Month: August 2020

The Best Phonics 2.0 Program for Kindergarten

Why Phonics Programs in Kindergarten Matter

The best phonics program for kindergarten is not what you think, but the answer is critical. Whatever your motivation, the goal is the same: your child needs to learn phonics to become an amazing reader. Maybe they are three years old and just getting started with letters and sounds, or maybe they are six and you want to make sure they don’t fall behind even though “learning” is now virtual for your school

But with so many different phonics programs to choose from, how can you decide what is best phonics program for your kindergarten or pre-k angel/monster? The old go-to of Hooked on Phonics broke ground forty years ago. It was among the first programs that leveraged the early science of reading, teaching the fundamentals that lead to reading in later years. But a lot has changed since then. New digital approaches like Homer and ABC Mouse take the same concepts but rework them into digital experiences which can help entertain your kids while they learn.

There is clear scientific consensus around the importance of phonics instruction in the initial stages of learning to read. Remember, no matter what you choose, you’re more or less on the right track looking at a phonics-based solution. But let’s call all of that “Phonics 1.0”. There is something new on the horizon, and that’s what we wanted to talk about.

What is the Best Phonics Program 2.0?

It turns out, it’s not about how you teach phonics to your kids, but what phonics exactly you are teaching them. All of the existing solutions are based on the same fundamental ideas of how to teach reading, based on deep research into the study of how kids learn to read English. But while many of these programs are fantastic, they miss something critical. In a way, phonics as we have known it is just a bandaid on the real reading challenges we have reading. Think about it, how many of the words in this paragraph could a child just “sound out”? 5? 10? Phonics doesn’t work on its own, which directly leads to fewer than half of kids reading at grade level. The best phonics program for kindergarten needs to be based on the newest science, science that points us all in a different direction.

It is only in the last decade or so that Academics began to explore the universal truths behind literacy, drawing inspiration not only from English, which is a true outlier, but from a world filled with language systems that are written and read differently than our own. The results are extraordinarily important if you want to save thousands of hours teaching your kids to read. In virtually every other country with an alphabet, kids learn to read years and years faster and more accurately than they do in English. That’s important.

“English is truly exceptional. By the end of the 1st year of schooling, hyperlexic [extremely fast and accurate] style reading is the norm in transparent alphabetic orthographies [languages where spelling is very easy and regular]; most children are capable of tackling almost any printed (monosyllabic) word. In English, such proficiency is delayed for several years.” – David Share, Ph.D, Faculty of Education, University of Haifa

How Can We Bridge the Gap?

Ok, but so what if kids can learn Spanish in a year, we want to teach our kids English! Well, it turns out there is a simple way to make reading English as easy as it is to read in Spanish. Add TIPS.

TIPS is like Phonics 2.0, based on the methods used to teach Israeli children to read for two thousand years. The fundamental premise is simple: let’s teach kids every single sound they need to read like a champion. TIPS turns our complex language into something as easy to read as Spanish, where every letter makes one sound. 

There is a reason that kids learn to read Spanish fluently in a single year of study and remember how to do so for decades (and that so many American children fail). Reading in Spanish is easy. The language itself makes all the difference. 

Considering A New Approach to Phonics

So as you think about the best phonics program for your kids, there are really two potential choices. There is of course the old way of doing things: from the ages of 4-6 learn the letters and dozens of exceptions, by 7 or 8 learn hundreds of more exceptions and the complex decoding rules. 

But there is also something new. Something we have been working on these last few years that is just now rolling out across the country. TIPS is Phonics 2.0. It’s a better, simpler approach, which quickly leads to joyful reading for you and your child. Reading just one of our books with your child is enough to see how it works. But don’t take our word for it, just give it a try.

Get Ready to Pod After School

Pod After School is an alternative to expensive Pod School programs, which can be organized by small family groups at virtually no cost. The benefits could be huge, provided that they can be done safely.

A Pod School Experience for All

Are your kids going to pod school? Not many are. In fact, there is grave concern that the pod school and micro-school trend taking off right now is going to dramatically expand the gap between the high and low performing students across the country. Yet with the current Covid-19 case counts at record levels, the threat of cold weather further escalating the situation in the fall, and the recent research published that shows how kids and schools are likely vectors of transmission, it’s more likely than not that if you have kids, your school’s doors are shut. While we all hope things reopen soon, a lot of us said that in NYC back in March.

So families need to act, and many are therefore organizing Pod Schools. Pod Schools are when a group of families comes together to hire a full-time teacher, so their children can continue with their education even while the crisis rages. Although many people can’t afford the top echelon $100k+ Pod School experience, there are a ton of benefits of pod-based learning, which is why we wanted to share the concept of Pod After School. It’s Pod School Light. Pod School for Everyone. And it could really help.

What is Pod After School?

Pods After School is a collection of families that care about their kids, and their safety, and come together to help create a positive learning environment that is a fixed part of the day. It is more than a play date, it’s time dedicated to learning and growing up. This doesn’t replace the virtual programming for your school, but adds to it in key ways that will help ensure your child makes as much progress as possible during this difficult time.

Who Needs a Pod After School?

First, let’s face it: virtual schooling for young kids just doesn’t work. We’ve gotten a lot better, but there is a reason that before the pandemic, schools were not rapidly becoming virtual. The needs of young learners are many: social, emotional, physical and mental, and on virtually every front, virtual schooling falls short. While every child could benefit from Pod After School time, it’s most important for parents of children that are 4 to 6 years old. Here’s why:

What do you do in Pod After School?

Some day in the distant future, Harvard will publish a list of the scientifically proven elements that work the best to make progress when kids are in a pandemic. But as parents, we need to act now. Our view of the research is that your best bet is to focus on just a few key fundamentals. The typical Pod After School should last for 2 hours and occur at least three times a week. Here is how to structure each session:

  • Meeting: Start off with a structured meeting and describe the plan for the afternoon. For some ideas, check out The Kindergarten Smorgasboard.
  • Reading: The most important skill to teach your kids is reading. Hands down. Without this, every other aspect of their education will be harder, both for them and for you. We highly suggest adopting our Home Curriculum as an easy way to have structured lessons related to literacy and reading each day, that can help you make tremendous progress.
  • Art: After some reading practice, it’s time to take a break and do some coloring. Give the kids some paper and materials (try to vary this up if you can, but a pencil and blank paper is really all they need) and draw! Try to draw objects around you or elements of the story you just read.
  • Math: Next, since we’ve warmed up our brains, shift gears to math and numbers. Khan Academy has fantastic resources to teach young kids everything they need to know and a ton more.
  • Open Play: Lastly, time for some open, imaginative play. Each day, a different child should take the lead and decide what to play. The wilder and crazier the better. Your job here is to run with it. To help the kids explore ideas, work together, and have some fun!

The goal is clear: don’t let our kids fall behind. Pod After School is a low-cost alternative to the expensive Pod Schools that can help you give the best possible path forward for your kids.

Who should be the teacher?

If you follow the structure above, Pod After School isn’t really hard to manage. While you could, of course, hire a teacher, here are some no-cost options and advice on how to Pod After School for free:

  • A Good Kid: When kids teach kids, everyone wins. Some of the best private schools in the US rely heavily on the idea that older students should work with and mentor the younger ones. The age gap between the two needs to be at least 5 years, and of course, there should be an adult nearby to help supervise, but with a small Pod After School, this can really work. The older child acts as the leader for at least a part of the session, taking the burden off the parent/grandparent to do it all by themselves. In the process, the older kids learn a lot of great skills too!
  • Rotated Parent Responsibility: This approach is a little harder to organize, but sometimes it’s necessary to split the role of teacher across at least two parents in a pod. The key is consistency. If you are rotating the Pod Leader role, be sure to be as consistent as you can with the other aspects of the Pod After School.
  • Dedicated Parent Leader: Many, many parents are now looking at this as an option for full Pod Schools, but with Pod After School it is possible for a single parent to manage 3-5 children quite easily. The Pod should be respectful of the effort and time required and find small ways to show support and appreciation for the effort.

Is Pod After School Safe?

Right now, the safest thing to do is to listen to your doctor and to the health leaders in our community, to social distance, and to wear a mask.

For those still reading, you know that doing all this has costs and benefits that only you can weigh. They are different for every family and different in different parts of the country. We wanted to talk about Pod After School because the costs of this pandemic are not just physical, they are also economic and social, with the impact on children’s education being high. We are not doctors or health professionals, but as you think about how to make your pod as safe as possible, please follow a few basic guidelines:

  • Wash Hands. On arrival, everyone should wash their hands
  • Go Outside. If inside, be sure to find a space big enough that you can social distance.
  • Wear Masks. On day one, every child should get a mask that is the same, which helps create a strong community around mask wearing, even among young kids.
  • Talk to Parents. Keep in close communication with the parents about potential symptoms in the children or the family.
  • Watch the News. Keep a close eye on community transmission levels in your area.

For those looking for more information, check out this article from Edutopia with more ideas on creating a safe learning environment.


In a way, nothing has changed. We have always known that small class sizes with great dedicated teachers lead to great results. Expensive Pod School programs are exactly that, but Pod After School is a low-cost alternative that can still yield a lot of the benefits, especially when using top-tier program like our TIPS™ Home Curriculum to drive the education side of things.

This is not an ideal world and these are far from ideal times, but we do hope that some of the ideas here help you band together with a few families and find a way through this pandemic. How we act now will greatly impact the future for our kids, so good luck!

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