Frontline Phonics, developed at the Learning Dynamics preschool in Orem, Utah, uses a simple phonics approach to reading that young children are able to comprehend and put to immediate use.

The set of books that comes with the curriculum is created to provide children with almost immediate reading success. Most kindergartners could be expected to begin reading their first simple book within their first month of school. The learning is enhanced by the lyrics of sing-along music provided on CD. The curriculum's own "Alphabet Song" teaches each letter of the alphabet along with its sound(s). The preschool has also created a separate song for each letter, as well as songs to remember certain rules, such as what to do when two vowels come together.

At our request, the preschool had tested a sampling of students with the San Diego Reading Test, a quick word recognition test. The average student was rated at beginning second grade in reading. However, we felt the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) test would more accurately represent a student's true reading proficiency. Also we wanted to administer the Kennewick (Wash.) School District’s kindergarten test, which teachers administer at the beginning and end of the kindergarten year -- and sometimes in between – so we could compare pre-reading skills with those of students in a district with a national reputation for aggressive reading instruction.

So, on June 7, 2002, Ken Harvey, executive director of IEI, and five volunteers from the National Reading Foundation conducted Kennewick's kindergarten and DRA first-grade tests on the Learning Dynamics preschoolers. The 19 students tested were randomly selected from the center's approximately 115 6-hour-per-week preschoolers. The preschool also has about that many 4-hour-a-week preschoolers, but we specifically requested the 6-hour group, since that would more closely approximate a 15-hour-a-week kindergarten.

In the Kennewick School District's own kindergarten test -- which includes letter recognition, letter sounds, beginning word sounds, and rhyming -- the preschool graduates outperformed Kennewick's outgoing kindergartners, as shown below. Total number of points possible on the test is 98.

SCHOOL                             ENTERING SCORE         FINAL SCORE

Canyon View                       40.13                                    89.64

Edison                                  27.01                                     82.43

Vista                                      36.91                                     96.47

Westgate                              28.21                                     93.86

AVERAGE                            33.07                                      90.60

PRESCHOOLERS AVE.   n/a                                           95.42

The only individual school that outperformed Learning Dynamics -- of the four whose statistics were provided by the district -- was Vista Elementary, a national award-winning school. Meanwhile, we also administered the Developmental Reading Assessment test, used on Kennewick first-graders but not on kindergartners. There are 11 books in the first-grade DRA test, each representing a gradual increase in reading ability from first month through the ninth month. The Learning Dynamics preschoolers could read -- with 90% proficiency -- through Book 6 (actually 6.21) on the average, slightly above the halfway point in the tested first-grade reading skills.

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There are difficulties in making comparisons between Kennewick's kindergartners and Learning Dynamics' preschoolers. On one hand, Learning Dynamics is a private preschool. Parents who are willing to pay for such schooling are more supportive, and probably have been from their child's birth.

On the other hand, Kennewick's students are a year older and have a year more maturity and in-home or preschool training. Also, Kennewick's kindergarten is half-day for most students and full-day for ESL students. The Learning Dynamics students we tested only attend class two hours a day, three days a week -- six hours total per week. And the preschool officials say the reading curriculum is only used for 15-20 minutes a day during those three days per week – about 1 hour total per week. In addition, each child has 10 minutes of individual reading time per week, and their parents are encouraged to read with their children every day -- as are Kennewick's. As do most teachers whose students face a particular test at year's end, Kennewick's teachers to some degree "teach to the test." And, Kennewick's students are more familiar with the testing procedure. KSD kindergartners frequently take the kindergarten test (exact same test) several times during the year, so their final test score will be artificially high due to familiarity and being taught to the test, compared with the preschoolers, who had never seen the test before.

Older students also tend to be easier to test. Younger children get bored or frustrated easier, and they don't typically understand "rules" and instructions as well. Students who typically take the DRA, for example, are at least in first grade -- more mature and more experienced in taking such tests than Learning Dynamics' preschoolers were. This has also been a problem in trying to find an appropriate reading assessment tool for the Pilot Project, overall. Most reading assessments are not built with kindergartners in mind -- much less preschoolers.

Before we started the Pilot Project, other preschools and kindergartens were also successfully using this curriculum. Verda Rogers Johnson, teacher-administrator of the Christian Co-Op Nursery and Rainbow Days Pre-K, says she has experienced similar success to that achieved at Learning Dynamics. Her preschool began using Frontline Phonics in August of 2001, and she says all the children were reading by December. "We love the songs and the characters for each letter! As a teacher, it is the joy and interest the children take in learning that I feel makes this program such a success. They can hardly wait for me to introduce the next letter! The books are wonderful, offering a variety of skill levels, and the lesson plans are well designed."

The Frontline Phonics curriculum starts by teaching one vowel and five consonants, one letter at a time. Then there is a book for the children to read that uses only those six sounds. After a review and some time to absorb, the curriculum goes on to another vowel and then another five consonants. Additional books allow the children to experience gradually increased reading success from Month 1.

In a kindergarten setting, we recommend that a 20- to 30-minute lesson be taught every day -- and twice a day for ESL students attending a full-day kindergarten. Even at just 25 minutes a day, that would be 125 minutes per five-day week -- more than double the time used at the Learning Dynamics preschool.

Once the children begin reading, it is important to have aides, volunteers or older students available to provide one-on-one time. For each child to have 20 minutes a week of one-on-one reading time, you will need aides and volunteers to provide approximately two manhours of assistance daily. With its limited 6-hour-a-week preschool schedule, Learning Dynamics only provides 10 minutes a week of one-on-one time, but we recommend more one-on-one in half-time and full-time kindergartens. A local Reading Foundation or PTA could help recruit volunteers. Research has also shown that it is beneficial to older students to help "tutor" younger students. In one summer program, for example, fifth-grade students who were poor readers tutored second-grade students who were struggling. At the end of the summer program, the second-graders had advanced a full year in their reading age, but the fifth-grade tutors had advanced over three years in their reading age.

We also recommend that students be allowed to take books home to read to their family. In the best scenario, as at Learning Dynamics, parents are allowed to purchase the books and have them sent home with the child as they are mastered. For private preschools, such as Learning Dynamics, this cost of about $45 per student a year is a required book fee passed through to the parents automatically. Students then have the opportunity to read the mastered books over and over again, thus better engraining the new vocabulary and letter sounds. If this is not possible, we at least recommend that children be allowed to check out mastered books and to re-read them in class with the aides, older students and adult volunteers.

The instructional music is very important in this curriculum. We recommend the music be played during art and/or rest periods. It is bright, fun music, and children will absorb the lyrics (and, thus, the instruction) more quickly as they hear the music repeated. They can even be introduced to the music relating to new phonic sounds before those sounds are taught in class. If you had 1/2 hour of art time, for example, you might first play in the background the curriculum's "Alphabet Song." That would take 5 minutes or less. Then turn on the specific music for the "letter of the day" to play repeatedly for 5-10 minutes. And, finally, for the next 15 minutes, have the CD player play the entire CD, starting at whatever point you think appropriate. While doing art, the children would subconsciously be learning how to read.

For more information, go to Frontline Phonic's own website at