The Rumley Family

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Spell to Write and Read vs. All About Spelling

I’ll admit it up front: This is a homeschool mom post, through and through. If that makes you yawn, don’t feel bad about closing this tab. πŸ˜‰

We’re nearing the end of our 5th year of homeschooling, and in all five years, one thing has not changed: There are bazillions of curriculum choices out there.

When we started, I took advice from a couple of homeschooling friends, and made some decisions on curriculum, and off we went! It doesn’t help that I was planning to send Gracie girl off to public school until about 3 weeks before the start of the semester. Not much time to prepare! Quick decisions had to be made!

The way I see it, the two main things we teach in kindergarten (which is where we started) are (1) phonemic awareness / phonics / reading and (2) math concepts (time, counting, recognizing numbers, money, simple addition and subtraction, etc). So the language component is very important!

I was a Language Arts major in college. I like language. I love grammar. I am a firm believer in the necessity of phonics in learning to read. (I’m sorry, but sight words and whole language learning do not help a child know how to decode a word he or she has never seen before!!!)

So, with that background, I started off with a program called Spell to Write and Read, which I will hereafter refer to as “SWR.” Once a child understands that oral language and written words are connected, the program starts by helping the child to learn the 70 basic phonogram sounds (i.e. the sounds of the letters of the alphabet, for instance, “A” says different sounds in the words cat, ace, and lava). This is done with flashcards and lots of repetition.

Then they learn to write their numbers and letters. For this part of the program, we opted to use the companion curriculum called Cursive First. I still use this and HIGHLY recommend it. Cursive, because of its curves and connectedness (you don’t pick up your pencil until the end of the entire word), is easier for small brains to learn to write. And it’s a beautiful dying art!

Once these two steps are complete, students are ready to start their spelling lists!

I was floored when Grace wrote this list, only a couple of months into the program:

That was with me sounding it out with her, but not telling her which letters to write. And isn’t her cursive beautiful for a child who has not quite reached her 5th birthday?!

So, all that was fine and dandy. From there, the program was based on learning new phonograms (th, ch, sh…) and writing spelling lists solely from dictation. They also had some spelling rules thrown in there, but I was never very good at remembering to teach them or review them.


Honestly? It went really well the first 2-3 years, and then it became boring. I dreaded teaching that subject and would often skip it if the day was going long. It gave the kids a nice foundation in phonics, and yet it bored me to death. (And remember, I like this stuff.)

SO! Here’s the happy news about homeschooling! If a particular curriculum isn’t working out for you…CHANGE IT!!!

And we did. I had seen a homeschooling blogger I respected mention the All About Spelling and All About Reading programs. So I researched them, read some other bloggers’ opinions about them, watched some vlogs about them, and decided to give All About Spelling a try!


I started Ava (1st grade) in Level 1. And because it was a new program and I didn’t want the older two to miss anything they needed to know, I started both Grace (4th grade) and Caleb (2nd grade) in Level 2. {Grace has advanced to Level 4, which she will finish by the end of the year. Caleb will complete Level 3 by the end of the year. And Ava recently started Level 2.}

The beginning of the program is similar to SWR. Students must learn the phonogram sounds. Thankfully, Ava already knew all of hers from SWR in kindergarten. Once those are mastered, they move on.

There are many things I love about All About Spelling (AAS)…

  • No prep for me. The lessons are laid out in a very easy-to-understand way. The beginning of each lesson details what materials I need, and the rest of the lesson is scripted. Of course I don’t have to follow the script word-for-word, but it takes the guesswork out of it for mama!
  • Repetition. Key concepts are taught in the lesson, reinforced by flashcards, and practiced in spelling lists.


  • Logical teaching of spelling rules. This is a huge one for me. I really struggled with teaching the spelling rules in SWR. But the AAS lessons really focus on a clear teaching (and review) of each spelling rule (such as “C says /s/ before e, i, and y.”). Β Once a rule is taught, it is put into context, and the child practices applying it. Key concept cards (the blue ones in the picture above) are reviewed regularly so students remember the rules. And they continue to apply the rules in subsequent lessons.
  • Visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning…All three learning styles are satisfied in this program. Along with mama’s teaching (auditory) and flashcards (visual), a large part of each lesson is spent manipulating phonogram magnets (kinesthetic / visual). The kids love this part.
  • IMG_5102_small

  • A quick pace…SWR took us a lot longer each day than this program does. Or maybe this one is more fun, so it doesn’t seem like it takes as long? Each level has 25+ lessons, which can be done as quickly or as slowly as is right for each student. Our kids have progressed through their lessons fairly quickly, and it seems to boost their morale and help them to enjoy the subject even more.

The end of each lesson consists of lists of words, phrases, and/or sentences. I dictate these to the kiddo, and the kiddo writes the words/phrases/sentences in his or her notebook, figuring out how to spell each word by using their knowledge of phonogram sounds as well as applying each concept he or she has learned.


In addition, “Writing Station” is added to the end of each lesson in Levels 3 and on, where students are given 5 words and must write a paragraph with all 5 words. Grace loves this part and has been very creative, even linking her short stories from one day to the next. Caleb complains that he doesn’t like this part, but I think his stories are also creative and often make me chuckle.

Honestly? I would not tell you NOT to use SWR. It’s a solid program that gave Grace and Caleb a good foundation in phonics and reading. However, I would more HIGHLY recommend the All About Spelling program for the reasons listed above. We have thoroughly enjoyed the switch to this new curriculum, and we’re thankful for the way it has changed our dread of spelling to delight!


  1. I love that you get to do this with your own kids. It sounds like many programs I use in tutoring and teaching… someday I hope to pick out one to use with my own little ones. πŸ™‚

  2. THANK YOU for this review! I was going back and forth between the two and couldn’t seem to find any reviews that explained the differences very well.Β 

    So you’re saying to start on Level 1 even if (according to AAS’s website) my child is ready for Level 2? I certainly don’t want to rush her, but I also don’t want her to be bored out of her mind.

    • Mari, I’m so sorry I took forever to reply! With the holidays and busyness of life, your comment got a little lost.Β 

      What grade level is your child? I started my 1st grader in Level 1, but my 2nd and above I started in Level 2. I wouldn’t start any higher than Level 2, because it would be too hard to catch up on rules and concepts taught in the lower levels. But my older two kiddos (who started with Level 2) were able to catch up on the Level 1 rules and concepts fairly quickly, so it wasn’t a hard adjustment for them. I’m sorry it’s a little bit of guesswork!

  3. Hi Lacey! I’m SO glad to have found this post! My husband and I have four children: ages 3.5, 2, and six-month-old twins (we did four kids in three years…we’re busy like you!). πŸ™‚ I am getting ready to homeschool our oldest daughter in the Fall for PreK, and have been looking into both AAS and SWR. I know it’s early, but since it takes me forever to get anything done, I’m starting now! πŸ™‚
    I was leaning toward exactly this: Cursive First and AAS. However, my daughter doesn’t yet read and so I was wondering…how did you start the reading process? Was using the spelling program enough? My daughter will only be four years old, which seems young for AAS Level 1. Did you use a separate reading program prior to AAS? Thanks so much! πŸ™‚

    • Hi, Jennifer! So sorry it has taken me a while to respond.

      You had four kids even faster than me! Good for you! They are a blessing, aren’t they?

      You are a bit of an overachiever in the school arena, I have to say. πŸ™‚ Good job being proactive and thinking ahead. So…with our first three kiddos, I jumped right into learning the phonogram sounds (using SWR). But I didn’t do that until kindergarten, because I’m pretty laid back about preschool. (It’s just what works for our family!)

      Once they had the phonograms down, we started using Cursive First (which I would still highly recommend). For your daughter, because she’s young, you should definitely use a salt box (or shaving cream on the table, or other kinesthetic tools) for teaching her cursive. She’ll have fun with it, and it will help her develop her small motor skills and learn the cursive letters without becoming frustrated. I never expected our kiddos to write a cursive letter on paper until they could form it with their finger in the salt box.

      With our fourth kiddo, I actually did purchase All About Reading’s pre-reading program, and I think you would like it for a 4-year-old. It was a little bit too easy for my kindergartener, but it might be a good jumping off point for your daughter (because she’s younger). The only thing I tweaked with that program is that they really only teach the first phonogram sound for the phonograms with multiple sounds, so I chose to teach ALL of the phonogram sounds throughout the program. (I think it would be confusing to teach a child that A says ‘a’ as in apple, only to later have to tell them it also says ‘a’ as in ace and ‘ah’ as in ma. Their young minds are so absorbent – might as well use their memorizing power now!)

      Let me know if you have any other questions…and come back and let me know what you decide to do! πŸ™‚ I pray that homeschooling is a great blessing for you!

  4. Hi there! I’ve used SWR for my older kiddos- they are now 4th and 2nd grade. It has worked, but I’m so ready to try something different. My 4th grader is in list M and has largely mastered all the spelling rules- do you think it would be confusing for her to switch? And would I be crazy to switch her after she’s made it so far in SWR? I really want to switch her but am not sure if I should just stick with SWR for her and switch my 2nd grader to AAS. Any thoughts would be appreciated!!

    • Hi, Amy! I guess it really depends on how you think your daughter will react. When we switched, I felt like it gave us a good amount of refreshment, to look at spelling in a different light. SWR has its merits, but it was getting old for us (especially for me as the teacher). A question I would ask you: is it more important for your daughter to finish the SWR lists, or to possibly be more excited about spelling?

      I don’t think it would be crazy for you to switch, and I don’t think it would be confusing either. Thankfully, the program isn’t very pricey, and they have a money back guarantee if you aren’t satisfied ( You can try it, and if it doesn’t work, just send it back. (FYI – If you want to take advantage of the guarantee, materials have to be purchased through their website.) Blessings!

  5. Hello, I was wondering if you matched up Cursive First with AAS? I have been using AAS and my 3rd grader is in the middle of level 3. However, cursive is new to him and I was wondering if you had any tips for lesson planning with Cursive First. I know it’s made to go with SWR and I am struggling to figure out how to use it independently. Thanks for any tips you can pass along.

    • Hi, Jessica! Yes, I still teach my children using Cursive First, along with AAS. It came more naturally to me to use it when learning all of the phonogram sounds (in the very beginning of Level 1) and learning to write letters. Of course, it’s a little late for you to go that route since your little guy is already in 3rd grade! πŸ™‚ So, I have both sets of phonogram cards (white from SWR and yellow from Cursive First), and I first make sure my kiddos can identify the sounds for each letter in both manuscript and cursive. Once they can identify each letter, I work on teaching them to correctly write in cursive. I think Cursive First does a good job of telling me the order in which to teach the letters. I always teach the kids to write the letter in a salt box or in shaving cream (something kinesthetic) before they attempt it with a pencil on paper. There seems to be less frustration that way. That’s all I can think of at the moment. Let me know if you have any more questions! God bless you in your homeschooling!

  6. Hi,
    I am thankful for your opinions as I am new to homeschooling (or will be this next year) as I will teach kindergarten to my 5 year old. I have heard amazing things about SWR and have been so drawn to it as I am obsessed with languages (my major in college was Spanish). I love the idea of learning why it is spelled the certain way just because I’m curious myself and also as my 5 yr old is constantly asking why a word is pronounced differently than what she expects! I also want to possibly do something with my older step boys (in 7th and 8th grade) who are in public school but haven’t ever grasped the basis of phonics. My 7th grader still struggles with sounding words out which in turn affects his comprehension and it is so frustrating as this affects every subject now! So, I am motivated to possibly teach them during this summer while possibly simultaneously starting my kindergartener!?? Dunno if that is even possible. I also have twin 3 year olds that will eventually be homeschooled as well! I have yet to research much about AAS but from what I have read it seems to be fairly easy for everyone involved. From what I can gather from your post and comments, you use cursive first from SWR, the program cards from SWR and from cursive first, as well as AAS? Is that right? So should I purchase AAS, cursive first and just the phonogram cards from SWR? Is that what you would suggest even in my situation!? I have also read that there may be a discrepancy in SWR with some letters…like the “i” sometimes sounding like “ee” NOT being taught in SWR…
    Is this accurate? This would lead me to believe that AAS is more thorough? Can you tell a difference in the content? Or is it all the same, just approached in a different way?
    I also love the idea that there is a free phonics app that you get with the purchase of AAS…or so I have read!
    Did u also use a phonics program like a Beka or something for 5 k? Or do you suggest just using SWR or AAS with no program???!?
    What pulls me back to SWR is that is an all in one book…whereas it seems that AAS is not? But I guess that could be beneficial? I don’t know…I am getting overwhelmed with making this decision and I am running out of time!!! Thanks in advance for the time you will be taking out of your day to answer my questions!!!

    • Hi, Karin! I completely understand how overwhelming it is to make curriculum decisions! My oldest will be in 7th grade this fall, and I’m starting to freak out about middle / high school a little bit. πŸ™‚

      So…it’s now been a while since I’ve done SWR, so my memories are a little rusty. I’m sorry! I’ll do my best to answer you.

      Yes, SWR is interesting in how it explains certain letter sounds. For example, the “y” in “baby:” SWR would say it should be pronounced like a short “i” and AAS says it’s pronounced “ee” like pretty much everyone I know pronounces it. (Ha.) πŸ™‚ When we started AAS, we had to add a phonogram sound to “y” and “i” that SWR didn’t include in their curriculum.

      You summarized what we do just right! It has worked well for me, but I’m not going to promise that it will work for everyone.

      You’re right that SWR is pretty much one big purchase, as opposed to AAS, where you’d need to buy materials for each level. That part has not bothered me, but again, you’ll know what’s cost-prohibitive for your family.

      Side note: For your 3-year-olds, they might like All About Reading Pre-reading. The deluxe kit comes with a zebra puppet. The only downside is that they don’t teach ALL of the phonogram sounds at that level (just “a” as in “apple,” etc). Young kids can certainly learn ALL of the sounds at that age, and (in my opinion) it’s less confusing if you just teach them all up front instead of breaking it to them later that they actually need to memorize more sounds! πŸ™‚ All that to say, I liked that for my youngest biological child (once I added in all the sounds).

      I’ve never used another phonics program. Both SWR and AAS have been really thorough in teaching the phonogram sounds, and I like the way that AAS teaches the spelling rules, also. For your older children, I would just challenge them first to memorize all the phonogram sounds (with the SWR cards), and then to memorize the spelling rules. I think having those things under their belt would be SO beneficial for reading fluency and comprehension.

      My response to you feels very scattered…but here it is! πŸ™‚ I hope your homeschooling journey is a blessing to you and your kiddos!

  7. Hi there,

    I currently have SWR and used it for my daughter when she was 4-5. Since then I tried Abeka and while I found it good for the year I want to seriously consider going back to SWR. However, my best friend is using AAS and I wanted to know if cost-effective wise- would it be good to stick with SWR since it emphasizes all of the sounds each letter makes (ex. a says “ah, aw, A”) until I am ready for change and move on to AAS, or go ahead and try AAS? Another note, our family has grown. Our oldest is now 7 (going into 2nd) and middle is 4. I want learning to be fun for both of them. I have seen the prereader pack with AAR/AAS and know that I would have to get two different packages (pre reader and level 1/2). I’m still up in the air.

    Thanks for taking the time to read this!

  8. Did you use AAS to teach reading, or just spelling? Do you think AAR/AAS is better than Logic of English Foundations (similar to SWR)?

    • I’m sorry – I’ve never used Logic of English Foundations, so I can’t speak to that at all. I do believe SWR was a solid program, but (for reasons stated above), we prefer AAS. I’ve used AAS to teach four of my children to read, and used AAR only one year for one specific child who was struggling with reading. Otherwise, AAS has been enough for my kiddos. Blessings on your homeschooling!

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