumable, so may be resold

i. Excellent spelling foundation; may also be used for spelling after reading instruction is completed

j. Does have child “spell” words he is learning, but only once words are mastered at the reading level

k. Timberdoodle describes this program: “With no dancing bears or racing bunnies, PhonicsTutor seems uniquely designed to meet the needs of the reluctant or non-reading older child. PhonicsTutor is a step-by-step computerized teaching tool with 128 lessons and seven activities within each lesson to instruct and reinforce the main topic. All 3,500 words are presented orally along with associated spelling rules. Phonetic analysis, reading, word spelling and diction activities make PhonicsTutor appealing to all learning modalities. No other program we examined has matched PhonicsTutor for thoroughness and ease of use. It is a perfect format for the older non-reader or special need child.”

l. Concerning Frequent Words (listed above with link), Timberdoodle says: “A young child who is already reading but needs additional phonics work may find Frequent Words, (see software), more appropriate.”

m. TRY BEFORE YOU BUY! Timberdoodle (at the link above) has “try before you buy” portions of this program available at their site; you can try it out with your child to see if it is what you are looking for

n. When Ray and I dream of how we want our ministry to grow and reach people, we have a crazy, unrealistic dream of being able to give this program to families with dyslexic students to give them the gift of reading—that’s how much I love this program.

o. Downfalls:

(1) Will want to purchase readers to practice sounds; however, this phonics program has more “built in” reading of words and sentences within it than most programs I have seen

(2) Students must type all of the letters/families in the blanks. Some might see this as a downfall; I think it is a blessing as many children who struggle with writing also struggle with the “penning” process of writing

(3) Must have computer to use it; there is a workbook available, but I didn’t find it that helpful compared to the cd’s, which are loaded with exercises.



Saxon Publishers

Saxon has three options to teach phonics to young children and struggling/older students. I will detail the three separately since they are uniquely designed for different purposes.

1. Saxon Phonics and Spelling

a. Complete phonics program graded for each grade kindergarten through third grade

b. Concepts are introduced incrementally

c. Easy to use lesson scripts

d. Has remediation strategies and activities emphasized throughout

e. Contains little readers that go with each lesson (no need to purchase separate readers); this would also save you from trying to figure out which reader out of your collection is appropriate for your child following each lesson

f. Includes a good blend of high frequency words and phonemic awareness

g. Good for spelling instruction too; strong foundation for spelling later too

h. Daily practice and review

i. Downfalls:

(1) Pricey for remediation—might be more “stuff” than a summer remediation really needs

(2) Contains handwriting practice within it, which many might consider a benefit, but my struggling readers were not ready to do a lot of writing too, so I would consider that a downside or just omit that portion

(3) Created for the classroom (like Saxon Math); thus, it has “more” than a tutor might need; contains some busy work because of this

(4) Looks overwhelming when you open the package AND you have to assemble all of those great little readers I just described above!

(5) Since it is a “graded” program, you will likely not get what you need in a remediation situation; you will either get all of the first grade skills (if you purchase grade one) or all of the second grade skills (if you purchase grade two), etc.


2. Phonics Intervention

a. Created specifically for remediation, targeting fourth grade and up, though a second or third grader would also benefit from it

b. Clear, well-paced lessons at more of a tutorial speed than a regular classroom speed

c. No training needed; just open and begin

d. Skills are introduced and repeated as needed

e. Comes with colorful, controlled-vocabulary reading material, so you do not need to purchase readers

f. Not too childish for older students

g. Downfalls: I’ve never used or seen this program first hand, but I have heard a lot of good about it. The downside I would think could be that it is not a Christian publisher, so the readers will likely be secular. However, I think the benefits (tutoring approach, easy to use, reading material provided, intensive phonics, etc.) would outweigh that for a short tutoring situation


3. Bold Intervention

a. Saxon says this program is THE program to put your older struggling students on the path to progress

b. Systematic, explicit phonics programs—a real plus for an older child’s remediation program as many times older children’s (and adults’) programs have a tendency to forget the phonics in favor of memorization techniques)

c. Definitely made for older kids—magazine style books, older topics in the reading materials, not childish looking, etc.

d. Claims to get results in just one semester—so seems very tutor-friendly, not focusing on superfluous skills but just getting down to the bare bones of making a reader our of a non reader

e. Easy to teach

f. “Readers” are magazine style with full color graphics and a variety of types of materials—if you have an older child who need phonics remediation, this would be a real plus because it would not have the student reading “Mat sat” at age eleven or twelve, which can be demoralizing

g. Downsides: Again, I have not seen this program, but it is rare to find a strong phonetically based program for older students—with high interest/low readability materials such as those contained within this. Again, the content is secular, and I imagine that all of the reading material would not be up to my liking, but the topics (extreme sports, wild animals, legends, etc.) are extremely interesting to older kids


In A Nutshell….

In a nutshell, I wouldn’t hesitate to use one of the last two programs listed here for remediation (or the Saxon Phonics and Spelling for my first or second grader as a homeschooler). I would probably go with the Intervention for struggling second through fourth graders and Bold Intervention for fifth graders and up who are still word calling at a primary level.


This Reading Mama—video here


This inexpensive phonics program is better than any of the expensive ones I’ve seen through the years (except Play ‘n Talk, which isn’t available any more AND is not as great on practice pages and activities as this one is). Seriously, don’t let the ten bucks make you think it’s not great…because it is! 🙂 She has word family books for all five vowels (for short vowels) for beginning readers…plus tons of other great products.



All About Reading

I have to stick this program in here even though I have never personally used it. It gets rave reviews and seems to meet my qualifications (plus is consistent with methodology for dyslexic user). Here’s a review I found for this program.




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