When I think about the curricula available to evangelical homeschoolers, I instantly become guilty of several of the deadly sins. Oh, if I were a young earth creationist, the riches that would be mine! But instead I’m stuck patching together my own science curriculum every year. So I was excited to see this book, which uses the Book of Mormon to teach reading and basic math skills.
Of course, early reading and math skills are not of interest just to homeschoolers–many parents will want to teach their children these things before the little tykes darken the kindergarten door. Other parents may need to remediate older students who aren’t keeping up in the classroom. So there is a potential for this book to have a much wider audience than just LDS homeschoolers.
To be technical, the method used in this book to teach reading is probably best described as phonemic awareness followed by whole language, with a small amount of phonetic decoding thrown into the mix. I’m not a proponent of anything but straight phonics (presented in an interesting, developmentally appropriate manner, with lots of quality children’s books read aloud). I think the research available (as well as my personal experience of producing two proficient readers) supports this method for most children, but I also recognize that opinions vary and that other parents might choose an approach such as the one outlined in this book and it might work just fine for them.
Even in that case, however, I think parents using this method is at risk of holding back their child because the book combines reading and writing skills. Many children, especially boys, will be able to read words long before they will have the fine motor control to write those words. Perhaps in a classroom setting there is a need to tie writing to reading so that the teacher can evaluate the student’s level of proficiency, but there is no need for this at home, so I would recommend that anyone using this book do handwriting separately, if at all. (And be aware that if you follow the author’s advice to allow your child to form the letters in any way they want, you will probably incur the wrath of the K or 1st grade teacher who decides to break the child of the bad habit of ‘incorrect’ letter formation.)
I’m also a little unsure about the idea of using the Book of Mormon. On the one hand, it may allow the parent to increase efficiency by combining reading and scripture study. On the other hand, I’m not sure the spiritual impact of scripture reading can be had in full if you are struggling through every other word. Perhaps reading instruction would detract too much from the spiritual instruction.
To sum: I think this program would be effective in teaching most children to read, although I don’t think it uses the best methodology for teaching reading and therefore may hinder some children. In general, I think the book Phonics Pathways and many, many early readers from the library is a better method. But this book is nonetheless a viable option for parents who want to teach their children to read.
I would, however, strongly discourage all parents from following the math curriculum in this book, which consists of having the child memorize numerals from flashcards and then finding those numbers in the Book of Mormon (i.e., verse numbers, chapter numbers, etc.) I think rote memorization of numbers will reap a dreadful harvest because it ignores two crucial elements of early mathematics education: one-to-one correspondence and place value. If you want to give your preschooler a leg up in math, then play “store” with household objects and coins, measure water into various containers, count anything you find, read library books on math topics (an excellent list can be found here), but please don’t ask your child to memorize 27.
That said, I’m pleased to see an LDS author create curriculum that is easily implemented by parents and takes seriously our spiritual heritage, even if I would have preferred a different execution.