Understanding the similarities and differences between Foundations and Essentials will help you find the right starting point for your student. It is also beneficial to walk through our interactive guide when determining where to start.
- Essentials is a complete course in how English spelling works and why our words are written the way they are.
- The material is designed for students age 8 to adult who want to develop stronger reading or spelling skills or learn more about how English spelling works.
- Essentials goes deeper with concepts and applies them on a more advanced level. The program focuses more on spelling mastery, incorporates more grammar and vocabulary, but teaches all of the phonograms and rules introduced in Foundations.
- Foundations is a playful, age-appropriate way to introduce many of these same concepts to young children, particularly ages 4-7, with an emphasis on reading.
- Although Essentials goes much deeper and further with the concepts, the most significant difference between the two is the age for which each curriculum is designed.
Foundations is not a prerequisite for Essentials. Both programs can be used with a beginning reader, a struggling reader, or a strong reader. Both will be helpful for a struggling speller and a proficient speller who wants to learn more. Both teach the 75 basic phonograms used commonly in English words and equip students to apply them for reading and spelling. In most cases, the student's age should be the determining factor.
How Old is the Student?
Age 9 to Adult
Students age 9 and above should start with Essentials. The three levels of application in each lesson allow you to customize the level of challenge for the student and reteach the curriculum multiple times with more advanced concepts for greater mastery.
For struggling readers or spellers, ten optional Pre-Lessons are provided to strengthen foundational skills before starting Unit 1. These lessons teach many of the same concepts in Foundations A in a style appropriate for older students. Older struggling readers do not need to complete Foundations before starting Essentials; instead, they should start with the Essentials Pre-Lessons.
The one exception would be an older learner whose developmental age is 8 or under. In this case, if the playful lessons in Foundations would be more enjoyable for the student, then Foundations is the better choice. Otherwise, begin with Essentials.
Essentials teaches all the phonograms and rules needed to understand the spelling of about 98% of the words in our language. It is a powerful tool for increasing any student's reading and spelling skills and equipping both children and adults with a deep understanding of how written English works.
Age 7 and 8
While most seven-year-old children will be happier in the playful, active Foundations lessons, and most eight-year-olds will find Essentials a better fit, with this age range there is an overlap: either curriculum will work. Depending on the student's personality, attention span, and learning style, one or the other might be a better fit.
For help thinking through which will work better for your child, check out our article Curriculum Samples.
When previewing lesson samples, be sure to look at lessons from Foundations A-D to get a good sense of the full scope of this curriculum. For a seven or eight-year-old starting Foundations, it will often be appropriate to skip level A and move fairly quickly through level B, slowing down upon reaching the longer and more advanced lessons in levels C and D.
When considering Essentials for this age, anticipate a slower pace through the lessons, breaking them into smaller chunks as needed for the attention span of the student and spending plenty of time playing the games.
Age 6 and under
Young children should start with Foundations, whether already reading or just beginning to learn about letters.
The right pace, and the focus for mastery as you apply the concepts, will depend on the child's prior knowledge. Children already comfortable reading can focus on using the phonograms and rules for spelling. In reading, they may quickly begin to notice and apply the phonograms they have learned in more advanced words. These children will begin to master spelling while continuing to strengthen reading skills. Emerging readers should focus on using the phonograms for reading. They will learn and apply many spelling concepts that lay the groundwork for future spelling mastery, but the primary goal of these activities is building reading skills.
The concepts taught in Foundations equip children with powerful tools for reading and spelling throughout life, in lessons that are playful, active, and fun. Gaining an accurate understanding of why English words are spelled the way they are is helpful to young children at any reading level.
For some early readers, skipping Foundations A and beginning at level B may be appropriate. See the Starting Foundations with B Assessment if you are trying to decide between Foundations A and B as the starting point for your student.
Foundations and Essentials: Comparison Chart
|Designed for||Ages 4 through 7||Ages 8 to adult|
Complete language arts for ages 4-7. Includes phonics, reading, handwriting, and spelling.
Introduces students to all the tools they need to sound out 98% of English words and develops the skills they need to apply these tools for reading and spelling.
Complete course in how English spelling works. Includes reading, spelling, grammar, vocabulary.
Teaches all the tools needed to understand the spelling of 98% of English words, including deeper and more complete coverage of the concepts taught in Foundations. Incorporates spelling, grammar, vocabulary development, and sentence-level composition rules.
|Phonograms and Rules Taught||
75 Basic Phonograms
19 Spelling Rules
8 Advanced Phonograms
75 Basic Phonograms
31 Spelling Rules
46 Advanced Phonograms
Developing reading fluency. Equipping students to sound out any word.
Children also learn about how spelling works and build spelling skills, laying a strong foundation for a lifetime of spelling success. They also learn to write lowercase and uppercase letters and learn basic vocabulary and grammar concepts.
However, all these components work together toward the main goal: developing strong reading skills.
Mastering how English spelling works. Learning the rules that explain why 98% of English words are spelled the way they are and how to apply them for spelling and reading.
Students think analytically about spelling, practice spelling, and build spelling mastery. They also learn how the parts of words shape meaning and spelling, and how words work within sentences.
For developing readers, these concepts provide the skills needed to sound out any word and to build reading fluency and comprehension.
Foundations lessons include dozens of playful games and activities appropriate for young children. Many are high-energy games that involve running, tossing, and other active play. The games provide fun ways for students to build mastery and fluency with the phonograms, handwriting, and decoding high-frequency words.
Essentials units also include many games. Some are more active, while others involve more strategy. Essentials games are appropriate for older students.
As an optional resource, consider the Logic of English Game Book to add more fun and practice to your Essentials curriculum.
Foundations includes lots of reading practice and comprehension, beginning in A and increasing through the levels as students master more and more of the phonograms. By level D, fluency and comprehension are the primary focus.
Reading practice includes high-frequency word games, workbook reading activities, and Foundations readers, as well as 13 children's fiction books in level D.
Available in The Essentials Reader, an optional phonics-controlled reading comprehension supplement. For strong readers, use The Essentials Reader or a literature curriculum of your choice. For struggling readers, we recommend using The Essentials Reader. The Essentials Reader Set includes comprehension, composition, and extension activities using the reader texts.
Essentials teaches the tools students need to read successfully and includes activities that strengthen reading fluency. It does not include literature.
Included. Minor focus.
Introduces beginning grammar and composition concepts (what is a noun, what is a sentence, capitalization)
Introduces children to morphology (the concept that parts of words have meaning and we can put different parts together to create new meanings)
Includes simple dictation exercises starting in level C.
Included. Major component of each unit.
In the second half of each unit, students explore, practice, and use their spelling words while learning grammar, vocabulary, and sentence-level composition concepts.
Grammar instruction includes parts of speech, comma rules, sentence types, verb tenses, and more. Vocabulary instruction includes several hundred roots, prefixes, and suffixes.
Dictation is used in each unit; this challenging spelling activity supports students in the transition from spelling individual words to writing words correctly in sentences.
While you can use prior levels of Foundations to review after a break or to revisit a concept, the curriculum as a whole is not designed to be cycled through multiple times.
After progressing through the levels sequentially, move to Essentials to review the concepts taught in Foundations, learn new ones, and apply them on a deeper level.
Each Essentials unit contains three levels of application and practice, allowing you to customize the level of challenge and use the curriculum multiple times with the same student.
After completing Essentials using level A or B, repeat again at a more advanced level. Students review the foundational tools for greater mastery and apply them to more advanced words and concepts.
Handwriting instruction is incorporated into the lessons as a kinesthetic component to learning the phonograms, focused on large-motor practice.
Students learn the lowercase letters in level A and the uppercase letters in level B in your choice of cursive or manuscript. In levels C and D, students continue handwriting practice with whichever style they have learned.
Available separately in the Rhythm of Handwriting, designed to accompany Essentials or serve as a stand-alone handwriting curriculum.
The Essentials Pre-Lessons include a suggested schedule for incorporating Rhythm of Handwriting instruction.
|Time to complete||
Typically, 2-3 years to complete all 4 levels.
Children starting Foundations at 7 often move more quickly.
Each level contains 40 lessons and 8 review lessons. Lessons may be completed in one day or divided over multiple days depending on the age and attention span of the child.
Lessons increase in length and difficulty over the four levels as students mature and as more and more reading time is introduced.
Typically 1-2 years (Units 1-30, once through).
Repeating a second time, you may find that you move more quickly.
In an Essentials Reading Remediation Schedule, spending several hours per day, older students may complete Essentials in two to four months.
Each of the 30 units is divided into five "Parts," each of which takes 30-60 minutes. These sections can be completed in a day, but depending on the student and your schedule a slower or faster pace may be more effective. See Typical Pace through Essentials for more info.
To find out more about Foundations, check out:
- Complete Foundations page - details about each level, sample lessons, what's in a lesson, scope and sequence
- Complete Foundations Sets
- Typical Page Through Foundations
- Starting Foundations With Children Who Are Already Reading
- Tips for Moving to Essentials after Foundations
To find out more about Essentials, check out: