Happy Cheetah Reading System

The Happy Cheetah Reading System includes everything you need to cover phonics and reading skills up through the second-grade level. Engaging and fun, students feel successful from the very first lesson – even if they’ve previously struggled for years. Delivering lessons that incorporate what Dr. Karen Holinga calls the Three C’s of Successful Reading, all instruction begins with stories (Context). Alongside reading practice, word play with magnetic letters, dry-erase board work, drawing opportunities, and games; tracing and letter/word/sentence writing is embedded into the daily lessons from the very beginning (Copywork). Short lessons, sensible and easy-to-follow instructions for the teacher, interesting story content, and very do-able tasks, create an atmosphere of relaxed safety and confidence (Calmness). The result? SUCCESS!

Happy Cheetah is brilliant in its straight-forward simplicity. Working together, teacher and student embark on an adventure. Students revel in the sense of progress and teachers (aka parents) are thrilled with the user-friendly materials and straight-forward methods. If you take the time to read through the introductory information in the workbooks and Dr. Karen’s Cure, as well as the pamphlet and booklets that come with the packages, you will glean a wealth of information on how successful readers learn, how the brain works, recognizing possible visual tracking issues, and why it works so well to keep lessons “short and sweet.”

Course components are small student-sized readers, plus workbooks. That is everything! All teacher instructions are in the landscape-oriented workbook (left-hand page) so there’s no juggling a teacher’s manual. The Complete Package and the Grade Level Packages do include a few extras such as game cards, magnetic letters, and a dry erase board, but those are designed to facilitate the learning and provide reinforcement rather than the primary instruction. A fun extra in the Complete Package (also available in the Dr. Karen Office Experience Booster Kit) is the EASY button. This provides an auditory “attaboy” (technically the word “Easy”) …roughly akin to a “high five.”

Teacher guidelines are practical – keep lessons short, keep them moving (not too much time on any one part of the lesson), set your child up for success, do not teach to a weakness, and stay upbeat, ending the lessons with a smile. You can expect lessons to take 20 minutes – max.

Lessons in the four numbered workbooks are grouped around a series of stories from one of the readers. The first lesson in every grouping has the parent/instructor reading the stories aloud to the student. This is true for the first lesson grouping in the Workbook 1 (Cub Starting) and for the last one in Workbook 4 (Cheetah Ready). The following lessons in each grouping spend time in the stories and encourage working with the words from the stories. Lessons follow a pattern that includes reading and re-reading the stories, magnetic letters (start with a word, change a letter to make a new word and keep going through several words), word building using letter boxes (one square per letter), and a “think and do” exercise that involves visually identifying correct words and sentences. Copywork is a consistent activity through all the lessons in all the workbooks – starting with letters, then words, and almost immediately short sentences. Another consistent activity is giving the student the opportunity to illustrate some aspect of the story. Toward the end of each lesson grouping, there is focused review of both reading and writing (and spelling in the later workbooks). Both teacher and student celebrate the completion of the lessons with a Certification of Achievement award.

Based totally on teacher-student interaction, these lessons are flexible. You should complete what feels comfortable and keeps a positive focus. Each lesson comes with its own built-in checklist but the time frame is up to you. Any teaching information or direction you need is right there in the lesson. Lessons per book vary from 42 in the Yellow (Getting Ready) to 112 in the Blue (Cub Running) and Green (Cheetah Ready) workbooks. As you would expect there is a progression of skills through the books with chunking introduced in the final workbook. [Chunking is a technique for identifying and emphasizing the phonics constructs in words and is a major component in Spelling You See, another program by the Happy Cheetah author.]

In fact, the structure of the Green Cheetah Ready (Workbook 4) changes a bit to include the chunking exercises. These lessons still start with reading the stories and include copywork but chunking is also a regular activity. Chunking requires the student to identify certain letter teams and using colored pencils, mark them. Stories and copywork in this workbook are noticeably longer and an answer key for the chunking is in the back of the book.

The stories in the readers are always the starting place. Cub Starting (Orange Workbook 1) corresponds to Readers 1, 2, & 3. Cub Walking (Red Workbook 2) corresponds to Readers 4 & 5.Cub Running (Blue Workbook 3) corresponds to Readers 6, 7, 8 & 9 while Cheetah Ready (Green Workbook 4) corresponds to Readers 10, 11, & 12. These readers are little-hand size (4 ½”x 5 ½”) volumes and they are about 3/8” thick, which gives them a nice, substantial feel. Text is always provided on the left-hand page with colorful and engaging illustrations on the right. Obviously, text size and numbers of words/sentences varies with the progression through the readers. Both workbooks and readers are color-coded.

One of the intriguing aspects of this program is the interplay between the words the student is learning to read and is copying with each lesson and the words they are learning to build using the letter boxes. Reading and copying words grows into multisyllabic words sooner than you might expect, with students reading two and three syllable words by Reader 4. By contrast, in the first three workbooks, only three-and-four letter words are built using the letter boxes. These words grow into three-four-and-five letter spelling words in the Cheetah Ready workbook. Likewise, phonics instruction is embedded throughout the program. Starting with short vowels and progressing through vowel and consonant teams, the presentation eventually covers Bossy-R and endings along the way.

The Getting Ready (Prep) Workbook is used prior to the numbered Cub books. This consumable book is set up in the same user-friendly fashion with teacher notes on the left side of the page and student work on the right. There are five sections in this book which lead the child through the skills needed to jump into the Cub Starting (1) workbook. Sections cover (1) upper case letters in alphabetical order, (2) lowercase letters introduced by stroke, (3) using letters in words - tracing and practicing, (4) letter boxes are introduced illustrating that letters make sounds; then letters build words, (5) writing numerals. Letter practice follows this pattern: instructor’s verbal directions (i.e. “down, over, over, over” for an upper case E), air write, dry erase in blank space, write on one line, and write letter on two lines. A specially designed magnetic dry-erase board provides this progression of writing space (blank, one-line, two-line). Letters are introduced one to a page with each including two-line copywork space plus an activity. This two-line copywork space is featured throughout all the workbooks but the line spacing changes from 5/16” in the Prep book to 9/32” in Workbook 2 to ¼” in Workbook 3.

Happy Cheetah means reading SUCCESS – even if (especially if) your child is struggling to learn to read. Just dig in, enjoy, and find yourselves racing away with reading. ~ Janice




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