Rocket Phonics is a complete reading program that takes children from learning their sounds to a fifth grade reading level in 1 1/2 to 2 years. It is a research-based teaching reading method invented by Dr. Guffanti and designed for children ages 4-10. Rocket Phonics is extremely flexible and designed to be custom built for your child’s particular learning style. They offer several different ways to introduce much of the material and then leave it up to the mom/teacher to implement as they see best. It is designed to be fun, using games, jokes and funny stories as they teach reading in order to promote a love of reading and high interest, so the child is willing to focus on the sometimes difficult task of becoming literate.
Rocket Phonics uses it’s own initial teaching alphabet (ITA) of 36 sounds. One of the difficulties in teaching children to read is that most of the letters in our English language have more than one possible sound which makes it confusing as a child tries to determine which sound a letter makes in a given word. Rocket Phonics has attempted to eliminate this problem by creating a unique ITA where each letter or letter blend makes the same sound each time the child sees it in a word. So every time the child sees the letter /a/, they know that they should sound it “a as in apple”, the “a as in ape” sound is written as /ay/.
The first step in the Rocket Phonics system is teaching your child phonemic awareness, the concept that words are made up of individual sounds and that those sounds are blended into the words we use each day. I really enjoyed this section of the program as these are simple, logical games and activities that you can and should play with your children from the time that they are little. The games teach your children to identify the first sound in a word, the last sound in a word and then to begin blending individual sounds into words. I think that this is an ideal way to prepare your preschoolers for reading and the games can be played as you are making dinner or riding in the car together. “What is the first sound in the word ‘mom’”? “What is the last sound in the word ‘mom’”? “I’m thinking of a word that says /m/ /o/ /m/”, can you guess the word? etc.
The second step in the Rocket Phonics system is to teach your child the complete ITA. They help you accomplish this by introducing the sounds using a deck of sound cards and several games to help children of all learning styles master the 36 sounds in the Rocket Phonics ITA. Our favorite game in this section is Rocket Phonics baseball. I would place a small stack of Rocket Phonics cards in three different places around the room and I would hold a fourth stack and act as “home plate”. I would show the first child a sound and if they were able to tell me the sound they would run to the stack of cards that we designated first base, they would pick up a card and if they could say that sound they would run to “second base”, etc. Since I had children who were on dramatically different levels of learning the ITA, I adjusted the game by having a different stack of cards for my younger kids beside the stacks of cards for the older ones. This enabled our 3 year old to play right along side the “big” kids.
After the child has learned the ITA, developed phonemic awareness and understands blending, the Rocket Phonics program begins teaching the actual skill of reading. This is where I feel that Rocket Phonics shines. As the child progresses they read sentences or phrases and then look at a picture to see if the word or phrase describes the picture. This develops several important skills, first of all since some of the phrases do not describe the picture at all, it teaches the child to read the words rather than to look at the picture for clues. It continues to build reading comprehension as some of the sentences are tricky. For example the phrase “brown vest and red pants”, there is a man in the picture wearing a brown vest, but his pants are blue not red. This really forces the kids to pay attention to what they are reading and again adds an element of fun as they are challenged to get each sentence or phrase correct.
Rocket Phonics continues to include games as the children build their reading skills. One of the most exciting game in this section is the Treasure Hunt. Mom hands the first clue to the children and it may say, “under the table”. The child reads the clue and then they race to find the next clue which is hidden “under the table” of course. After following the clues around the house, the children finally find their “treasure”. Rocket Phonics includes everything that you need to play the treasure hunt game for two different levels of readers, including prizes.
The program then introduces “helpers”so that the children are able to read words that the children can read words that fall outside of the rules of the ITA. Below is an example:
The blue letters are letters that sound the exact way the children have learned them, the black letters don’t and have the “helpers” printed underneath. This method allows the children to read anything and Rocket Phonics continues with its fun, playful attitude by having the children get a lot of reading practice with funny jokes, stories and riddles. It also continues to focus on different learning styles by including activities such as Simon Says, where the child reads a sentence that begins with Simon Says and then both mom and child have to do the action that was described in the sentence.
As the children develop competence, speed and confidence with reading Rocket Phonics begins to introduce phonics rules, such as quiet /e/, teaches the children to identify syllables and common letter blends such as ar, er, ir. and begins to phase out the “helpers”.
We are currently using Rocket Phonics with four of our children (ages 7, 6, 4 and 3). Our 7, 6, and 4 year olds were already beginning readers before we received RP. I began teaching the older three the Rocket Phonics ITA, so that they would be able to complete the rest of the program. I also began teaching our, just-turned-three year old the ITA and began playing the phonemic awareness games with him. He doesn’t know that he is learning, he just enjoys playing games with mom while helping to fold laundry and empty the trash and he is picking up some of the sounds fairly quickly.
My group of beginning readers learned the ITA easily in less than a week as there were very few sounds that were new to them. Then they dove right in to the reading fluency part of the program. All three have dramatically improved their reading skills and are enjoying Rocket Phonics. The stories are fun and the children are challenged by finding the sentences or phrases that describe the pictures. No more looking at the picture to cheat, they are focusing on the words that they are supposed to be reading.
- Fun and enjoyable for the children.
- Variety of games that incorporate all learning styles.
- Interesting jokes and funny stories to read, make reading its own reward.
- Spiral bound books are easy for kids to hold and keep their place.
- Once the children learn the ITA, they can read anything with the helpers.
- RP does a good job of introducing and teaching phonetic rules.
- Reading comprehension is built into the program.
- Flexible with a lot of different options to teach the material.
- Having to teach 36 sounds in the ITA before a child can begin to read seems like it would be frustrating.
- Some sounding out in the ITA did not make sense to me. For example, they teach that /ink/ and /ing/ can be sounded out using the regular ITA sounds /i/ as in itch, /n/ as in nest and/k/ as in kangaroo ir /g/ as in gift. This did not work in my brain and did not work for my children. When I say ink or think, I say an /e/ as in eat sound, not an /i/ as in itch sound. This was the exception rather than the rule!
- It’s not a sit down and go program, but requires some planning because of all of the flexibility.
Because I have previously used the same program to teach reading to the seven children that can read, this was a difficult adjustment for me and I found myself using a lot of things that I already know about teaching reading in addition to the RP program. That said, I really like the Rocket Phonics program after the children have learned the ITA. My thought is that teaching a young child the whole ITA and the principles of blending with Rocket Phonics would be a rather slow process and I don’t like the idea of them not being able to “read” during that time. This is completely my preference and may change as our 3 year old progresses through this step and I see how it works.
I will be writing another review of Rocket Phonics in a few months, after one or more of our children have made it all the way through the program. At that time, I will also have had an opportunity to see how Colby (3) does with learning the ITA and blending and will have a much better idea of how RP works with a child who has no reading experience.
Once a child has mastered the ITA and blending and is able to begin to decode words, I think that Rocket Phonics is outstanding. Our 7 year old has been struggling with learning to read and he has excelled with RP. Yesterday when he was asked what his favorite school subjects were he immediately replied “Science and Rocket Phonics”. He is motivated and excited by his progress. Rocket Phonics has filled a void in his reading and been a direct answer to our prayers for him.
Dr. Guffanti has created a reading fluency program that is thoughtful, focused and incorporates children of all learning styles and skills by using the universal language of humor and fun to engage and motivate students to learn. The final jury is still out, but so far we are happy to have added Rocket Phonics to our teaching reading curriculum and our children have benefited.
For more information or to order the complete Rocket Phonics kit for $160 visit the Rocket Phonics website or call 1-888-377-4664.
You may see what I think about a variety of other homeschool products.
This post is included in the Homeschool Curriculum Review Roundup.