Guest Author - Lorel Shea
A bit of disclosure here, before I begin. All four of my children learned to read at home at a very young age without any formal teaching. Each simply learned to read the same way that they learned to speak- it was an organic process. I have to say that for years I have secretly believed Hooked on Phonics (HOP) to be an expensive waste of money. When I received a review copy of the HOP set for K-grade 2, I thought it might be a good product to discuss here at the gifted education site. Each grade level of this Hooked on Phonics set comes in an individual package which contains flashcards, workbooks, and both audio and computer discs, as well as a series of numbered books. There are 14 books in the kindergarten level, and about half that many for the grade one and grade two programs. The program is designed to start with teaching the letters of the alphabet and their sounds.
My gifted three year old asked to try Hooked on Phonics when she saw the big box with the colorful packaging. She's already reading above a grade two level, but I figured it couldn't hurt to try the lessons with her to see how she liked them. To my surprise, she has been delighted to sit and listen to the audio CDs, which I play on a portable discman. She uses one ear plug, while I use the other, just so I know what's being said. She is well able to follow along and push the pause button when instructed to do so, and will read pages aloud as requested by the gentle female voice on the CD. She actually has been asking to do HOP, and putting a sticker on the chart each time she completes a lesson is a big thrill for her! The simple computer games are a nice diversion, though they tend to be a little long, and one cannot skip past the easy stuff to get to the more interesting games. The games must be played in order, though if a child needs extra practice, a game already completed may be played again. Most require click and drag skills.
The HOP system recommends 5-7 minutes of learning, followed by 5-7 minutes of practice, and then 5-7 minutes of reading. I found that my daughter is eager to do the program for about half an hour, which is longer than *I* really want, but I do my best to keep up, as she really enjoys it. There are about 30 books included in the whole K-2 program, with the most basic having four word sentences such as, "Cat can tap Rat." The most advanced grade two book is 32 pages long and the most challenging page has about 40 words, including words such as "balloons", and "bounce".
So to wrap up, I am actually giving Hooked on Phonics my seal of approval. It really is a solid program and may be just the thing for getting an interested child over the hump and into being a fluent reader. It's a relatively small investment for all of the materials included. It's best for a child who is showing signs of reading readiness, and for use with a parent or caregiver who will use it consistently enough to keep the child motivated about making progress. Gifted children may find the lessons repetitive at points, but the system encourages the teacher to skip ahead in the workbooks and audio discs when the child has already mastered a concept.