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Choosing a phonics curriculum can be tricky. Learning to read is the cornerstone of education, and, as a homeschool parent, you may be feeling the weight of that squarely on your shoulders. Luckily, you don’t have to do it alone. With the support of a solid learn-to-read curriculum, you can teach your child how to read.
Then the question becomes, “Which phonics curriculum is the best? Which one will work for my kids? Which one will work for me?” With what feels like a million options, it can be seriously challenging to decide. Especially if this is your first time teaching reading. That’s why I’ve put together this guide to choosing a phonics curriculum with a comparison of ten top programs.
As a former 1st & 2nd grade teacher and with three kids of my own, I’ve seen a LOT of curriculum. There are many great programs out there, but the small differences might make a big impact on your family.
In this post, I’ll take you through (1) what to look for when you’re choosing a phonics curriculum, (2) how your kid’s needs and family dynamic factor into your choices, and (3) a comparison of the top programs so you can see which program best suits your needs. Let’s get started!
For a more comprehensive list of phonics and language arts programs available, check our homeschool curriculum guide.
Choosing a Phonics Curriculum:
What to look for in a program
When you buy any homeschool curriculum, you want to know it’s going to work. You want to know that it’s worked for other families because that means it could work for you, too. While there will be differences (big and small) between programs, there are some components that you should be looking for before you even consider making a purchase.
One of the first items to consider is if the curriculum is a proven program. There is a wide variety of homeschool curriculum – everything from well known companies with household names like Hooked on Phonics to smaller texts often recommended by word-of-mouth. A few questions to ask yourself as you research your options:
Is the company well established?
Do they have a website that clearly explains what’s in the program, how it was developed, and who it is for?
Is the entire program complete and ready to purchase? (As opposed to level 1 available with levels 2-7 “coming soon”?)
Are user reviews positive?
Can you find reviews on other websites, YouTube, or homeschool forums?
Do the reviews seem honest?
I want to note, here, that there are many ways to teach reading. When you look into phonics curriculum, two heavily researched and proven techniques that come up often are Orton-Gillingham and Wilson Reading. I see these as a kind of “green flag.” If a curriculum is based on one of these programs, you will find structured instruction centered around learning phonemes and decoding words in a systematic way.
What sets homeschool curriculum apart from public school programs is the ability to choose a program that meets your child at their level. Kids learn to read at varying rates. Public school curriculum addresses this by providing three (or more) levels of differentiation for the teacher to use to meet kids’ needs in one, large curriculum. In contrast, homeschool curriculum is designed to be used with one child, so it’s incredibly important to be sure that the phonics program you choose is the right level for your child.
Choosing a program with a placement test is especially important with phonics – when a child is learning to read. A program that is too easy will feel boring and repetitive; one that is too hard will be frustrating. Either way, you will feel like you’re spinning your wheels trying to teach while not getting very far.
Frequently, you will find free placement tests online that include asking your child to identify letters, read a list of words, and/or read a passage that may be timed. I encourage you to first narrow down your curriculum choices, then give your child the placement test(s) for the one or more programs you’ve selected. Don’t just guess what they know! Correct placement is a make or break when it comes to phonics curriculum.
Support for You, the Parent-teacher
Finally, one of the most important parts of choosing a phonics curriculum is making sure that there is ample support for you, the parent-teacher. Instructional support is a crucial component to any curriculum but especially phonics. Different programs go about this in different ways, such as offering a scripted teacher’s manual, providing an online training or daily lesson overview that you will pre-read, or offering virtual instruction options that go with the program.
As a personal aside – it drives me right up the wall when I hear homeschoolers advising homeschoolers to just sit and read with their children. Maybe your neighbor’s cousin’s son learned to read just by looking at picture books and playing with letter magnets on the fridge. But that’s not the vast, vast majority of children. And my guess is, if you’ve gotten this far into reading about phonics curriculum, that’s not your kid.
Most kids need direct reading and phonics instruction, and a solid, proven reading program that supports you will be easier to teach. When you are able to consistently deliver great instruction for your child, they will be able to learn with less frustration, less trial and error, less guessing. A program with good teacher support will help you better support your child.
Factors to Consider when Choosing a Phonics Curriculum
A lot of reading programs check the boxes above: proven programs with placement testing and ample parent support. However, just because you found a program that works doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you. There are other factors to consider when selecting a phonics curriculum – or any homeschool curriculum! So before you click that buy button, consider the following and how the program will meet the needs of your child and your needs as well.
Initial Price & Budgeting for Multiple Children
If teaching one child to read to the tune of $600 doesn’t raise your shoulders to your ears, go ahead and skip over this one. You can afford the reading program of your choice. However, for many families the initial price of the curriculum plus the ongoing cost of replacement components for additional children is a major deciding factor.
I will tell you honestly, you do not need the most premium, highest price phonics curriculum to teach your child to read. However, there are benefits to investing in pricier programs. Phonics curriculum on the higher end tend to have more hands-on materials and real books vs. worksheets and reading passages. Some offer scripted lessons and interactive components that make it easier to teach and more engaging to learn.
Additionally, many programs with premium pricing are more of an investment. Take All About Reading, which I used with my daughter, for example: the first level and first child is the most expensive, but the hands-on components can be reused for each consecutive level, and the entire curriculum can be reused with only the minimal cost of a new student packet for my younger son.
My best budgeting advice is this: Take your time when selecting a program and investigate all options to make it more affordable (ordering the printable version, refilling workbooks vs. rebuying for the next kid, etc). The best budget choice you can make is to choose a program that works for you and for your children. There is nothing more expensive than curriculum that is bought and goes unused.
Time and Energy (Yours)
Piggybacking on the above budgeting advice: if you are considering an ultra-frugal phonics curriculum or piecing together your own with a few library books and a workbook, you will be spending more of your time and energy to teach it.
I remember teaching my oldest to read. The first pieces of homeschool curriculum I bought were Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons and Explode the Code, Book 1. We were on a shoestring our first year, and those two added up to a whopping $30. I should have just thrown the money into the trash because between teaching my son and working part-time with a one and two-year-old underfoot, I just didn’t have the time to make my own hands-on materials or to come up with ways to make the lessons more fun and engaging. I didn’t have the time or energy to make it work.
Now, these are both popular programs in the homeschool community, and I have no doubt that they work for many families. But for mine? Not so much. We ended up switching to Hooked on Phonics, a more mid-range curriculum that offered a lot more support and engaged my son without a lot of time and effort from me.
In your research, you will find that higher-end curriculum companies dedicate their time to saving yours. So if you, like me, have neither the time nor energy (or maybe not the inclination) to craft materials and make up games, opt for a program that offers “open-and-go” instruction. Look for packages that include hands-on materials. And/or opt for phonics curriculum that has an interactive component so that you don’t have to do every single minute of the teaching.
Choosing the Format of your Phonics Curriculum
The next difference that varies from one phonics curriculum to another is the format. Some programs will be mostly reading and worksheets while others will have you working with manipulatives and doing hands-on work daily. Still others are focused on interactive online games and quizzes. What format you choose depends on two things (1) how you want to teach and (2) how your child learns best. Yes, in this order.
When recommending curriculum, I always consider the teaching parent’s needs first. Your child might learn best with hands-on materials, but if you don’t have the time or energy to dedicate 30 mintues a day of reading instruction consistently, a hands-on program probably won’t work for you. You might have an easier time with a curriculum that has a 10 minute lesson, an independent worksheet, and a phonics-based video game to reinforce the skill.
Because here’s the thing: The most important component of phonics instruction is not how much you spend on a program or what program you pick. The most important component is consistent instruction over time. No matter what program you pick, it’s not going to work if you only work it on Mondays. Be sure to choose one that you can honestly say you will be able to deliver consistently.
Top Homeschool Curriculum for Phonics
Now that you know how to find a solid phonics curriculum and what type of program will fit your needs, let’s take a look at some options that might fit the bill. I always encourage parents to compare programs before making any final decisions, and this is far from a comprehensive list of curriculum available. However, I hope this will save you some leg work!
The following list includes a comparison of 10 popular phonics programs that are worth checking out. Additionally, you’ll find a more detailed description below.
|Phonics Curriculum||Description||Place-ment Test||Parent Support||Price Range||Format|
|ABC Mouse||Online games & activities that progressively covers phonics and other reading skills.||✓||interactive||$60/yr||online games|
|All About Reading||A multisensory, Orton-Gillingham based, learn-to-read program.||✓||scripted||$95-$170/level||hands-on|
|Bob Books||Progressive phonics books that build reading skills.||–||–||<$20/level||reading|
|Explode the Code||Phonics workbooks that progressively build reading skills with separate online program available.||–||–||<$30/level||workbook and/or online|
|Hooked on Phonics||A multifaceted learn-to-read program that includes reading, workbooks, and interactive components.||✓||interactive||$60-$110/level||workbook, videos, app|
|Logic of English||A comprehensive language arts program with an Orton-Gillingham based phonics approach.||✓||scripted||$85-$150/level||hands-on|
|PRIDE Reading||An Orton-Gillingham based program developed for dyslexia and processing disorders.||✓||scripted & parent education||$95-$150/level||hands-on|
|Reading Eggs||Online games & activities that progressively covers phonics and other reading skills.||✓||interactive||$70/yr||online games|
|Starfall||Online games & activities that progressively covers phonics and other skills.||–||interactive||$0-$30/yr||online games|
|Teach Your Child to |
Read in 100 Easy Lessons
|A scripted teacher’s guide to teaching reading||–||scripted||<20 total||mostly oral instruction|
ABCmouse is a subscription-based online program that your child will progress through at their own pace as they master reading skills. The gamification of reading skills is engaging to many students. This program is best used as a supplement to your homeschool language arts instruction, but does provide excellent practice in reading and phonics skills. The challenge will be to keep your kids on track and progressing through the program (mine just liked to feed the hamster all day!).
AAR provides placement testing, an excellent, open-and-go teacher’s guide, and multisensory, hands-on, Orton Gillingham based instruction that can be completed in about 20 mintues a day. As noted above, this program is an investment as the initial cost includes hands-on materials that will be used with each level. Additionally, replacement student packets are available for teaching younger children, making this program more affordable as you go on to teach younger children.
All About Reading is my #1 recommendation for families with multiple children that are looking for a stand-alone phonics curriculum. Read more about our experience on this post.
Bob Books are an affordable way to introduce your child to phonics concepts. You may even be able to find a set at your library. These books introduce sight words and decoding (sounding out words) one skill at a time and progress through a long series of books. These are a great reading supplement for your language arts program that will get your child reading independently and gaining confidence quickly. However, many children will need additional, direct instruction to fully master and apply phonics skills.
ETC is a popular phonics curriculum with homeschoolers that offers a series of workbooks designed to teach your child to begin decoding and spelling words. The progression and instruction in the workbooks are solid, but without a teacher’s manual, parents may have difficulty using ETC as the main source of phonics instruction. ETC also now offers an online program based on the same concepts in their workbooks. Explode the Code Online
Hooked on Phonics Curriculum
HoP is a popular phonics program both with homeschoolers and parents supporting their public schooled children at home. Lessons include sight words and phonics skills that build over time. HoP lessons include a short introduction and reading passage or decodable reader, worksheet, and interactive videos and/or online components. Your teaching time will be very short, 5-10 minutes, with your child completing the remainder of the practice independently. HoP is fantastic for busy parents and great for kids who have difficulty focusing for longer periods of time.
LoE is a comprehensive, placement test based language arts curriculum with Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction. It is a very hands-on curriculum that features a variety of games (rather than drills) for practice that takes about a half hour a day. Although this is one of the more expensive programs on the list, consider that it covers handwriting, writing, grammar, vocabulary, and comprehension along with phonics and fluency skills. The Foundations program is best for kids learning to read on pace with their peers, ages 4-7, and LoE also offers an Essentials program for ages 8+.
Logic of English is my #1 recommendation for parents looking for an all-in-one language arts and reading curriculum. Read more about our experience on this post.
PRIDE is a unique program in that they go above and beyond to provide support for parents. There is parent training, simple scripting, and optional tutoring available. PRIDE is another O-G phonics program that was developed specifically for students with dyslexia and/or other processing disorders. The multisensory instruction is thorough with ample review and practice for really nailing down those reading skills.
PRIDE is my top choice for parents who need additional support in teaching a child with a reading disability. Read more about our experience on this post.
Reading Eggs is a highly engaging series of (seemingly endless) online games with reading and phonics instruction built in. Your child will progress at their own pace from phonemic awareness and phonics skills through reading full books chosen from their online library. This is a great supplement for your language arts program that your kids will enjoy using as they practice their skills.
Reading Eggs is the best online program that we’ve tried for learning to read. If you have an advanced and/or highly motivated young reader, this program may be enough without additional phonics instruction. Read more about our experience on this post.
Starfall is a wonderful online program for kids preschool-2nd grade with a variety of educational lessons for free. However, to access all of the online lessons, you will need a subscription. Starfall offers several options for reading practice including phonics lessons that can be accessed through the “Learn-to-Read” button. We used Starfall just for fun, but with a little oversight you can help your child progress through the phonics lesson skill-by-skill. This is a super affordable program that also offers free printable resources to support your child.
Teach Your Child to Read is a very popular recommendation in homeschool circles. It is probably the most affordable, comprehensive phonics curriculum available. This teaching guide supports the parent with 100 simply scripted lessons that progressively teach phonics skills. However as I noted above, this program isn’t for everyone. This curriculum includes the manual only, and one manual covers all of your phonics lessons, start to finish. You will be creating or purchasing hands-on materials that you need, and possibly will need to think up ways to make it more fun and interactive if you find that your child is less than engaged. After trying it and abandoning it, I do believe this phonics curriculum is a strong one – if you’re willing to put in the extra prep time and energy needed to teach it.
Which Phonics Curriculum is Best for You?
I hope this guide and comparison has helped you narrow down your search. Teaching reading has been a passion of mine since before I had my own kids to teach! It is hands-down the most important skill we teach our children, and I believe that having the right materials on hand will help you support them in successfully learning to read with less frustration and less struggle.
More from The Homeschool Resource Room:
Kindergarten Curriculum: 2 SIMPLE Picks for a Great Year
First Grade Curriculum: Top Choices
2nd Grade Curriculum: Eclectic, Engaging, EASY!
Ashley helps parents who want to homeschool find the resources they need to successfully teach their children. Ashley is a former teacher, current homeschooler, published author, and designer behind Circle Time with Miss Fox printables as well as the creator of this website, The Homeschool Resource Room.