My middle child is working through Christian Light Education's Learning to Read program. We started it last year around when she turned 5, but only did a few lessons. This past summer we jumped back in wholeheartedly, and are more than halfway done now. I've mentioned a few things about it here and there before, but I thought I'd write a more complete review of the program.
Learning to Read (LTR) is designed for 1st graders, but starts at the beginning of learning to read, with letter recognition. Christian Light Education curriculum is published by Mennonites, and their children do not start formal school until 1st grade, typically. This turned out to be a perfect fit for my middle child, actually, since she has a November birthday. In public school, she would be starting kindergarten this year, even though she turns 6 next week. She is a quick learner, however, and has always been a bit ahead of her age in terms of academic ability, so I have put her in mostly 1st grade material this year. LTR then made sure she understood the basics and then is moving along fairly quickly to get her up to a 1st grade reading level.
LTR is composed of 10 workbooks, or LightUnits, for the student, with 2 spiral-bound teacher's manuals. Each LightUnit has a test at the end. Then there are letter/sound flash cards, word flash cards, phrase flash cards, and 4 small paperback readers. There are also extra practice sheets, which we did not get, and some phonics cards like small versions of posters you might see posted around a teacher's classroom. Those phonics cards seem to be more used in the Language Arts curriculum, which starts around the 6th LightUnit (a little more than halfway through learning to read), but they are very nicely done, and my daughter likes to look at them.
Learning to Read covers phonics, reading (obviously), spelling, and handwriting. Then a little more than halfway through, you are told to start with the first Language Arts LightUnit (of which there are 10). These are shorter lessons, and cover punctuation, reinforce phonics, and do a little grammar. I believe there are some creative writing activities as well, but we haven't gotten there yet. These LightUnits have a couple quizzes and a test each. After finishing the last LTR LightUnit (but before finishing the Language Arts ones), you then start the first of 5 LightUnits in their Reading 1 program, to complete the 1st grade Language Arts curriculum. So there are 10 LTR LightUnits and then 5 Reading LightUnits, while the Language Arts LightUnits overlap with both. The material is not multi-color, but they do use one color (red for LTR, blue for Language Arts) instead of just black and white, so it is a bit more colorful to use.
My daughter enjoys the whole program, though we are skipping some of the oral portions in the teacher's guide. Some of those parts are geared more for a classroom, with everyone taking turns, so it's a bit much to make one student do all of them. But it's nice to have examples of oral review to do, in case you need it. I do more review when she is struggling with a concept, which is really not very often. We have just finished all the letter/sound flash cards, and are halfway through LightUnit 107 (the 7th workbook). So we have covered all the consonants, 5 short vowels, 5 long vowels, and 4 consonant dipthongs: sh, th, wh, and ch. The rest of the workbooks go into vowel sets, such as "ee," "ai," "ay," etc. The last LightUnit does a few 3-letter sets, like "thr."
The Teacher Guides are very helpful, with portions scripted, though you don't have to follow them exactly. I like the way they have given little stories to explain things and help the children remember, such as how the silent e at the end of a word helps the earlier vowel remember to say the long sound. There is a longer story for each new letter or dipthong, which I read while my daughter colors the picture in her LightUnit which is a black and white copy of the picture on the flash card. There is a little saying embedded in each story which becomes the rhyme they use to remember the letter. My daughter loves these, and even my 4-year-old son has memorized some of them. The flow of the program is very nice, with everything falling into place in a good order - it makes sense, in other words. The pace is just right for us too, with just the right amount of review and practice (which you can adjust, depending on how much of the oral work you do). It is very thorough, and my daughter is learning to read very well.
Since Christian Light Education is a Mennonite company, they do have more "old-fashioned" references than some more modern curriculum - stories about farming, grinding grain, taking care of farm animals, etc. There have not been as many obscure images for me as there were in some other curriculum I've tried, such as Climbing to Good English and the Pathway workbooks. Any images of women also have a head covering shown, but I have to say that my daughter has never asked about that (and we do not know any Mennonites personally). Some of the more defined gender roles might bother some people, but while women are always shown working at home while the men go out to work, that separation of roles is never pushed or made obvious really in any of the stories. That is how our family works anyway (at least now), so it is not a big deal to us. Christian beliefs, God, prayer, and worship all play a big part in the stories and exercises, so that definitely may make LTR better suited to Christian homeschoolers. There was one story in the Teacher's Guide that spoke against the idea of the earth being millions of years old, but I have not found nearly as much anti-old earth talk as in other Christian curriculum (which is a big deal for me, you may know if you've read my other posts....). Overall, despite not being Mennonite (though definitely a Christian), I have enjoyed all the material.
I'm not sure yet if we will continue with CLE for 2nd grade for my daughter, mostly because I'm not sure if I want to continue with a Language Arts program that has grammar, handwriting, and spelling all in one. It's nice to have it all together, but if a child is at different levels in those areas, you might not want them all in one book. I'm not sure if I will use LTR with my younger son yet either. My main concern is that he does not like writing in workbooks nearly as well as my daughter, and does not have nearly as long an attention span. However, LTR lessons can be split into multiple smaller ones (which they recommend actually, and mark in the Teacher Guide when to break). Maybe I will modify the program for him, or maybe I will do something else. But for my middle daughter, it is turning out to be just right.