Overview: It Depends!
Moving on to Essentials right after Foundations is an excellent option for some students, but not necessarily for all of them.
Essentials is the next step when students who have completed Foundations are ready to go deeper with spelling mastery and grammar. However, some younger students will do better focusing on reading for a while after completing Foundations.
Why this is
The presentation of the material in Essentials was designed for older students. We generally say ages eight to adult, though some eight-year-olds will be happier with the more playful style of Foundations, and some seven-year-olds are ready for the older design of Essentials.
The Essentials lessons go much more in-depth with the phonograms and spelling rules introduced in Foundations.
Additionally, Essentials teaches new spelling rules and language concepts not covered in Foundations. Students are encouraged to think more analytically about spelling, spend a lot of time building spelling mastery, and understand far more advanced grammar and vocabulary concepts in Essentials.
Since the lessons are designed to meet the intellectual needs and abilities of older students, the instruction, activities, and games are in a more "grown-up" style, and students often spend more time working on a concept before moving on to the next activity than they do in Foundations. While the lessons are still fun, and they even involve multi-sensory activities, interactive learning, and games, they are designed to be enjoyed by older students.
For some learners, this is the perfect fit when they finish Foundations because they are already reading fluently and are developmentally ready to begin more formal spelling and grammar instruction.
Other students, especially those who are young (say, eight and under), may not be interested in a serious and comprehensive spelling and grammar program yet - especially if they are still developing reading fluency with the phonograms and spelling rules or they have just begun to read fluently. These children may be better served by focusing on reading for a year and perhaps beginning Essentials at a later date when they are ready to start more formal spelling and grammar work.
Whether you're going straight to Essentials from Foundations or not, we have some tips to keep in mind for making the most of what you have learned in Foundations and providing effective, enjoyable instruction!
For those moving straight to Essentials from Foundations
- Use the Placement Test. Students will learn the most if they practice the skills they are working on at the right level of difficulty, and Essentials provides three levels of application from which to choose. Many students coming from Foundations use the Level B activities in Essentials, but some use A or C.
- Read the introduction. Essentials is structured differently than Foundations, and while it is still focused on teaching students to apply the phonograms and spelling rules, it has a different emphasis and feel. You'll be much more comfortable teaching it if you take the time to learn about how it works first.
- Base your pace on the needs of your students. Break the lessons into smaller chunks as needed to respect the child's age and attention span. Play the games often. Several games are scheduled in each lesson, but you can find a list of others in the index of each Teacher's Guide (or in our Game Book). Young children need to move and to engage with what they are learning in ways that are engaging and fun. People sometimes find Essentials overwhelming with a young child because they try to teach too much at once or don't provide enough practice and play along the way.
- Part 1 will be a review, at least at first. Each Essentials unit, or lesson, has five parts. For students who have completed Foundations, Part 1 of each lesson will be primarily review, at least in the early lessons. Teachers might consider quickly moving through the lessons whenever concepts are familiar. You may have students teach you the concepts when possible to demonstrate their mastery and providing review when needed. You will also find occasional new concepts or places where you go deeper in understanding than what students were introduced to in Foundations.
- Focus on Parts 2-5, which will be new. These sections are where you will spend most of your time. Once you've provided review and introduced a few new concepts with Part 1 of a lesson, you will move on to new learning, such as: introducing new spelling words (Part 2), analyzing and practicing them (activities throughout Parts 2-4), grammar (Part 3 and further practice in Part 4), morphology instruction based on the spelling list you taught (Part 4), and assessing mastery of all these concepts (Part 5). Later in Essentials, most of the material in Part 1 will be new as well.
- Consider waiting on the grammar. With a young child, grammar instruction in Essentials may be too complicated and abstract. If you find that this is the case, consider skipping it the first time you go through Essentials. One idea would be to play additional spelling and phonogram games to make up for the lost spelling practice. You can then add in the grammar when reviewing Essentials a second time with a more advanced spelling list. See further guidance on skipping the grammar in the introduction to the Essentials 1-7 Teacher's Guide.
- Read, read, read! Once they have learned all the tools they need to decode words successfully, children should read a lot. Since they have already been introduced to the phonograms and spelling rules they need to understand 98% of English words and have practiced applying them in thousands of words, students who have completed Foundations can use any age-appropriate books or a literature curriculum of your choice. The Essentials Reader is one good option for reading comprehension, particularly for 3rd Grade or for students age nine and up who are still developing reading fluency, or you can use any comprehension program of your choice.
- We do recommend the Essentials Reader for any seriously struggling reader who is still struggling to decode after completing Foundations since each text is phonic-controlled to match the concepts that you have reviewed so far in Essentials. However, most students who have completed Foundations no longer need the support of a phonics-controlled text.
For those taking a break between Essentials and Foundations
- Read, read, read! Once they have learned all the tools they need to decode words successfully, children should read a lot. Since they have already been introduced to the phonograms and spelling rules they need to understand 98% of English words and have practiced applying them in thousands of words, students who have completed Foundations can use any age-appropriate books or literature curriculum.
- Keep practicing phonograms. Knowing the phonograms is a powerful foundation for lifelong success in reading and spelling, and ongoing practice will solidify this skill — even children who have learned phonograms successfully while in Foundations will forget them if they stop using them. You may want to include a phonogram game, phonogram flash card reading drill, or phonogram writing activity a couple of times a week along with your reading curriculum. It's helpful to include activities where students practice them for reading (see the phonogram, say the sounds) and for spelling (hear the sounds, write the phonogram).
- If you want to work on spelling, use spelling analysis and games. Each week, choose a few words from a book the child is reading or a few words you'd like the child to master and teach them through spelling analysis. Practice these words through spelling games from Foundations C, Foundations D, or the Game Book. Keep practicing the words in the coming weeks to build long-term mastery.
- Avoid rote memorization spelling programs. While it is fine not to begin focusing on advanced spelling mastery right away, we do not recommend moving from Foundations to a curriculum that requires students to memorize words by rote for a one-time test. Unfortunately, many spelling programs only offer forms of rote memorization. If you do want to include some low-key spelling practice, we would recommend using spelling analysis and games or choosing a program that uses accurate phonograms and rules. That said, if you find a way of practicing spelling words that your children enjoy, it is fine to use it no matter what the program's underlying approach is as long as you start by teaching your students why each word they will be practicing is spelled the way it is.
- Begin Essentials when you think that a complete course in English spelling, formal grammar study, and learning roots, prefixes, and suffixes would be a great next step in the child's language arts learning.