Saturday, December 31, 2016

Ideal Reading Programs and Kumon (I Can Finally Verbalize Why Their Reading Program Is Bad!)

I read a book on classical education called The Well-Trained Mind that finally has enabled me to verbalize what it is that I don't like about the Kumon reading program!

Yes, the sentences are dumb and the philosophy is bad, but that has been the case in every program I have looked into. What I don't like about it is that it is a language arts program, not a reading program.

Reading and writing are different skills and were treated as such in classical education. Reading, Penmanship, Spelling, Grammar, and Rhetoric/Writing were all treated as different subjects. No wonder educated people had such beautiful penmanship – it was its own discipline, with its own goals. Imagine giving your brain only one instruction at a time: for now we shall focus on the sounds that letters make, and for now we shall focus on shaping letters beautifully, and now on how things are spelled, and now on sentence structure (which is pre-logic), and now on expressing our thoughts (rhetoric).

Back when public education consisted solely of the three "R's" (reading, rhetoric, and 'rithmatic), reading (sounds, penmanship, and spelling) took up three different periods of study and then rhetoric (grammar and writing) took up two more different periods of study! Did they spend three hours a day on what we now cram into one forty minute session (the young children anyway)?

I have read before about how much more intelligent people were in the mid 1800's than they are today. There are many possible explanations for this, but what if it's all about reading? It could be argued: Reading is communication, is thinking, is reasoning. It could be argued that being able to read well is the skill we have lost that has led to so much poor thinking.

In Bauer's book she gives an example schedule for a first grader. The homeschool day is about three hours long, half of which is dedicated to the five reading subjects.

Bauer's main argument for keeping the five skills of the language arts curriculum separate is that most normal children can read at a fourth grade level by kindergarten (given proper instruction), but no child can write at a fourth grade level until, well, third or fourth grade. Combing the two together forces kids to stay behind in reading! Which makes reading boring.

So, having spent pretty much all my free time this week researching the different reading programs this is what I have concluded: Hooked on Phonics is fine (the boxed program with flashcards and book, not the ap.) It's not perfect, but it is complete and orderly. It's actually better than 100 Easy Lessons in many ways (because it introduces all the different sound variations). Where I went wrong with it is something that I actually love about Kumon: mastery. We do not move on until we master this skill. Because Anders could read (by sounding out) all the words in his kindergarten and first grade programs, we moved on to second grade.

But Anders is still sounding out words instead of having memorized sound combinations. For example, when he sounds out milk, he says, m-i-l-k. He should actually sound it out m-i-lk, having memorized the sound combination lk,

I will do Phonics Pathways with my next kid, but for Anders, we will head back to Hooked on Phonics, tail end of the Kindergarten level. We went through the box today, and he is very excited about doing such easy reading again.

*Note, Kumon is also not phonics enough, way too much sight words in their program.


  1. We tried using "Hooked on Phonics" unsuccessfully in the late 90's. My daughter found it too boring. I felt that it was created for teaching adults how to read and was inappropriate for children. She did much better with "Sing Spell Read and Write" which made the whole process into a game that my daughter loved. She was reading on her own within a year. Caveat: This was 20 years ago. The products may have changed.

  2. It's funny how you find things isn't it. I'm a newbie to your blog and was introduced to you only a few weeks ago. We seem to be in a similar place through different paths. I am currently reading "How to Read a Book" by Mortimer J. Alder as a result of changing my path with my 1st grader (we were unschooling). Just finished "Weapons of Mass Instruction" and The Well Trained Mind is next on my list. I am also dealing with some reading difficulties and doing phonics. We are using the Starfall app which mynson enjoys. Tried hooked on phonics app but it was too much cartoon material. Looking into the Great Books Academy curriculum as a guide and just found your book list so my reading list just grew by quite a bit. Thank you!

    1. Well awesome, nice to connect with you! I would love to hear what ends up working out for you.


    2. Well Trained Mind has a lot of suggestions (programs wise) for different learning difficulties parents encounter.

    3. My son just blew through Explode the Code ... I really liked that series. I am pretty new to a lot of what I'm currently delving into so I have been using apps where I can. I've found a few I really like and he has made leaps and bounds since starting (5 weeks ago) on our new path.

    4. Awesome, thanks for letting me know!