For the first 4 months, the program worked wonderfully! My son also did the science and numbers. I was impressed because he seemed to be learning and retaining the ABC's so well and his letter writing was excellent. I was so proud of him when he walked in on the first day of preschool and wrote his name on his paper all by himself. He was definitely ahead thanks to UPSTART. He also learned to count to 10 before starting preschool and sing the ABC song. All things my other children didn't learn until kindergarten. I'm not sure they even know the ABC song now!
Perhaps this amazing headstart makes UPSTART completely worth it. However, at about the 4 month mark, UPSTART took a nosedive in effectiveness. I realized UPSTART IS NOT A PHONICS PROGRAM!!! He stopped learning or progressing 3 months ago. We sit there everyday for 15 minutes hitting our head against a wall. He was a perfectionist and felt bad at first, but now he is getting comfortable getting terrible scores and wildly guessing about activities that seem to be a foreign language to him which does not impress me. I'm passionate about phonics because as a first grader I STRUGGLED learning to read, it left me in tears until I was put in a special remedial intensive phonics program. Two siblings experienced the same trouble and were given the same solution. A third struggled, but moved to an area without a phonics program and didn't get the amazing turn around the rest of us did. I've taught four of my own children to read and they made no progress until we chucked the sight words in the trash and went to a pure phonics approach. I'm talking about intensive practice at decoding left to right (the key for my kids) by adding only one phoneme (sound) at a time until it is mastered. None of this sight word, "read along with me words that are way too difficult for you", "guess what the hard words are based on pictures", decode chunks at the end of words and change the initial sound business.
So my review of UPSTART is: Great start, only so-so finish. It will work for a majority of kids, but is terrible for mine.
The problem with non phonic reading programs.According to Sydney Ledson a renouned Canadian writer on teaching children to read young, 80% of children will learn to read very well with the standard American reading education method. These are children who can learn to decode left to right easilywithout special training. The American method begins with memorizing lists of common words called sight words and "reading" books that frequently repeat these words. These books will have many large difficult words that the children are supposed to infer by looking at the pictures for clues. For example my daughter's very first sight word book included the word "school" and "neighbor" for her to read, but was considered appropriate because it had pictures of a school and neighbor and repeated the sight word on every single page. Once a child has memorized a handful of sight words, the next step is memorizing simple cvc words by memorizing the endings like "ip", "id", "at", "ot" and learning to change the beginning phoneme (letter sound). This is often mistakenly referred to as a phonic approach to reading instruction, when it is still rote memorization which actually starts with the word ending rather than decoding left to right. As a child progresses, educators will talk about the child being able to read 100 words, 200 words, etc. Children learning to read by this method and given special books with pictures and sight words will test very well starting within a few months of reading. This quick success for most children is surely the reason that this method has gained universal popularity in the US. However, the children who are getting high scores on reading in kindergarten aren't actually reading, they are good detectives and memorizers. Around the second grade emphasis on decoding words phonetically from left to right finally begins in American schools. However 20% or more of the children will have learned incorrectly and will have practiced incorrectly for two years that reading is memorizing word shapes and inferring large difficult words from pictures. They will not be in the habit of decoding words left to right, often they will not be solid on the sounds of every letter of the alphabet, they will have little or no confidence, and they will not continue to progress well in reading. A quick way to observe that this is affecting more than 20% of children is to listen to a second grade class read aloud. The children who have not got left to right decoding solid will pause between every single word and will show signs of distress when approaching any long or unfamiliar words.
By contrast in a phonemic approach to reading (used to teach reading in almost all other countries), each of the approximately 50 phonemes are introduced to the child one at a time. This is not a heavy burden of memorization. 99% of children will be successful with this method. There are only about 10 sight words to be memorized, especially the words "the" and "a". The child practices decoding from left to right, tracing with a finger on every single word ever read. No pictures are provided in order to keep children from guessing at words rather than reading. As each phoneme becomes solid, a new one is added until the child has memorized all 50. Unfortunately most sight words become decodable toward the end of phonemic instruction so the child seems to be seriously delayed in reading. When a child learning to read phonetically is tested in schools, they do poorly because they struggle on any word that contains phonemes they don't know (usually the sight words) and the child fails to use picture clues. However in their phonemic reading assignments they are doing beautifully and the amount of frustration is minimal because they only have to learn one new sound a day. Most assignments naturally contain a review of all past phonemes so retention is excellent. Around the middle of first grade, all the phonemes are memorized and then the child who has previously been "below grade level" in reading, can read ANYTHING. You do not need to count the number of words they can read, because they have the ability to read anything except foreign words that don't follow typical phonemic rules. Typically they can read a lot more than they can comprehend. When you ask this child to read aloud, they will slide smoothly from one sound to the next not reacting to long words, sometimes they will read half of a long word before pausing to realize the word is a challenge. In fact phonetic readers will be able to read many words they don't understand or haven't heard before.
After learning by trial an error with my first child, I have learned to throw sight word lists in the garbage on the first day of Kindergarten. I put anytime that would be spent memorizing those words into phonic instruction. Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons is the best, but I have tried 4 different programs and they all work. It usually takes 12-18 months to complete the book at about 15 or 20 minutes four-five days a week (It is more like 200 hard lessons for my kids). The way my kids' brains are wired would have put them in the 20% that fails to learn to read with whole word reading method, but they were on or above grade level by the end of first grade--even the one who had to be told that reading goes left to right over 1000 times before he got it! (If that isn't a reading disability, I don't know what is, he would never have been able to memorize 100 sight words, 50 phonemes about killed him.)