This is the first level of books...
You can see a sample copy of one of the books here.
It is simple and easy to use. The instructor's guide was helpful in getting us started. (I didn't use the placement assessment, since I knew we needed to start right at the beginning.) Basically, the program is the books. First, the child is introduced/reviewed to the sounds he/she will be using in that book, then there is a short story, then there is a "coming attractions" page where the child gets a peek at the new sounds/words in the next book. Each book is approximately 17 pages long, with one or two sentences on each page. Each page has a black and white, simple but interesting, illustration that goes along with the story. The books have built-in review so you don't have to worry about them forgetting what they learned as they learn new sounds and words.
The kids love the funny stories and pictures. Especially the pictures. They get a lot of entertainment out of looking at the pictures and talking about what had happened and what would happen. I learned early on to cover the pictures first and let Daniel look at them after he had read the page... sort of like an award. Otherwise he enjoyed the pictures so much we just might not ever get to the words. :)
Initially, I was conflicted about this program, because it seemed, with their insistence on mastery and the flashcards, that it was pushing memorizing sight words, which is something I am against. As we got into the books, however, I could see that (however they intended it) I could easily use it with phonics, as the words can all be sounded out, and Daniel was merely learning to blend the sounds he knew into recognizable words. The manual said to read each book until "fluency" is achieved. We read each book twice, which is what it takes him to easily "sound out" each word or read them outright. In my opinion, if he can read it without my help, he can read it. I don't expect perfection out of a five year old, and I had no interest in him memorizing the words. In fact, one of the things I liked about these books is that they use words like "sat", "sit", "Nan", "Ann", "Mit", and "Mat" that are so similar that he had to sound them out to figure them out. I could tell right away if he was guessing or really reading. We never used the flashcards at all.
I do not know a lot about reading programs: the studies and methodologies and theories behind them all. I do know that every inch of this program, from the books with their cute pictures, to the information on the website spoke to me of the heart these people have for teaching kids to read. I could feel the love and commitment for kids and I think that is what made it work for my son.
At this point, Daniel is halfway through the first level of readers. He enjoys reading these books, and is very proud of his progress each day. It is empowering to him to finish a book and then get a new one. He is able to transfer the knowledge he has gained to other mediums... he can read words with the sounds he knows in other places, like books and sentences I write for him; and one day he brought me the dry erase board full of the words from his books that he had written out all on his own. For Daniel, that means he is internalizing his learning and that is all I need to like this product.
Daniel says: I like them. I like finishing a book! They are funny. They are teaching me how to read and they make me happy.
So, Daniel's experience was nothing but positive from his perspective. Abbie, however, did not like these books. I believe she simply was not ready to read 17 page-long books, she started out great, but a few pages in she was sighing dramatically and trying to distract me from the matter at hand. I am planning on giving her more practice decoding words and start her again later on with book one.
There were a few things that I personally disliked about the books. Sometimes the text is too stilted and awkward. In the beginning, it repeats a lot: "I see it! I see it!" which was weird for the kids because they don't talk that way. They were confused by the repetition and they thought they were reading it wrong. This, however, goes away as they add more words to their repertoire. Also, at the bottom of the pages are "comprehension questions" for the teacher to ask the student. However, these questions rarely tested the comprehension of what was read. The child can easily answer the questions by looking at the pictures, and often had to look at the picture to answer the question. I overcame this by asking my own questions. The last thing is that I would not start this program if my child did not already know basic letter sounds. I think it would be too much at once. Daniel did not know all of the blends ("th" for example) or the long vowel sounds, but he did know the basic 26 letter sounds and was able to take it from there. I think it would have been too frustrating for him to try to learn 5 new sounds and decoding skills in order to read his first book.
In short, I will definitely continue to use I See Sam with Daniel, and with Abbie in the future. Daniel and I really enjoy these readers, and are so happy that he can use them to learn to read. It arrived at the perfect time when he knew his sounds and could achieve instant success.
If you want to read what other TOS Crew members thought, click here.
You can purchase I See Sam books either in bundles or by the level, and you can download an instructors guide, scope and sequence, placement assessments, flashcards and tracking progress sets here for free.
This product was sent to me for free in exchange for this review. All opinions are honest and are mine and my son's.