I recently learned about a Canadian language arts program called Smart Start in Language Arts by Books 4 Results. Offering books for grades 1 through 4 for both schools and homeschoolers, this program takes kids from learning their letters and sounds through reading novels and grammar skills. Based out of Alberta, the author of this program is JoAnn – a former school teacher turned homeschooler. She offered to send me the Grade 1 and 2 books to try out with my little ones. My little guy is only 4 so he would be in Junior Kindergarten in a school setting – meaning that most of this program is a little beyond him at this point. That being said, I looked through it when it arrived and decided to use the beginning review section that covered letter phonetics with both him and my never-to-be-left-out 2-year-old daughter.
Reading is an important life skill. But it can also be a challenge to teach the fundamentals to make sure that our kids fully understand that skill. Having a great program that helps to solidify those fundamentals is so helpful.
The Grade 1 & 2 books come together in a package. Included is a teacher guide for each a grade along with a huge binder with the resources needed – like worksheets and DVDs with puppet shows and games. I will be honest that it’s kind of overwhelming at first – just the sheer size of it. However, if you think about the fact that it’s basically worksheets for everyday lesson for 2 full grades, you can understand why. If you are using this program with multiple kids, you will need to reproduce these. I’ll be scanning them and printing them out on my printer, but you can also go get copies if you need to. This means that you can re-use the program with multiple kids which is a huge bonus for me as I intend to use it with 2 kids, making the price of this program much more valuable to me. Of course, you don’t have to do anything if you are only teaching one child – instead choosing to use the sheets straight out of the binder.
The teacher’s guide is easy to use. Each day is laid out with a simple guide. Along the left side is a box that tells you an overview of what you will be doing that day, including any materials that you will need. The main part of the page lists step by step exactly what to do. There are even stop sign graphics to let you know when you have reached the end of that day’s lessons. In my opinion, it is well worth the time to read through all the beginning section designed to introduce you as a teacher to the program, the philosophies and how the days piece together. I admit that at first go, I just opened and went. I found it a little confusing, but now that I’ve taken that time to really understand what I am doing – I’ve found it makes much more sense and feels so more practical.
The grade one Smart Start in Language Arts book begins with 15 days of letter and sound review which includes fun I Spy picture hunts, card games, and printing practice.
From here, you start a 6 part set of lessons: reading lesson, sight words, printing, story time, spelling, and sentence writing. These are spread out in a gentle way throughout a few days for each lesson set. I admit that it seems like there are going to be days that might be more work than others. Of course, as with every curriculum, you can adapt and spread out the lessons as needed for your child. However, even with multiple sections of a lesson on a single day, it doesn’t seem to be impossible to accomplish in a single go. I will have to give this more of a test when we get to the point where we can use this curriculum regularly and intentionally.
There is a very clear calendar of lesson plans covering an additional 111 days. There are reading lesson days and writing days and even scheduled library days to get the books for story time! As the family who loves to go to the library but always forgets to take books back… I love that there are intentional library times. This could force me to remember that we have to take books back and get more. Since my little ones love stocking up on books, this is a great addition to the program. I like, too, that there is a list of what books you should pick up while there (or pull out of your home library if you already have them.) This means that I can go online and place holds on specific books before we get to our library day and be all set for the week.
Many of the Smart Start in Language Arts reading lessons are presented through the use of short recorded puppet videos. They are kind of cheesy but totally perfect for little kids to make learning fun. For example… they first start with a story about two little twin boys and how they squeal “ee!” when they see a mouse. It introduces the student to the sound found in words like “see.” This lesson is followed by activities and worksheets that reinforce the sound they just learned and examples of words they can find it in. Then you read the book Green Eggs & Ham by Dr. Seuss , making sure to talk about the story.. asking questions and giving them chances to answer.
I find it very interesting that there are visual models in the book to help with mouth positioning for sounds. This is a neat feature that I haven’t really seen anywhere before. It’s so helpful to be able to correctly teach our kids pronunciation skills.
As language skills develop throughout the program, days start to include spelling activities and writing exercises as well plus more detailed reading and language lessons. Again, it is all easily laid out with instructions and steps for you as a teacher.
Grade Two has more in-depth learning and expands to 157 days of lessons (wrapping up with a chocolate chip cookie party!) It begins the introduction to grammar, focusing on punctuation and capitalization throughout the year. Looking online at their website, it looks like Grade 3 wraps up the phonics and starts students into more understanding of both fiction and non-fiction stories, as well as increasing the handwriting skills. By Grade 4, students are learning more about story mapping, novel studies, reports, and other reading/writing skills. You can see samples of these levels on the website.
The student workbook pages are pretty crowded, in truth. I find them a little overstimulating but know that they were designed to make sure that all the lesson is carefully included. if it is too much on the page for your learner, simply cover sections with another piece of paper to narrow the focus. I do wish some of the printing spaces were larger, especially for the early learners but, again, this is Just a personal preference. if the lines are too small I can get them to write in a primary notebook or lined paper on the side.
Honestly… I found teaching early reading challenging with my older kids and wish I had found something like Smart Start in Language Arts for them. I think this will be a great program to use with my littles over the coming years. I like how clearly everything is laid out making it simple to use. and even with just the beginning phonics activities, I have seen my eager little ones excited and engaged. Although we didn’t do any of the lessons past the beginning sounds activities, we did watch a couple of the puppet shows and my little guys thought they were fun. I appreciate that this curriculum is trying to carefully balance the idea of different learning styles with video, worksheets, and other activities.
You can find out more about this program at Smart Start in Language Arts.
Disclosure: Books4Results sent me a copy of their Grade 1 and 2 program so I could test it out and write an honest report of their program. This in no way affected my opinion of their books.