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.