This program had a lot of positives to start with. First, it comes from a company that is known for its excellent programs in the finer points of writing. The books are spiral-bound, so they lay flat while the kids are working, and the lessons are designed to take only fifteen minutes a day! Now, we used these first-level books for each of our oldest four children - ages 14 down to 5. They are geared towards grades 3-5.
Our oldest did the teenage eye-roll when I said he needed to do the books too. I know he thought they were below his level, and in truth they were pretty simplified for his age, but I wanted to use them to make sure that his skills are set in place and that he is well prepared for the upcoming high school level work that will be required of him. He knocked the program out in just over a week.
The book is set out on a four-day-a-week schedule, which fit in well for the rest of our schooling needs and time frame. The activities were also too simple for 12-year-old Chef, who struggled with reading in his earlier years, but loves to write. Because he writes so much, he had many of the rules down, and I may consider buying him one of the later levels of the five available books. He worked through the exercises more quickly than recommended also and had the full course finished in about 3 weeks.
There is a placement test on the IEW site that I did not have the kids take before bringing the book out. Because each boy struggled with this area on the standardized test, I wanted them to all do the basics first.
Bruiser is 9 now and roughly on track for third grade. This program was a good pace and level for his needs, even though this is really the first year that he has been showing fluency in his reading and writing abilities. We really needed to get past spelling problems and phonemic awareness first. We are still working on those things now, but he is far enough along that this program fit his level.
At the back of the book are grammar cards that the students are supposed to keep on hand throughout the lessons to check for mistakes in the typed sentences. Maestro and Chef did their exercises without the need of these for the most part, but I did have Bruiser and Buttercup use them daily. As one example, there is the card for the "Who-Which Clause" on the back is an explanation of the concept, on the front is a reminder of the clause and what lesson the card corresponds to.
Buttercup is only 5, but works at a 2nd-grade level. I am having her work on the program at a bit slower level. She is doing well with Mom or Maestro sitting alongside for most of the exercises. In her case, some of the excitement of doing the program is the ability to do something that her older siblings are doing.
Each week, Bruiser would write out the first ten or so words to a sentence and correct as he went along. By the of the week, he would have the full sentence in his book. The sentences were interesting enough - and sometimes silly enough - that he didn't mind the work in spite of not being "the writer" of the family. The workbooks are not meant to be consumable, so a family can purchase one economically-priced book for $15 and use it for multiple students. It is a bonus that the sentences are also "boy friendly" - for example, "Did you ever hear the story of the three poor soldiers..." is the start of one sentence.
This program can largely be done with very little parental hands-on time. Perhaps a few minutes in the beginning to explain the concepts and then passing the book on, if the student is at the right level, and a few minutes at the end to check things over. Taken at the four-day-a-week schedule, there are 33 weeks to the program taking the student through a full course year. For a beginner, this level and amount of work, in addition to writing for other classes, is a perfect mix!
And don't tell the kids, but the surprise is that by the end of the course, they have written out an entire little fairy-tale story in their notebooks!
There are five books in this series. This review is only concerning the first, and most basic, book, which centers around grades 3-5. The student manual can be purchased for $15, and the teacher manual for $19 online at the IEW site.
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