It is essential to me that my children have a commanding knowledge of the English language so that they can become strong readers and communicators. We haven’t done much formal study of language arts up this point, so when we were offered that chance to review Essentials 2nd Edition (Volume 1) and the accompanying Essentials Reader
from Logic of English
, I decided it was time to see what my boys knew and fill in some gaps in the foundation I’ve been trying to build for them in these early years.
About Essentials 2nd Edition
Essentials is a comprehensive language arts curriculum for elementary students, designed to teach spelling, grammar, vocabulary, and reading (with additional materials). Logic of English has recently released the first volume of the 2nd edition, and from what I can understand, the changes have made a great program even better. (The first edition was all in one volume, but because of the additions to the second edition, it has now been split into two volumes for the two semesters of the school year. Volume 2, with Lessons 16-30, is due to be released January 2017.)
In the second edition, three levels of work are presented, so it’s easy to use with multiple children and/or with the same child multiple times as he or she progresses. This makes it an ideal homeschool spelling curriculum (and more!) for homeschool families like ours looking to get the most out of each purchase.
What’s Included in the Semester 1 Complete Set
- Essentials Vol 1 Teacher’s Guide (632-page hardcover)
- Essentials Vol 1 Student Workbook (316-page consumable softcover)
- Spelling Journal (71-page consumable softcover)
- Morpheme Cards, Set 1
- Basic Phongram Flash Cards
- Spelling Rule Flash Cards
- Grammar Flash Cards
- Advanced Phonogram Flash Cards
- Phonogram Game Cards (Bookface)
- Phonogram Game Cards (Manuscript or Cursive)
- Phonogram Game Tiles
- Spelling Analysis Card
- Phonogram and Spelling Rule Quick Reference
The program begins with a placement test determining the proper level for each student (available on the website as well as in the book). It covers phonemic awareness, reading basic phonograms, handwriting, writing phonograms, reading, and spelling.
There are ten “pre-lessons” with various activities to complete depending on how students performed on the placement test. There are handwriting assignments (using The Rhythm of Handwriting, a separate product from Logic of English), phonemic awareness activities, and phonogram instruction, all of which help get the student and teacher familiar with the approach that will be used in the main lessons. The order in which the phonograms are presented is different depending on whether or not you’re using cursive or manuscript, but the same ones are covered whichever way you choose. There is also a game every day for practicing the phonograms learned up to that point.
In Volume 1 there are fifteen lessons, which are intended to be used over half of the school year. Each lesson is divided into five days’ worth of activities.
Day 1: “Essential Concepts” introduces new phonograms, spends time exploring sounds, and introduces spelling rules.
Day 2: “Building Words” reviews phonograms and spelling rules learned so far, then spends time on the spelling journal, and finally spelling analysis (with separate lists for levels A,B, and C).
Day 3: “Words in Context” reviews phonograms and spelling rules, teaches grammar concepts (including review), and has a short dictation lesson (with separate phrases for levels A,B, and C).
Day 4: “Words in Action” reviews phonograms, spelling rules, and grammar; teaches vocabulary (for levels A, B, and C); and also contains short lessons on dictation and composition, as well as assignments in the optional Essentials Reader.
Day 5: “Check Your Understanding” contains opportunities to review and assess everything taught that week.
Optional Essentials Reader set (available for additional purchase)
For older students (age 8+) still struggling with reading, there is a supplemental Essentials Reader that is designed to correlate specifically with the phonograms being taught in each lesson, as well as a Teacher’s Guide (which has suggestions for pre-reading, comprehension, vocabulary, analysis, note-taking, composition and other extension activities) and a student activity workbook. All three of these items are currently available as PDF downloads. (The Essentials Reader comes in two formats: a black and white version designed for printing in booklet form and a full color version for using digitally.) Print versions should be available sometime this spring.
The selections in the Essentials Reader are specifically aimed at older students who need more than the typical early reader “fluff.” The subject matter varies, from tongue-twisting riddles, to classic folk tales from around the world, to interesting non-fiction pieces. For each lesson, the reader contains a list of the words being taught (using phonograms being taught or reviewed in the corresponding Essentials lesson that week), and a short selection that puts the words in context.
When our Essentials materials arrived, my first thought was, “What on earth have I gotten myself into???” This thick, hardbound teacher edition reminded me of the heavy tomes I hauled around in college. And so many sets of cards! It’s a bit overwhelming to take in. Just organizing all the materials was a daunting feat. I tried to look over the Teacher’s Guide to get a handle on the program, but I didn’t feel any less overwhelmed. Finally I decided to just take the plunge. Thankfully, that seems to be the best way to figure it all out. (I later found the Logic of English YouTube channel, which would have been helpful in getting started as well.)
Although Essentials is for children 7 and up, I decided to have Elijah (6) my gifted 6-year old) join Ian (8) for most of it to make things more fun. After going through the Placement Test, we dived into the “Pre-lessons,” which were mostly about handwriting and learning the phonograms. I had originally thought we would use “manuscript” (printing) for handwriting, but the boys both wanted to learn cursive so I decided this would be a way to make the program more fun and made the switch. At first I just taught them myself, but I ended up deciding to purchase a digital copy of “The Rhythm of Handwriting,” which I found to be very helpful. I really liked the order in which they taught the letters, and the boys liked that they were able to start writing words even before they’d learned all the letters. (And I love having a digital copy that I can use with multiple students!)
We all loved the games for phonogram practice in the pre-lessons. They really helped the boys became familiar with the phonograms, and it just felt like game time rather than lessons.
After two weeks going through all the pre-lessons I was feeling much more confident about how the program was going to work (and much less intimidated by all the sets of cards!), so we began Lesson 1. Originally I thought I’d just have Elijah sit in as we talked through the lessons and not do the workbook pages, but after going through all the pre-lessons together, I didn’t see anything about lesson 1 that seemed too hard for him, so I went online quickly and purchased a digital copy of the student book. With the family license, I’ll be able to use it over again if we go through the program either at the higher levels or when my younger children are ready. He surprised me with how ready he was to completely participate.
Our biggest issue is that my boys have both been really unbalanced when it comes to reading and spelling. I have hesitated to use a formal curriculum up to this point, hoping that as they spent more time with reading and copywork they would become better spellers, but I just wasn’t seeing the improvement I would have liked.
Elijah is only in Kindergarten and so he has never had any formal spelling instruction, but he is an excellent reader and had no problem with the selections in the Essentials reader. For him, just pointing out the rules and patterns seems to be enough, and in the weeks we’ve worked with Essentials (we got through Lesson 3 after the pre-lessons), he has made noticeable improvements and is able to figure out how to spell the majority of words he is able to read.
For Ian, however, things haven’t come quite so easily. He is also an excellent reader, but for him, that has not transferred over into his spelling. The Spelling Analysis portion of Essentials was EXACTLY what he needed. The rules really help him, and the constant repetition of those rules and the chance to put them into practice every day led to consistent progress. The Spelling Journal was also really helpful, where he got to record lists of words that followed certain rules/used certain phonograms. (I kept this as an activity just for Ian, so he liked having something special once I’d excused Elijah from our lessons.) The daily practice and consistent, focused repetition broke through for him in a much needed way. I think he was almost as relieved as I was to see the improvement he made over the month or so that we’ve been using the program.
Such a formal curriculum is not really our style, so I don’t know that I’ll continue at the same pace we’ve been taking the program for this review, but I definitely want to keep using at least the spelling portion. Nothing else has helped Ian grasp spelling the way Essentials has in the short time we’ve been working with it. I love the way it breaks down the spelling rules and walks the student through why words are spelled in certain ways.
Essentials is definitely a comprehensive, structured curriculum. It’s intense, but that seems to be exactly what we needed to break through. Since spelling doesn’t come as naturally for Ian as it does for Elijah, I think it will be helpful to keep working through the entire program and then repeat it again using the higher levels. The only thing I would have changed is the consumable student workbook, which was a little confusing since it had all three levels mixed in together for each lesson. I prefer the digital copy I bought for Elijah, where I can just print off the pages for his particular level without wasting all the paper on the others.
I love that Essentials really contains everything I need to teach my children all about the crazy logic of the English language. The multi-level approach makes this a worthwhile investment for homeschool families because they can use it again and again, not only with multiple children but even with the same child going a little deeper each time around. In a family our size, that makes this curriculum a definite keeper.