Rod & Staff Phonics

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  • Reviewed on Monday, June 16, 2014
  • Grades Used: 1st grade
  • Dates used: 2009,2011,2014
This is my 3rd time using Rod & Staff 1st grade Phonics.
The reasons I keep coming back to it is b/c of its thoroughness. I feel that it really covers all the "rules" that are necessary. And it just seems to really ease the children into reading. It doesn't take long until they are blending and reading words all on their own. It does it in a way that it really builds the children's confidence, too. I'm getting ready to start my 3rd child and am very confident that he'll be successful, due to the fact that the first two of my children are very strong readers.
The teachers manuals are great. They do consist of a lot of extra stuff, that is mainly for a classroom setting. But once you get past that, and get into your own routine and pick out what you'll really only be needing to go over, it's really nice. Everything you need to know is right there laid out for you.
I would highly recommend Rod & Staff Phonics to anyone. When I first started out homeschooling 5 years ago I myself did not know phonics, so I was learning right along with my child. But in the curriculums thoroughness I myself became very confident in my ability to teach my children on top of them building their confidence.
This is a no frills curriculum. So if you're looking for something that has lots of color and foofy stuff, this is not it. Everything is in black and white. Try not to let this persuade you though. This curriculum is lacking nothing, and not one of my children have ever suggested that it was boring b/c of the pack of "frills".
This curriculum is also very affordable, and that's always a plus.


  • Reviewed on Sunday, April 15, 2012
  • Grades Used: Grade 1, Unit 1
  • Dates used: 2012
For my complete review w/pictures:

I had recently switched my youngest child from Abeka phonics to Rod and Staff phonics and reading curriculum, which is called Bible Nurture and Reader Series (BNRS). Even though he had already completed the Abeka phonics K5 and about 1/3 of the Abeka phonics 1st grade – I still started him at the very beginning of Rod and Staff, with Unit 1. We have been using it just long enough, that I feel that I can now give a fair review on that first unit. As an FYI, there are 5 units total of each component in this program.

BNRS consists of:
Phonics workbooks
Reading workbooks
Printing Practice workbooks
Teachers manual

They are designed to provide instruction in reading, phonics, language, spelling, and penmanship. There are also three sets of supplementary flashcards – phonics, phrase, and vocabulary. The Printing Practice workbooks (which correspond perfectly to the phonics concepts being taught each day), can be substituted with the Penmanship for Christian Writing Series (which teaches printing by similar strokes, rather than by the phonics progression). This curriculum was developed for first graders, however, I know that many homeschoolers have used it with kindergarteners successfully. If you do choose to do so, consider taking it very slowly as it does ramp up later in unit 2. Also, some 5 year olds may not be developmentally ready in their fine motor skills for the amount of writing they might encounter – which, in my opinion, is age appropriate for a first grader.

The photos I show in my complete review (link above), are 1 complete lesson. The Phonics and Reading are not correlated to each other. In other words, you can use only the phonics portion of the curriculum (which includes spelling) even if you don’t want reading lessons at this time. Or you can use just the reading portion of the curriculum if you prefer a different phonics program. However, just note that the phonics and printing practice books do correlate (you still don’t have to use both though), while the reading and worksheets correlate (and you don’t have to use the worksheets), and double as Bible lessons.

After those photos (link above) I show a few more samples from unit 1, along with samples of the Teacher’s manual (which is divided into 2 parts: phonics and reading). I do not follow the TMs closely, but, rather use them very loosely for ideas and also as an answer key for those few pictures in the workbook that need a bit of help with deciphering.

Unit 1 begins at the very beginning – teaching the vowels and the letter S (this is done in 6 pre-reading lessons). The sixth pre-reading lesson, where we learn all about the letter S and its sound, is where the child is then introduced to blending (reading) and spelling. Rod and Staff uses a blend ladder approach (sa-se-si-so-su).

Once they have mastered those six pre-reading lessons, then we begin Lesson 1. Lessons 1 – 24 are where the consonants are mastered, as well as blending the ladders with the consonants (ta-te-ti-to-tu / ma-me-mi-mo-mu), and then building on them (tap – ten – tick – top – tub). Each day they also work on spelling using ‘spelling blocks’, which you copy from the back of the phonics workbook and cut out (I used card stock). There is also a space to practice printing each new letter in case you are not using the Printing Practice books. The plan includes review days, which happen approximately every 4 lessons.

Lessons 25 – 30 are learning the long vowel sounds and learning the silent e rule: ton becomes tone, cub becomes cube, etc. They will also learn to read words such as: feel, beef, feet, reed, and so forth to apply that silent e vowel there as well – which is their first exposure to ‘when two vowels go walking’. That is where the phonics unit 1 ends, so I would imagine then, that Unit 2 is where they learn words such as goat, meat, and rain.

The basic overall lesson procedure is approximately this:
introduce the sound
recognize the letter
words that begin with the letter
printing the letter
using the sound (or combination)

Unit 1 of the reading portion covers Creation and the fall of man. The child learns to read color words, they learn to read some simple directions (color, circle, match), and they also learn to read many vocabulary words pertaining to the story, such as: God, light, sky, day, night, Adam, Eve, made, everything, good. They learn the words singularly, and then also practice phrases (God made; the sky; very good) so that when they read from the reader, they are reading smoothly with good articulation, rather than disjointedly.

The basic overall lesson procedure is approximately this:
Bible lesson
Vocabulary (this is where you drill new words/phrases and review old ones)

Now lets put it all together for you by showing a lesson, using all components:

{Picture - link above}

Sample two-page spread from the Phonics workbook. You will notice that beginning in pre-reading lesson 6, there is what is called an edge list. This is a nice feature as it can be used in many ways to suit your child’s needs. Use the edge list for reading practice, for spelling practice, for proper articulation practice – the possibilities are endless, but do use them! These are intended to be timed (with a chart to keep progress in the back of the workbook) which I, personally, do not do).

{Picture - link above}

Spelling blocks – here they are being used to spell the sounds of: ca, ke, ki, co, cu.

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Working on a page from the Penmanship Practice. I love how they spend so much time guiding the penmanship with tracing in the beginning before expecting the child to produce a lot their own work, which if done too early, can instill bad habits that must be corrected/remediated later for some children. This is helping my child tremendously as he tended to have a real issue (more than normal – and yes, this is very normal for most children) of writing his letters backwards. The backside of each day’s penmanship page is blank for practicing formation without tracing.

{Picture - link above}

The phrase and vocabulary flashcards that went with this lesson. While you certainly can use this program without the flashcards, and use it successfully, I, personally, prefer to use them! They really help with building the smooth, rather than choppy, reading of phrases and sentences.

{Picture - link above}

Sample of two-page spread in the Reading workbook. I really appreciate how the reading workbook works on visual discrimination, first with single letters, then with words, and later with phrases. The reading workbooks teach the words that are commonly known as sight words, and they also help a child to begin reading successfully from the beginning of their educational experience. I am all for intensive/true phonics and as long as you are using a good, solid phonics program along side (such as Rod and Staff phonics) you have a very well balanced approach to learning to read. Once your child has a strong foundational base in phonics, the reading portion is no longer considered a sight-reading approach, as they will transfer the intensive phonics instruction they receive over to the reading portion of the curriculum.

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Sample of a beginning lesson from the Reader.

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Working on the day’s worksheet. If your child is not a crafty sort, or hates cutting, coloring, and pasting…these truly are completely optional and extra. My son happens to love them, so we use them.

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The worksheets correspond to that day’s reading lesson (which, in case you haven’t noticed, double as Bible lessons).


So far, I am very pleased with this program. I plan to do a review on each Unit as we do them. My child is finally making some solid progress in his phonics, reading, spelling, and handwriting!



  • Reviewed on Saturday, February 19, 2011
  • Grades Used: 1st Grade Phonics & Reading
  • Dates used: December 2010 - present (2/11)
I hesitate to write a review so soon on a curriculum, but after all my searching for a good solid phonics program I have to say that I LOVE Rod & Staff phonics. We started with this program two months ago, and it is such a relief to find a program that teaches a complete package of phonics in a way that makes sense to children.

We used MFW Grade 1 bible/phonics for the second 1/2 of K and fall of first grade. At the end of it my son was easily reading at around a 2nd grade level. So we went with MFW recommendation of doing R&S grade 2 spelling next. He could read the words on the page easily, but at the end of the week he still couldn't spell a single one. I realized that his Grade 1 program had left him with an ability to read, but not an ability to do phonics or spelling. He had completed the MFW Grade 1 phonics workbook easily, but it never required the real thinking that is needed for learning. So I went to the R&S web site to find a first grade level spelling. What I found instead was their first grade phonics & reading program. I am so GLAD that I did!!!

The saddest part for me was when I started to place him for the phonics and readers by using the pages on the R&S web site. I quickly realized that the R&S program had passed his knowledge by unit 2 (there are 5 units for grade 1). He had been presented an overview of the phonics for grade 1, and had been exposed to certain parts of the R&S first grade phonics; but there was so much more information being presented that even unit 1 had a few concepts I knew he had not seen before. As a result I started him with grade 1 phonics unit 1. The early part of unit 1 especially was a review. His reading is beyond the intended reading level. However, I am so glad that I have chosen to spend time on laying this foundation. His spelling and reading have made significant progress in 2 months of the R&S program. He is becoming more confident, sounding out words more easily, able to spell phonetically, and learning the foundation I want him to have for reading & spelling down the road.

The R&S grade 1 phonics/reading program includes a phonics workbook, reading workbook, readers, and teacher’s manuals.
The phonics workbooks make him think. The reading workbooks make him think. The questions are presented in a way that requires the student to process the information and think about the concepts being learned. The teacher’s manual for phonics includes a daily spelling test that we use. There are also other activities that could be used. The reading teacher manual includes bible questions about the story read from the bible reader. These questions are thoughtful, and often convicting in a very good way. The teacher’s manuals also have answers to the question of what the picture is, since I don't always know.

The readers themselves are the heart of the program. We started with unit 1 as a two-day review, and then continued with unit 2 at a slower pace. We did skip the 1st reader workbook. Even with his reading ability though the unit 2 workbook has given him additional reading practice, as well as introducing early concepts of grammar such as singular and plural and 'a' before a constant and 'an' before a vowel. Some of this had been in the MFW Grade 1 phonics, but some had not. I am really glad that I choose to allow him to start with the unit 2 reading workbook. There is much information in it that he had not had, and will need for an English foundation. It will enable him to be successful when we reach R&S English 2. These readers are wonderful for character building as well as learning the Bible.

This program builds on itself. I think it would be difficult to jump into the middle of, unless the student has a solid foundation elsewhere.

I have bought the phonics and reading workbooks for my second son, and plan to start them when he is soon finished with MFW K. He can read three letter words easily, but I will be starting him with grade 1 unit 1 for both.

For a student who has no prior knowledge in reading, or even the alphabet, this program starts at ground level and could be used as a first program. I would think though that it would require a slow pace initially for the first unit.

The books are very inexpensive, which is a nice bonus. The pictures are all in black and white, not entertainment based at all. Interestingly, my children have really liked these books. I think the lack of color makes them calming, instead of stimulating, and allows them to focus on the work at hand.

I am also using the pre-school books with my 4 year old, and they are working very well.

I think the thing I like best about this curriculum is I am not dissatisfied with any part of it. I don't have any part of it that I would wish to change. I like everything about it. These books are a great academic foundation in phonics and reading, and a love for the LORD. I don't see any pride in it at all. The Rod & Staff books are very humble in their approach to learning and teaching our children.


  • Reviewed on Saturday, February 28, 2009
  • Grades Used: 1st
  • Dates used: 2008-2009
From the beginning we've enjoyed the Rod and Staff Curriculum 1st Grade material and I'm going to use parts of it next year. We bought the set and it's a LOT of material, so we definitely pick and choose what we do. This review is just about the 1st grade phonics and readers/reading workbooks.

Our daughter was adopted internationally when we was 2 1/2 and did not have the early stimulation that most children in the U.S. enjoy. She is intelligent, but is naturally active rather than quiet and studious.

My daughter has done very well with the readers and she enjoys reading them. They start out with sight words and each lesson builds on the one before. The first grade readers center on stories from Genesis and on some simply poems. (We also have used the Pathway readers and some other simple books, like the "Biscuit" books.)

I wasn't as thrilled about the workbook, especially the 2nd book. I felt that it asked too much in some lessons for a 1st grade child unless the child has constant help. At first my child had lots of trouble even remembering the fill-in-the-blank sentences so that she could choose the correct word. In a classroom, students might work together or do the lessons as a class, but a single homeschool student has to read everything her self. A developmentally advanced or early-reading child might do well with the workbook.

We're working our way through the phonics books, too. The phonics program is as good and thorough as any that I've seen...and can be difficult in places. The words and pictures are sometimes very agrarian-based, though, which might at times mystify a suburban child. We live on a farm and I was once a museum curator, so I'm familiar with ox yokes and some of the more obscure terms found in the phonics book. A parent without an agricultural background may find a lot of oportunity to expand his and his child's vocabulary. We've also had a problem with pronunciation of certain words...words that are pronounced (with a correct but alternative pronunciation) in our section of the country. This confused my child at first.

We've used both the phonics and sight-word flashcards extensively, but not the phrase cards.

To sum up, I think I'd say that I consider these materials to be thorough and even advanced. They offer good grounding in basics with no "nonsense" and at modest expense. Some children may not like the simple line drawings, but my little girl doesn't mind them, and even enjoys coloring them.