Essentials or Foundations?

Last week we received an email from a parent who has been using our Essentials curriculum to teach Logic of English to her young children. More recently, though, she learned about Foundations. Which, she wonders, is best for her kids?

She writes:

Last year, we did not know LOE provided the Foundations curriculum. This, too, sounds wonderful. Our children using Essentials are in 1st and 2nd grade. We have a 3rd child age 3 (4 soon) and are considering starting the Foundations program with him next school year. We have a few questions:

  1. Since we started with Essentials, but now see the benefits of the Foundations program, should we continue with Essentials and not include any Foundation curriculum? OR- Somehow join both of these programs together? OR- Pause on the Essentials and start with a level C or D Foundations? We are currently at about lesson 10 in Essentials.
  2. After completing Foundations program, is the next step for the following school year -- Essentials?
  3. After completing the Essentials program, what is the next step for Language/ Grammar/ Writing/ Spelling ...?

These are great questions. While not everyone is contemplating whether to switch mid-stream, questions about the difference between the two programs, and which will be better for a particular student or class, come up all the time.

What's the Difference?

Foundations and Essentials teach the same basic skills and tools needed for success in reading and spelling. They systematically teach phonemic awareness, the 74 basic phonograms, logical and accurate spelling rules, reading and spelling skills, morphology, and critical thinking about language. There is a lot of overlap.

However, Essentials goes much faster, deeper, and further, and it puts more emphasis on mastering this material for spelling. It also incorporates much more grammar, vocabulary, and composition instruction than Foundations. We recommend Essentials for ages 7 or 8 and up, including older students and adults who need support in literacy skills. [2016 note: The three levels of instruction in the new 2nd edition allow you to teach Essentials for multiple years, teach multiple ages together, and customize the level of challenge to the ability level of your students.]

Foundations, designed for ages 4-7, is much more playful and active, and its primary emphasis is reading. While students learn spelling and practice applying the phonograms and rules through spelling analysis in each lesson, the primary purpose in doing so is to strengthen reading fluency. Therefore, Foundations teaches all the spelling rules needed for successful decoding, while Essentials teaches these plus the rules needed only for spelling. Another key difference is that Foundations incorporates handwriting and lots of reading comprehension, both fiction and nonfiction, so it is really a complete language arts curriculum.

Students in second grade (or around age seven) could potentially use either, then; the question is which will be a better fit for their interests, personality, and developmental level. A seven-year-old who is still a beginning reader and enjoys playful games and colorful pictures, for example, would probably have more fun with Foundations, while one who wants to move beyond "babyish" activities to a more serious course will probably prefer Essentials, especially if he or she is already reading comfortably. (An optional reader for Essentials provides reading comprehension and fluency work for older students using Essentials for reading instruction or remediation.) Even some seven-year-old kids who are reading well prefer the more playful lesson style of Foundations lessons, and this is fine as well; they can continue to read other age-appropriate books as much as they choose while using Foundations to further strengthen their reading skills as they develop their understanding of how written English works and learn the tools to be come effective spellers.

So, for your specific questions:

  1. No, don't try to do Essentials and Foundations simultaneously, and do not switch to Foundations C. Either one could be very confusing, and if you switch to C he will miss some key content taught in level B. Levels C and D build systematically on content taught in the earlier levels, so they do not work as starting points for the program.
    However, if you feel like Essentials is too much, too fast for the six-year-old, especially if he's still developing reading fluency and not ready to put such an emphasis on spelling, it could be a good idea to switch to Foundations B. You may find that you move fairly quickly for awhile, as some of it will be review for him; you could do two lessons a day if he's up for it. Then slow down when needed; the lessons get gradually longer and more challenging as you move into level C. You could conceivably do the same for the 8-year-old, but I think Foundations might feel a bit babyish for him.
  2. Yes, Essentials is great after Foundations! It reviews and reinforces all that linguistic content, goes further with it, shifts the emphasis much more to spelling, and teaches much more grammar and vocabulary. There are free optional Advanced Spelling Lists on our website that you can use to supplement or replace each lesson's list for an extra challenge, or to review the material in Essentials for a second year.
  3. After Essentials: See our blog post What Next After Essentials?

I hope this helps! Thanks for the question.

Other Foundations and Essentials questions...

We're about to finish Foundations C. Should we continue to Foundations D or switch to Essentials?

Either will be effective, so the question is which one will be better - and that is mostly about the what the student will enjoy.

In most cases we would recommend D. It is a great curriculum; we're hearing wonderful feedback on it so far. In D, students continue to practice the phonograms and rules learned in A-C and learn some advanced phonograms and additional spelling rules. They discover how morphology helps us understand the spelling and meaning of words like two, one, lone, awesome, and equator, and even amphibian and anthropomorphize! They also begin to focus a bit more on spelling and some basic grammar and composition. However, the main thing they do in level D is read, read, and read! Level D uses nonfiction readers and a variety of published children's fiction, and students read a chapter or book in every lesson. While the lessons are longer and more challenging than those in A-C, the instruction and activities are still designed for children in 1st or 2nd grade.

On the other hand, if you feel like your child is outgrowing Foundations in terms of the playfulness and style of it and might find it babyish or boring, especially if he or she is already reading children's chapter books with ease, go with Essentials and use whatever age-appropriate literature you choose for reading. Essentials will continue to have games and fun, but it feels a little more serious and moves quite a bit faster, and it places more emphasis on spelling mastery. If you're unsure which will be a better fit, take a look at the D sample lessons and readers, with the student if possible. If it looks fun for the student, go with D and save Essentials for the following year. If the student thinks it looks childish, switch to Essentials.

We're looking to start Logic of English for second grade. Can we start with Foundations C or D?

We strongly recommend against starting at C or D, because these build immediately and systematically on a wealth of tools and knowledge learned in earlier levels of Foundations. The curriculum assumes that students have mastered the majority of this material. However, you have two other excellent choices available!

1. Start with Foundations B. If your student will enjoy the playful, colorful, reading-focused approach of Foundations and needs support with basic reading skills, level B is an excellent starting point. It teaches 19 multi-letter phonograms, 8 spelling rules, the concept of schwa, syllables, and many other language and comprehension skills. You may find that you move quite quickly through this level. Continue from there with levels C and D, which build on the material in B with longer, more challenging lessons and lots of new language concepts. (With younger children, we recommend starting with level A, which teaches phonemic awareness, the A-Z phonograms, beginning reading and spelling, and lowercase handwriting.)


2. Start with Essentials. While Essentials moves faster than Foundations and is designed for older students, it starts at the very beginning. In Essentials, students will learn or review all 74 of the basic phonograms and the 31 spelling rules, with the focus on applying them for spelling. Students who have completed Foundations have the opportunity to review, deepen their understanding, and work on application, while students new to Logic of English have the opportunity to learn these tools for the first time, as well as to review and gain new understanding of any of the material they have encountered before. All students should complete the Before You Begin section in the 1st edition (or the Placement Test, and Pre-Lessons if needed, in the 2nd edition) and then begin Essentials at lesson 1; while some material in the early lessons will be review, all of it works together systematically to build a strong foundation for spelling, reading, and critical thinking about how our written language works. So do not skip ahead, even if you move fairly quickly at first. Parents and teachers often tell us that they learn concepts they were never taught before, even in the first few lessons.

If Essentials is a better fit developmentally but the student struggles with reading, use Essentials, and supplement the lessons with reading passages from the Essentials Reader.

If you are looking for more guidance on where to begin with your student, try our Help Me Choose tool. For answers to other questions, visit our FAQs page.

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