I'm a wife to my "Mr. Right". A momma of five. A maker of slow food and simple living. A collector of memories, a keeper of books, and a champion for books that make memories. An addict who likes my half-and-half with a splash of coffee. A fractured pot transformed by the One Who makes broken things beautiful. I heart homeschooling, brake for libraries, and am glad you're here with me on the journey! Be sure to subscribe to my monthly newsletter. Or, follow along with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google +, Youtube, or Pinterest.

Abeka Phonics K-2nd: What to Buy and What to Skip

Abeka Phonics K-2nd: What to Buy and What to Skip #homeschool #homeschoolcurriculum #curriculumreview #abeka #phonics

We've officially got seven readers in our home. A quick mental calculation will tell you that this means all five of my children have now crossed the great divide between those who can't read and those who can. My youngest still needs my help with certain words, but as of this year, he possesses all the head-knowledge required to decode a word...any word.

In some ways, it feels like it took a lifetime for us to get here. But in other ways, it seems like it only took a blink. In reality, it took eleven years.

To break it down: I've spent the past eleven years teaching the letter names and sounds, the diagraphs, and the syllable rules. Long vowels and short ones. Blends and end rhymes. Regular sounds and special exceptions.

(I am in no way affiliated with Abeka Book and receive no compensation for this post. Please see my disclosure policy for full details.)

Obviously, every one of these learning-to-read journeys has been a bit different. My children each have their own unique set of struggles and strengths, after all. But, while the day-to-day lessons have had to ebb and flow to fit their individual needs, the curriculum has been the same for all eleven years.

I've taught all my kids to read using Abeka Phonics.

Abeka Phonics K-2nd: What to Buy and What to Skip #homeschool #homeschoolcurriculum #curriculumreview #abeka #phonics

Now, I'm not going to say that Abeka is the very best curriculum for teaching reading. (I cringe when I hear people use such strong superlatives when describing anything...as if they have tried every.single.item on the market and can make a conclusive statement about the superiority of one over all the others.) But, I think it's fair to say that I've had a pretty good track record with it. In addition to using Abeka Phonics while teaching my own circus of five, I've also used it...

  • when I learned to read back in 1983. (Don't try to do the math to find out my age. That's too many numbers for any brain to hold.)
  • when I worked for Abeka for four years in their homeschool division teaching other parents how to use the program.
  • when I took "Teaching Reading" at college (Abeka Phonics was the class curriculum standard.)
  • when I taught dozens upon dozens of other people's kids to read back when I was a classroom teacher.

I'm familiar with the program, to say the least. And since we're all friends here, I think it's only fitting that I tell you:

Before you pull the trigger and plunk down a bunch of real cash money for the expensive boxed phonics kit, don't. It's not worth it!

Clarity is kindness. And friends don't let friends waste money or buy clutter.

Abeka Phonics K-2nd: What to Buy and What to Skip #homeschool #homeschoolcurriculum #curriculumreview #abeka #phonics

Don't get me wrong, the foundation of the program is great. But as with everything in life, less is more. So many of the items in the kit and in the phonics section of the Abeka catalog can be bought or made at a fraction of the cost, can distract your child from the real work of reading, and can add a tedious amount of extra busywork because the program was designed for classroom use.

Case in point: The workbooks, while good for an easy-to-grab practice of skills, were never meant to be the "lesson." They were designed to be simple seatwork pages for classroom students to do while their teacher works with reading groups (small groups of students that are all at a similar reading level). The only job of a workbook page is to keep kids busy doing enough review work that they can stay occupied without having to ask a lot of questions or seek the teacher's assistance. For that reason, the workbook pages are generally about 5 to 10 skill levels behind the day's actual lesson topic. That's not to say that you shouldn't order the phonics workbooks, but only to say that you don't have to. Workbooks definitely have their place, even in homeschooling.

Abeka Phonics K-2nd: What to Buy and What to Skip #homeschool #homeschoolcurriculum #curriculumreview #abeka #phonics

In addition, the leveled readers are also worth some thoughtful consideration and possible "no thank you." With the exception of the kindergarten readers (as linked below) and perhaps the first two or three readers of first grade, don't bother buying any of the leveled readers. And definitely, do not buy any of the teacher editions for said books. Readers are really only useful in two specific scenarios:

  1. When a child is in the early stages of reading and hasn't learned enough sounds and rules to read a traditional trade paperback. (Leveled readers provide the look and feel of a "real" book while only utilizing a particular set of reading skills.)
  2. In a classroom setting. (They are designed to give a large group of kids something that they can all read and discuss together. Obviously, allowing 30 kids in a classroom to each read from 30 different books during group reading time would be counterintuitive at best and total anarchy at worst.) 
But, your home is not a classroom. Once your child is finished learning all the phonetical sounds and basic decoding rules (around the middle of first grade), he no longer needs readers. In fact, the dry-as-dust storylines of readers can actually turn your child away from a love of books.

Abeka Phonics K-2nd: What to Buy and What to Skip #homeschool #homeschoolcurriculum #curriculumreview #abeka #phonics

Instead, allow him to read from an actual book that has interesting characters and well-developed plots. (Need some suggestions? Try this list of books for young boys or this one for young girls.) If you're worried about his retention and comprehension, don't drill-and-kill with a curriculum worksheet, just learn to have a literary conversation with him using these 10 fail-proof questions to ask about any book.

But workbooks and readers aren't the only things to consider when ordering from the program. Here is a list of what to buy and what to skip when shopping for Abeka Phonics (K through second grade).


Homeschool K5 Phonics, Reading, Writing and Numbers Curriculum (K) This is a full curriculum for all the K5 subjects and must be purchased even if you only intend on using it for phonics and reading. 

Helpful to Have

Language 1 (1st)

Splurge Item

Blend Ladders (K-1st)

Don't Bother

Language 1 Teacher Key (1st) If you are actually teaching your child the lesson as dictated in the lesson plan book, a teacher's key for any of the K-2nd phonics student books is unnecessary. You'll be able to glance at their work quickly to determine if it is correct or not. 
Reading Comprehension 2 Parent Edition (2nd)
Basic Phonics Sounds CD  (K-2nd) Unless you are from a part of the country that's known for a dialect that would make it difficult for your child to hear the sound pronounced correctly. (Ex.: bag pronounced as bage in the midwest, car pronounced caw in the upper northeast, d pronounced duuuh in the southeast)

Abeka Phonics K-2nd: What to Buy and What to Skip #homeschool #homeschoolcurriculum #curriculumreview #abeka #phonics

Before hitting the "buy" button, remember, a curriculum company is a business. The people behind it, no matter how kind and sincere, want your money. Yes, they want your children to read. Yes, they want your experience to be enjoyable. But more importantly, they want you to buy... a lot. And in some kind of advertising wizardry, they'll try and convince you to do just that!

Don't be offended by their agenda. Just be informed. Before you fall for that big boxed phonics kit, don't.


  1. Hey can I ask you a question? We're doing A Beka with my 2nd kid this year and he's reading quite well. We were doing the video, but it was so repetitious and since he already knew a lot of the beginning stuff, I've just been doing the worksheets with him myself rather than watching the videos for Language Arts. On this last test, however, I noticed that he was supposed to write the "special sounds" in the words I said. I feel like "special sounds" are something A Beka does that aren't necessarily essential to reading...or am I wrong? Would you say making him learn them would help in spelling and writing? And if so, I'm thinking just going through the Reading Handbook charts with him and saying them out loud together would be basically the same as what he's getting on the video, right? I'd love your input. :) --Karen G

    1. Special sounds are essential. Other programs call them digraphs. They are the sounds that don't necessarily follow the normal letter sounds like "ph" and "th."

      Yes, you can teach the sounds with the Handbook for Reading. But I'd also highly recommend getting either the Clue Word Cards or the Basic Phonics Charts for practice.

  2. Question on how this compares, in your opinion, to All About Reading. I know you like AAS. We started AAR and just finished level 1 and we loved it! I use the Abeka 1st grade language book to kind of apply what we've learned in AAS and AAR, but I found when I tried to use full Abeka a few years ago I was so confused! I felt I needed a master's in teaching just to understand the Abeka's teacher books. Really, I like Abeka a lot, but I just don't know how to teach it very well in homeschool. AAR seems much better telling me what and how I need to teach each day. My biggest hang up with AAR is. it. is. so. expensive!!! Any opinions or tips on all this?

    1. I'm sorry, Sarah, I've not used AAR. However, I've spoken with several moms who love it and many who do not. I think if it is working for you, don't switch. Keep at it. Longevity and consistency with a program will do more for your child's education than any "perfect" curriculum ever will. Abeka is a good program, but it is not the only good program.

  3. Hi Jamie!

    I noticed you have Phonics and Language 2 Test Book listed as a “don’t bother”. Do you think at the second grade level testing for phonics/language isn’t necessary?

    Thanks in advance, and thank you for posting this! It was very helpful ��

    1. I actually don't think tests are necessary at any elementary level. Tests don't teach. They assess what has been taught in order to tell a school board and/or a parent how a child stacks up to his peers. Because as the parent, you teach your child, you don't need to be told how he's doing. You see how much he knows or doesn't know each and every day. That's the short answer. You can read this post for the longer one>>>https://www.theunlikelyhomeschool.com/2017/06/tests.html

  4. I’ve been hemming and hawing about what to actually purchase from Abeka for 1st. So you would say the Language Arts Teachers manual is a must for 1st? They always confuse me, and I was thinking I’d “wing” it. I’ve never used teacher’s manuals to teach my other two kids to read (with different curricula), but my current 1st-grader is not picking up on it as quickly as the others did, so I think I’m tempted to want to make sure I’m doing everything “right.” So I’m looking for some guidance on the essentials, but also to be freed from my perfectionism! For example, Abeka told me that Language 1 was meant to be complement Letters and Sounds 1, as it is grammar and writing. So I’m curious why that is on the “nice to have/ but not necessary” list. Thanks in advance!

    1. It does compliment it. It reviews a lot of the phonics rules and eventually puts them into practice for writing sentences. But, all of the rules can be learned and practiced in Letters & Sounds 1, so that's why Language 1 is not necessary.

      Definitely buy the manual. The workbooks don't teach. They only review what has been taught. The manual has the info for how to teaching the skills of reading.

  5. Thank you, Jamie. I think I’ll go ahead and buy the manual. I just want to minimize all the “bells and whistles,” as I have 5 children, and a fairly small house. So, as far as Language 1 goes, I hear you saying that it’s not necessary as far as teaching Phonics goes, but would it be important for the writing and grammar component? I was thinking about introducing it maybe second semester

    1. Again, I think it is a great review. But not necessary. Also, I always encourage moms to buy gently used teacher's manuals. As long as you are sure to get the correct edition/print year, the used manuals are a fraction of the cost and are usually in great shape.

  6. My oldest is going into 3rd grade, and we are using Abeka for the first time. She still struggles some with reading at her grade level, and I am looking for a resource to solidify her foundational reading skills before moving into more difficult material in 3rd grade. I’m looking at the Handbook for Reading 1 and 2 (it appears to come in 1 book). Do you have any suggestions/insight? Thank you!