Learning to Read on the Road {A Roadschool Review}

This post contains affiliate links. Also, little Ellie and I received Eclectic Foundations Language Arts Level A from Eclectic Foundations in exchange for an honest review. Considering Eliana is five and five-year-olds are brutally honest, you can rest assured this is an honest review. 

I have taught six of our eight children to read using a now-beat-up and rapidly thinning phonics book and a set of the McGuffey Readers. When Eliana declared that after her fifth birthday she planned to learn to read and tie her shoes, we started up the same ol’ beloved routine with our tattered books. We had only made it through A, E, and I when Eclectic Foundations Level A arrived, so we set aside what we were doing and picked up Eclectic Foundations instead. We started at the very beginning (a very good place to start).

What is Eclectic Foundations?

Eclectic Foundations is a language arts program based on the McGuffey Readers. Children learn phonics and reading, parts of speech, grammar, spelling, and some poetry. As they progress through the program and the readers, students read increasingly more complex selections of poetry and literature, as well as essays and speeches.

The language of the readers is beautiful and thought-provoking (eventually…in the beginning it’s, you know, rat, boy, cat…nothing too stimulating). The McGuffey Readers also teach values that are all too scarce in today’s world.

A very simple, but captivating, Charlotte Mason style language arts program for "lazy" moms with preschoolers or kindergarteners.

What can you expect from Eclectic Foundations Level A?

A letter is taught each week over the course of four days. The child learns to recognize the letter and its sound with a series of activities, such as recreating the letter with playdough, covering the letter with colored sand (or backyard dirt, dyed salt, chocolate chips, or leaves if you’re too cheap to buy colored sand–ahem) writing it with her finger, and eventually writing it on paper with a pencil. She buikds the letter for two days writes it for two days, and reads it every day. By the end of the four-day week, Ellie can write the letter, recognize it when she sees it, and sound it out.

The letters are further reinforced with mazes, games, reading lessons, and more–all simple, all short, all effective, and none boring unless you fall for the “best out 0f 15” line for tic-tac-toe. Watch out for that ploy.

When all the letters are mastered, the program moves onto simple copywork straight from McGuffey.

Grammar is taught through activities and word cards that are colored based on their parts of speech. I’m one of those moms, and I hold off on grammar until the kids can grasp it in two sentences…usually during a game of Madlibs. Still, the grammar aspects are simple and appropriate for the age–it’s a gentle introduction, and I’m not opposed to that. (The grammar lessons don’t start until halfway through Level A.)

There is a Mother Goose poem printed at the bottom of each lesson, which I’m thrilled about, since our classic Mother Goose poetry book is in storage with our piano. We miss you piano and Mother Goose!

Is this parent-heavy?

Not if you pawn it off on an older sibling! Ha!

Okay, seriously, I am definitely involved, no doubt about that. Everything I need to do, however, is spelled out for me. I just turn the page and go, and I’m done in about five minutes. It’s so simple I have to keep checking to see if I’m missing something.

It is more hands-on than our previous curriculm, which only requires us to read a section or page a day together. It is also more fun for Ellie, without being overly-taxing on me–I sit with her and read the directions, but she does the work. I don’t like programs with a lot of parts to them–while Eclectic Foundations does involve activities, nobody’s going to be constructing life-size models of all the alphabet people out of toilet paper tubes and smashed Skittles.

It’s really a nice balance.

Is the student glued to a desk for hours?

No, but she is lying on her tummy with her workbook or curled up in my lap or drawing letters in the dirt outside for a total of about 15 minutes per day, sometimes only 5, sometimes as much as 20.

Ellie has never once expressed frustration, boredom, or annoyance…with the curriculum that is. What I’m serving for lunch, unfortunately, has not been met with the same enthusiasm.

This is school--playing in the rocks with her little brother and pausing to draw a letter in the stones.

This is school–playing in the rocks with her little brother and pausing to draw a letter in the stones.

What supplies do we need?

Listen, if we have what we need in the trailer, which we do, you’re totally fine. It’s pretty much pencils, glue, dirt, a dry erase marker, play dough if you want–the projects are flexible, so use whatever is on hand. What? You don’t have dirt? Come borrow mine.

You will eventually need a copy of the McGuffey Reader that corresponds to your child’s level. We happen to have the McGuffey readers in our trailer already–seriously. If you don’t travel with them, you can download or read a copy online for free. They’re in the public domain, being older than the gray hairs on my head.

Here is Ellie practicing letters in sprinkles. We’ve also “written” in salt, paint, dirt, mud, sand….

Does it work?

Naturally, every parent’s child is brilliant, even if they’re not, and that includes our Ellie. She is brilliant, even if she isn’t. By the end of four lessons working on a letter, listening to Dr. Seuss’s ABCs (and other ABC books when we’re camped near a library) almost every day, and casually reviewing letters here and there, Ellie is able to read the sounds she has learned so far, and a few others she’s figured out on her own. She’s right on target for being a reader before her sixth birthday.

Additional thoughts for other frugal and/or large families:

Here are a few money-saving aspects of this curriculum that make my heart go pitter patter:

  • Eclectic Foundation allows photocopying of the student pages within the family.  Thank you, Eclectic Foundation friends, for putting the family first. 
  • The PDF version enables you to print as many copies as needed for use within the family.
  • The PDF version is a little cheaper than the student and teacher text.
  • The word cards and appendices are available free on the website, although you will still have to print both and laminate the brief appendices. If you have more money than time and laminating supplies, you can purchase them for a low fee.

Eclectic Foundations is switching to a new publisher as soon as their current inventory sells out. This means a price hike, so if you’re interested, don’t dawdle. 

Additional thoughts for my fellow roadschoolers:

This program is available here as a digital download and as a physical product. The level I reviewed requires quite a bit of hands-on work for the child, so you will want to buy either the printed version or you will need to print it yourself. The only space saving benefits of the digital version are the ability to print pages as you need them, and not needing to print the teacher’s manual. The TM is, however, quite thin, so this won’t save you too much shelf space. Accessing our printer requires a form of yoga that I’m incapable of performing at my current fitness level, so I print as little as possible.

I don’t like loose papers, and the word cards in this program are definitely loose papers. Most of you will likely not take issue with them, because most of you aren’t quite as tight on space as we are. Don’t let the word card aspect stop you from jumping in if this is up your alley, even if you’re a fellow paper-phobe.

A very simple, but captivating, Charlotte Mason style language arts program for "lazy" moms with preschoolers or kindergarteners.

Will it stay on the road with us?

This program receives a resounding YES! Eliana loves having her own work to perform while the bigger people are writing college essays or working out algebra problems. I am a huge fan of the relatively compact and gentle approach that guides us through some stress-free learning time together. She is definitely learning her phonics, and never balks at doing her lessons. Plus it guides me along a bit better on using the McGuffey Readers. I’m very happy to have found this program.

The only thing we are doing a bit differently than the course shows is how I teach vowels. I offer only the short vowel sound at first, because that worked well with my first six readers, whereas Eclectic Foundations and McGuffey teach multiple vowel sounds at once. This hasn’t mattered in the course so far, so I’m sticking with my approach…at least until Ellie starts sounding out words that require other vowel sounds.


We use and love our old book, but we are bumping that down to a supplement and using Eclectic Foundations Level A. It is wonderful for children who desire a little more hands-on work and are ready to begin writing as well as reading. It also introduces basic grammar, so is more of a language arts program than merely a phonics program. It has earned its shelf space.

Want to know more?

Click on any of the links below to learn more:

What other parents are saying:

Other Homeschool Review Crew parents also reviewed Eclectic Foundations Language Arts Level B or Eclectic Foundations Language Arts Level C. To get their opinions on A, B, and C, click here or on the banner below:

Social Media Links:

You can find Eclectic Foundations on Facebook or Instagram and get the heads up when their next levels come out.

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