Curriculum Choices: 5 Phonics/Early Reading Options

(Disclosure: This post contains five popular reading resources. I haven’t used them myself, unless I share otherwise. This is not a paid review, and Simple Homeschool has not accepted any funds in exchange for this post.)

I don’t know about you, but the idea of teaching my children to read struck me as both thrilling and terrifying.

A process that sounded exciting and natural seemed more complicated as I walked the aisles of a homeschooling convention or browsed resources online.

There are so many choices, but how do you know what you really need to help your child?

I can’t pretend to have figured out all the answers, but here are five popular options that will hopefully make the selection process easier for those of you starting down the phonics and literacy road soon.

1. Sing, Spell, Read, and Write

Sing, Spell, Read and Write is a full-blown reading curriculum–complete with music, workbooks, and games.

Because it employs a variety of multisensory techniques, it has been known as a good choice for kinesthetic learners. This curriculum aims to make learning to read fun.

The current cost of Sing, Spell, Read and Write (Level 1) is $180.

2. Phonics Pathways: Clear Steps to Easy Reading and Perfect Spelling

This one book contains all the material needed to get your child reading. It even includes practice reading sections, so in theory there’s no need for early readers.

Each section contains ideas to help your child grasp that particular lesson in a variety of ways. The parent/teacher can select the activities he or she wants to include.

A short teaching overview is included for each lesson, designed to help you understand the best way to present the material to your child.

Phonics Pathways is available for $20.

3. Explode the Code

This is a series of 14 workbooks taking a child through the entire decoding and early reading process. Many parents use some, but not all, of the series.

Each workbook is simply designed–with large print and black and white illustrations. Many parents who use Explode the Code also use games to reinforce the workbooks’ concepts.

The company has also unveiled Explode the Code Online, allowing your child (for a $55 fee) to complete interactive activities online.

Each workbook in the series costs about $8.

Photo by Raymond Brown

4. Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons

Many home educators swear by this book, while others find the format a bit dry.

Designed in a practical, easy-to-follow manner, each lesson should take approximately 20 minutes. The lessons cover the basics to get your child reading.

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons currently sells for $15.

5. Games for Reading: Playful Ways to Help Your Child Read

I’ve heard many parents rave about this book. It contains over 70 ideas for easy-to-prepare games that help teach and reinforce phonics and reading concepts.

You can buy Games for Reading for about $11.

These five selections represent only a small fraction of the literacy resources available to homeschoolers. Through a little exploring, and sometimes trial and error, you can find the option that works best for your up and coming reader.

Please share your experiences with us–let us know if you’ve used any of these, OR another choice that you either loved or hated. Personal recommendations really help those just starting out.

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About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She is the co-founder and editor of Simple Homeschool, where she writes about mindful parenting, intentional education, and the joy found in a pile of books. Jamie is also the author of a handful of titles, including her newest release, Give Your Child the World.


  1. I used Abeka phonics because that is what I had used as a preschool teacher. I like the way they progress from vowels and consonants to blend sounds, and then words. I’m not really a traditional curriculum type of mom but I loved their phonics 🙂
    .-= Angela @ Homegrown Mom’s last blog: Giveaway Week: Blogger’s Prize Pack =-.

  2. I use Phonics Pathways to teach my Kindergarten twins and really like it. It’s very simple and methodical. It also includes some great ideas for games.
    I tend to want to cover more material on a page, but the girls get a little antsy. So I’ve been keeping the lessons short, about 10 minutes.
    After we read, we use the new phonics concept we’ve learned for dictation. I usually dictate 3 or 4 words from the lesson and they write them down. Today I dictated the words “lake” “cake” “date.”

  3. For a free online reading resource you can’t beat Starfall… my kids have spent hours learning to read there and never get tired of it because it is progressive – as soon as they can read a level there is a new level to explore:
    I wrote a post a while back on Se7en reading resources that we have used:
    Hope you have a fun weekend.
    .-= se7en’s last blog: Se7en’s Official Languages… =-.

  4. We use the Explode the Code series, and I love it! My 5yo was teetering on the edge of being able to read for MONTHS, but she is always hesitant to try anything that she’s not guaranteed to succeed in and the other methods we tried left her frustrated. She literally started blending on the 3 day we used the Explode the Code book.

    My 4yo uses the Get Ready…, Get Set… books from the same series, and she’s blowing through them. I think she’ll be reading very soon because of the logical way these books build the previous lessons.

    We do add BOB books for practice as well.

  5. My 4 yo learned to read by us reading to her and with her. We would sound out easy words and eventually she just began reading. I tried the BOB books with her, but she did not like them. She is now 5 and reads anything and everything .
    .-= Jill Foley’s last blog: #178 – Beautiful, Scandalous Night =-.

  6. checked out Games for Reading from the library a few weeks ago and it’s great! lots of inexpensive, fun, EASY TO IMPLEMENT ideas for creating a word-rich environment.
    .-= Aimee’s last blog: Drive Slow? =-.

  7. My oldest started w/ Teach Your Child to Read in 100 easy Lessons but 3/4 way throught the book it got too tough for him (long paragraphs.)
    It got him going but then I swithched to Phonic Pathways which has helped along w/ working on the Bob Books (beginning readers.) I guess I kind of mix and match things…
    Now my 6 year old is reading chapter books (loves the Pathway readers!) and my 5 year old is getting close the the 3/4 mark of ‘100 Lessons’ and not enjoying it as much- Im thinking of doing a switch over for her too now.

  8. We have the 100 Easy Lessons and have used it off and on, but the main way I teach my children to read is by reading to them, and in front of them, and having books everywhere. If you haven’t read The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease, you MUST read it.
    .-= Emily @ Homespun Light’s last blog: How to Make a Puppet Theatre =-.

  9. Mother of Pearl says:

    We used the 100 Easy Lessons for our two readers. It was wonderful! I highly recommend it. My eldest was on his way to teaching himself to read and this just smoothed the way. My second needed a bit more help, but this book so simply and smoothly takes them the whole way to reading. I will say that the 20 minutes they say the lessons take is correct for the beginning lessons, but toward the end of the book, the lessons take longer, as the reading selections get longer.

  10. I’m starting the ETC with my 4 year old and he likes it so far. Also I have the Bob Books and the Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading. I didn’t like 100 Easy Lessons.
    .-= LaToya’s last blog: I’m a Diva! =-.

  11. I used 100 Easy Lessons with my DD when she was almost 4. At first it was easy and exciting, for both of us, but then the work became just that – work. It was doable, but not fun. I became exposed to the Waldorf approach to education at about that time. I stopped teaching her to read. I encourage parents who are pursuing early reading (and most Americans do) to look at the research on the subject. Not only does early reading NOT get a child “a step ahead” of peers, it also can lead to bad reading habits and a slow-growing, but real discomfort with education in general. I found “Einstein Never Used Flashcards” a very interesting and eye-opening examination of early academics in general.
    .-= Rachel’s last blog: I Heart Linen Too! =-.

  12. Because of all the reading in our house – we don’t have a TV, yea! – My two-year-old (now 3.5yo) pushed hard for me to teach her how to read: “What that word, Mama?” was her constant refrain. I waited as long as I could because I don’t think early academics is helpful (childhood is for playing!) but really she was so eager I decided to buy something and see what happened.

    I recommend for anyone in that situation – and who doesn’t mind more England-English pronunciations – the Jolly Phonics board books (“Finger Phonics” since they use Montessori-style finger tracing on the cut-out letters). They are incredible for introducing the sounds in a way that is easy for the parent and so fun for the child. Comes with a not-annoying CD – the system presents an action and a short song for each sound. The fun illustrations reinforce the sounds as well and my kids pull the books out time and again.

    After going through the Finger Phonics books at her pace for a few months, she sat down with an alphabet that was in the back of one of the books. Even though she had never been exposed to the alphabet song or been taught the alphabet at all, my daughter went through and identified most of the letters phonetically in ABC order. I sang the ABC song with the letter names and she had it memorized in 10 minutes. At another time she sounded out her first word, ‘fluffy,’ on the page with the ‘f’ sound and then she laughed!

    Another resource I’ve just come across is Progressive Phonics. It’s completely free and all the resources are downloadable .pdf’s. The stories make me laugh, and reading is a collaborative effort, with the child reading the large red words that she can sound out and the parent reading all the smaller gray words. My 3.5yo daughter LOVES it and reads right along with me.

  13. I’m using The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading and my daughter is doing well so far. I really like it. It was between that and 100 Easy Lessons, and Ordinary Parent’s seemed much more my style.

  14. I tried the 100 easy lessons with my daughter too. But we just got board with it. Then I found Progressive Phonics which is a free online phonics program. We love it and she is progressing nicely. My son is another story. He only likes me to read stories to him. I have been wondering about maybe trying Explode the Code with him. For now we love using Games for reading.
    .-= Rana’s last blog: Growing up! =-.

  15. Has anyone tried the Souns program (or something similar maybe) with younger kids? I was looking into it for a while, and have put the money instead into having a lot of letter exposure (abc puzzles, books, large abc cut-outs, magnets, etc) than a single set of letters (their “souns”), but still do phonics when we have these items out. My daughter, 18 months, points out letters everywhere and knows a couple sounds. We’re casual about it, but she really gets the connection between letters and language so she often requests that we play with letters and “read” in the stores (find the sounds on signs). She’s definately too young for structured academics, but since it quickly became one of her favorite games, I’m wondering what experience other’s may have had with these programs and ideas geared for the younger crowd. Thanks 🙂

  16. We have used Alpha Omega Press, Horizons cirrucilum for three of our children. My boys were both 6 before they showed any intrest in anything “school” related, and my daughter 5. before that it was all learning play around here. They loved the woorkbook format using phonics and leard how to read above and beyond their level very quickly. No my youngets is 4 and wants to learn how to read because everyone else around here can. I think she is to young to do the workbooks so I need to come up with another approach. Thanks for the review, I will have to look into some of the cheaper options. I don’t want to spend a lot of money yet.

  17. Interesting to see what is out there. I have a question though… I feel a little lost on this. Is it bad in any way that my daughter taught herself to read and write (very young, she is 4 now and can read practically anything and writing well too, as well as comprhending what she is reading.) Its hard for me to know what step to take next with her. I actually didn’t formally teach her those things- just lots of exposure to books and reading aloud. I wasn’t aware she knew how to read at first, it just happened. It might sound great, but its got me more worried than if I’d seen it coming. I guess I am just worried that if we don’t put in the time into those books and such that she will somehow be worse off later. Maybe it just sort of took an “unschooling” approach without us meaning to. I’m not sure. Its really strange for me since I’ve never been through this process and was told that she couldn’t possibly be doing that yet. I don’t know where to go next since I don’t want to push her yet she’s beyond the curriculums for her age group. Any thoughts from someone experienced with this?

    • No, that’s not bad at all, Nola–it’s wonderful!

      I wouldn’t feel pressured at all to use a curriculum unless your daughter enjoys it. We don’t use anything formal in our home, so it’s not necessary.

      I would just provide lots of material for her to practice with and take it from there.
      .-= Simple Homeschool~Jamie’s last blog: Weekend Links =-.

    • My 4 year-old did the same thing! I have noticed, though, that while his sight word vocabulary is amazing (He read Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs tonight), his phonics skills leave something to be desired. He tends to guess at words he doesn’t know, instead of stopping to sound them out. So we’re taking a step back and working through some systematic phonics with the Alpha Phonics book. Even though he seems to be a resounding recommendation for unschooling, I’m still convinced that a thorough grasp of phonics will serve our kids in the future, so we’re going to keep plugging along at it. In the meantime, I’m filling the house with good literature (at all reading levels) and letting him read anything he wants. When we read together, I challenge him to sound out unfamiliar words instead of guessing, then make a big deal about it when he succeeds. I also don’t feel any pressure to do any activity that’s way below his skill level… even if his “grade level” recommends it.

  18. Thanks Jamie…I guess I don’t have a lot of confidence since she’s my oldest and I don’t have a lot of people to talk to about homeschooling. I love that you all started this blog. Such great info! Interesting that you don’t do anything formal at your house- we don’t really yet either but she’s still so young we aren’t really doing much…just lots of reading and stuff that she asks to do mostly. She does things on her own and asks to learn things, she loves to learn.

    We definately give her lots of practice- we read every day and often more than once. We keep forgetting and maxing out the number of books we can take out of the library. 🙂

  19. Thanks for sharing these resources. We’ve spent some time with the BOB books. Mostly, I just make up my own worksheets, and I created a Word Wheel. I look forward to checking out some of the resources you’ve shared to integrate into our reading time!
    .-= Ashley’s last blog: 60/60 Week One Recap =-.

  20. I’d like to add a few notes to the great posts on this site. Major research shows that although many of us just pick up reading automatically, about 3 out of 10 will not. If your child is one of those, you will need to find a systematic, sequential, and explicit phonics program for him/her. Orton-Gillingham principles of multi-sensory instruction will be important as well, addressing the different learning styles of visual, auditory, etc.

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  22. Thank you for sharing this one. It’s good to teach kids at an early age to read. As of now, we’re using starfall. My kid really enjoys it.

  23. I’ve used Phonics Pathways. It helped my daughter learn to use the sounds in words to read. She did a lot of guesses and ignoring letters at first. I’ve written something at Squidoo that has links to free online phonics programs and sites you may want to check out.
    Michelle Breum’s latest post: Young Children Benefit From Being Read to Early and Often

  24. Marnita Sonnenberg says:

    I love Jim Stone’s phonic approach ” animated literacy”. I have used it with my older two and am now doing it with my 4 yr old. He loves the characters ( ex. Polly Panda for P) and the songs. It is great for various learning styles.

  25. Jamie S says:

    My mom used Sing, Spell, Read an Write on me and I still remember a lot of the songs. My toddler loves when I sing them maybe they’ll just naturally rub off… I can dream right?

  26. I am contemplating a new reading/writing/spelling curriculum for my daughter. Our house recently burned down completely, we lost everything including all our schoolbooks. Just prior to this, we discovered that our daughter had a +9 correction in one eye with astigmatism, and a +8 in her other eye. (This explains the extreme difficulty she’s had with reading. ) We had completed about 2/3 of 100 Easy lessons; and had some of the AOP Lifepacs from my other kids…and we were finally making headway. Now, all of that is out the window. So, in starting from scratch, I am so thankful to have this list of good materials. My only concern with the Sing, Spell, Read, Write series is the Common Core inclusion in the books. Is there any way to get the series WITHOUT having the Common Core integrated in? Any help you can lend me would be most appreciated!

  27. Jessica says:

    We’ve used primarily games and manipulatives offered for free by and

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