Age: 8 & 9

Thumper was a late reader.  She learned to read Chinese around 7.5 and English around 8.5.  I like to console myself by thinking that’s only late if you think in terms of US schools. If a child goes to school at age 7, learning to read either language between 7-9 sounds about right.

By the end of last school year, we’d hit a road block with All About Spelling.  Knowing her open and close syllables and how to segment a word definitely lead her to start reading Early Readers.  But once she hit the longer words in higher level books, she couldn’t pronounce it.

She needed more work with her phonics.  She was doing fine learning the digraphs and diphthongs in spelling, because each chapter in AAS focused on one sound, but she couldn’t use it when she read.  We learned when c should be /s/ sound and when it should be /k/, but she never remembered when she read.

It was time to try something else.

Since we were traveling in the fall, I decided to buy Explode the Code, online version, through Homeschool Buyer’s Club.  It’s only $35 a year for the subscription.  Explode the Code is published by the same company that sells Primary Phonics.  At $35, it’s a great deal compared with having to buy the actual books.

Explode the Code is basically a learning to read program.  Here’s the scope and sequence according to its website:

  • Book 1 – Consonant review, short vowel sounds
  • Book 2 – Initial and final consonant blends
  • Book 3 – Long vowels, digraphs, trigraphs
  • Book 4 – Compound words, common endings, syllable types
  • Book 5 – Word families, blends, sound of -ed
  • Book 6 – r-controlled vowels, Diphthongs
  • Book 7 – Silent Consonants, Word patterns
  • Book 8 – Advanced suffixes and endings

Each book has 12 lessons and 3 assessments.  You start with an assessment.  If you pass the assessment, you continue on to the next one.  Only when you don’t pass do you go through the lessons.

For each lesson, there are usually 6-8 activities.  For each activity, there are 4 possible badges you can get.   If you get a butterfly or airplane, you can pass the activity and go on, otherwise it’ll somehow get you to repeat it.

There is a teacher’s console which gives you progress report as well as the skills the child is working on in each lesson.  Here’s an example:

My verdict? I would totally recommend this to my friends whose children have already learned phonics but need more advanced phonics work, up to third grade.

How We Used the Books

Astroboy already know all simple sounds to his alphabet so I tried ETC on him.  We ultimately dropped it for 2 reasons.

  1. He did not have the dexterity to use the Mac.  It is somewhat faster on the iPad but still, if you want to respond fast enough for be considered “passing the level”, you need good dexterity.  (And yes, the speed to which you respond to a question is calculated.)  For a few lessons I operated the computer and he would just answer.  But often I end up helping him, giving him some hints.
  2. He kept repeating his levels because he was not familiar enough with his phonics and couldn’t read fast enough.  I decided that you cannot use the program to learn phonics and to read, but to practice once you’ve learned all the sounds and need practice reading better/faster.

Thumper already was reading Level 2-3 early readers when we started.   She averaged about a book a month while we were traveling after zooming through Book 1 and 2 in the summer.   With book 6 and onward, we had to make sure we worked on it almost daily in order to maintain our schedule of 1 book a month.

I think the software worked very well for Thumper.   In the beginning, I would sometimes operate the computer for her because she would be too slow in her response.  We switched over to iPad version and it made a huge difference.  She was able to get airplane badges (expert) quite often.

Because she was zooming through the levels, I often just let her work by herself.  However, I eventually realized, after peeking in on her once, that she was not quite learning her lessons.  You can cheat the system because it always reads you the answers.  Plus the questions repeat!  For an auditory learner like Thumper, it means she can pass it fine the next time the questions roll around, but she didn’t actually learn to read.

I asked her to always read every question and every multiple choice out loud.   It took several big fights to really make her understand why we’re doing ETC, which is not to mark something off of her work plan, but rather to learn how to read; thus the need to read all multiple choices even if we already knew the answer, or to reread a word if she isn’t reading it fluently the first time.

The longer I homeschool, the more I find that’s what I spend most of my time teaching, how to learn.

I liked Explode the Code because:

  1. It allowed us to be consistent about learning to read while traveling.  I only asked for minimum 15 minutes a day or 6 badges.  The consistency in daily practice really helped.
  2. The computer knew, better than I would if I were to teach her, what lessons needed repeating and which lessons she could pass.
  3. The repetition.  We covered many of the concepts we learned in All About Spelling but as I mentioned, they often didn’t stick.  In a way, ETC slowed the lessons down with its 6 activities per lesson.  So she had to keep practicing her ca, ce, ci, co, cu, sounds, for example.
  4. She learned a bunch of new words.  I was astonished by some of the simple words she didn’t know.  It’s like we’re doing a review that fills in any of the gaps we missed before.
  5. It taught things we’re learning now in our grammar presentations, like prefix, suffice, homophones, etc.  There is again reinforcement and repeated practice of concepts that she may have only spent 1 day on as follow up to my presentation.

At the same time that she was doing ETC, we were also trying to do daily read aloud for 15 minutes.  Well, we tried daily.  But sometimes that didn’t work since we had too many other classes and activities while in Taiwan.  But I was consistent about asking.

For awhile, she did not want to do ETC.  It’s to be expected when you have to do the same work every day or it gets harder.  That was when I sat down with her and operated the computer for her.

She got into Harry Potter, listened to the audio then read the book 1-3.  Here is a prime example of how the way she learns to read is quite different because she’s an auditory learner.  By listening to the audiobook first, she basically was able to read the books without much problem.  Because she’s so good at guessing words from context and from hearing it first.  Once she did that, she was suddenly able to read books just slightly below Harry Potter level.

At that point, she was happier about using ETC again, because she can now decode words she was having a lot of trouble reading before.

After 3 years,  I’ve come to accept this is just the way she learns to read.  But the only way to help her is to ask her to read aloud.  I’ve tried other methods that have not worked, and have learned that she will always be a better silent reader.  However, for her to learn to decode new and longer words, there doesn’t seem to be any other way other than consistently asking her to read aloud in addition to listening to audiobooks.

Consistency is the key.

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