Thursday, March 29, 2012

TOS Review: Little Books from Academic Success for All Learners

One of the most daunting tasks we face as homeschooling parents is teaching our children to read.  I have alluded to this in other reviews.  A child who is a good reader will be able to work independently and excel in many subjects.  But what if you have no training in education whatsoever, and you know how to read well yourself, but you have no idea how to teach that to your child?  What if you never learned phonics as a kid, and the 1st Grade workbooks look like Greek to you with all of their symbols for various sounds?

Academic Success for All Learners has one good solution - the "I See Sam" Little Books sets.

Before beginning the Little Books series, we were given a placement test to see where our child would best fit in the series.  The child's lesson plan can then be customized to his needs.  This was helpful, since my 6-year-old is already reading and would be bored if we started at the beginning with the kindergarten readers.  He was placed in Set 4, which is just about right for his level.  The company sent me Sets 4 and 5, along with a simple set of "Instructor Guidelines."  I have heard several homeschooling parents say that it was difficult to teach phonics because they did not learn to read that way themselves as children.  The Instructor Guidelines did a very good job of explaining the phonics symbols used, how to sound out words with your child, how many mistakes are acceptable in the mastery of each book, and how to correct mistakes.  If you already read this way with your child, you will be ready to begin; however, if you have struggled with teaching phonics, this guide will be helpful.

Each Little Book begins with "Sound Practice," where you may review several sounds with your child, and then it introduces one "New Sound" to be used in that booklet.  Next is "Word Practice" with words that contain those sounds and that will be used in the booklet, and several "New Words".  After that is the story.  You may let your child read as much as he can on his own, and help him sound out words that are difficult.  Read each book for several days until it is mastered, and then move onto the next.  Small print at the bottom of some pages gives discussion questions to ask as you go through the book, so that your child is developing comprehension skills while sounding out the words.  After the story is a "Looking Back" page, where your child may review sentences from this story or a previous one, to make sure he is retaining the information.  Finally, there is a "Coming Attractions" page, with a preview of one or more words or sounds that will be used in the next book.

As your child finishes each Little Book, he or she may color in one drawing on the Learner's Chart, and when the set is completed, there is a Certificate.

I like the layout of these books and the way each book builds on those that have been done before.  They do a good job of introducing sounds and words, practicing them in a story, and then reviewing them before moving on.  I have always found that my children learn reading better by jumping in and reading actual stories rather than by studying word lists.  This method also helps them to develop comprehension skills early, as some children tend to sound out words well but never pay attention to what they are reading unless they are asked questions.

I also like the reward philosophy behind the method.  The Instructor's Guide lists the methods for keeping the learner interested:

1.  The Stories.  The Reading for All Learners stories are interesting and highly motivating.  Consistently, we have found that children like the stories.

Well, my 6-year-old may be a hard sell on this one.  I think my other three children may have enjoyed these stories more when they were his age, but to be honest, it takes quite a story to hold his attention.  He enjoys reading, but he's not the sit-down-at-the-desk-and-master-the-book kind of kid.  He's more of the wouldn't-it-be-fun-to-blow-up-my-brother's-science-project kind of kid.  He was somewhat bored by these stories, which was the only downside, but he is still advancing through the sets.

2.  Your approval.  A smilie face with the word "Praise" under it is periodically located at the bottom of the pages in the story.  These are to help remind you to praise the learner for good reading.

Very good reminder.  Verbal praise is one of the best motivators for almost any child, and this motivation does help my son.

3.  Showing Success.  The Learner's Chart provides a visual picture of the learner's accomplishment. . . . Each time the learner completes a book, the learner should fill in the chart.  This rewards the learner for completing each book and gives the learner a sense of accomplishment.

Yes.  Rewards.  My 6-year-old likes rewards.  When we first started the new set of books, he picked up the chart, looking somewhat interested.  "So I get to color a fish each time I read one of those books?"  I nodded.  "Do I get to color the octopus at the bottom after I color all of the fish?"  Absolutely.  Coloring sea creatures appealed to him, but he still looked doubtful.

"I'll tell you what," I said.  "When you finish reading all 14 books in a set, color all the fish, and color the octopus, I'll give you a dollar."

Now I was speaking his language.

"Let's read, Mom!"

The Little Books series includes 141 colored coded readers. There are 8 sets of books from Kindergarten to a third grade reading level. Each story includes comprehension questions to use. They include inferential and evaluative questions as well as basic literal ones.  Each set is $30.  Academic Success for All Learners also carries other carefully researched materials for teaching reading, math, and even behavior concepts.  Find more information at

The customer service is another plus at Academic Success for All Learners.  I did not have any problems or a need to contact them, but I received a very nice letter encouraging me to contact them at any time.  They are very encouraging and seem eager to help.  There are free resources available on the website, as well as a Facebook page and a YouTube channel.

If you are looking for an early reader program with a good succession of books to teach phonics, reading, and comprehension, and a reward component, I would recommend trying the "I See Sam" Little Books.

Other TOS Reviewers reviewed various level sets of the Little Books.  To see their opinions, click here.

Disclaimer:  I received two free sets of Little Books from Academic Success for All Learners in exchange for a fair review.  No other compensation was received, and all opinions are my own.


  1. These books sound interesting. I also like that your child takes a test first to find out what level they're at, because my transitional kindergartner is already reading too. I really like the comprehension questions. It's definitely important to make sure your child understands what he reads. Thanks for the great review.

  2. I love the monetary reward comment! I'm just putting something similar together for my daughter - she "earned" a Barbie for reading a book a night for a month, so she's been demanding another reward plan before she'll continue her reading... :)

    1. I need a Facebook "Like" button here. LIKE!! :)