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Homeschool Crew Review: AVKO Membership


AVKO (Audio, Visual, Kinesthetic, Oral) Educational Research Foundation offers a wide range of help for those struggling with dyslexia or other reading and spelling issues.  Its mission is “to provide free and low-cost resources to home and school educators in order to achieve literacy for all, even despite learning challenges or dyslexia.”  Don McCabe, the founder of AVKO, is dyslexic himself and has spent much of his life working with illiterates, dyslexics, and others who cannot learn in usual school system. 


Here’s the key to McCabe’s method:


If a struggling student hears the word (Audio) and sees the word (Visual) as he writes or types it (Kinesthetic) and says it (Oral), he will be using a multi-sensory approach to learn spelling patterns.


Other keys aspects of the AVKO method include

  • daily practice (absolutely no days skipped)
  • learning spelling by writing words in logical sequences, rather than by studying (this is really cool!)
  • encouragement, as typified by the motto, “Mistakes are opportunities to learn.”


­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Now, AVKO is not only, or even primarily, for young children.  It seems to be largely for older ones who are having difficulty, and for adults who cannot read or spell.  But can it be used with younger children?  Yes, it can.  It provides a phonics system and it involves a unique and appealing spelling system.  If a child is having difficulty learning to read, the AVKO approach would most likely help.


The Homeschool Crew Reviewers were asked to review an AVKO membership which includes the following freebies:

  • five downloadable books (described below)
  • discounts on other AVKO books
  • audio conference presentations
  • readings for comprehension
  • supplemental curriculum materials


The Teaching of Reading and Spelling: Starting at Square One by Don McCabe  $59.95 in book form or free as a download with membership

This handwriting/keyboarding curriculum teaches reading and spelling as the alphabet is being taught.  It is essentially a phonics program and was made for students who have difficulties reading. As each letter is taught, its name, sound, and shape are taught, and words involving the sounds are included.  Words are listed in families such as

            at, bat, cat, rat, sat, tat (p 22)

            paper, papers, papered, papering, wallpaper, wallpapers, wallpaper, wallpapering (p 206)


After completing this program, a student can begin Sequential Spelling 1 (not included in membership).  He or she can also read some pretty significant sentences like

Nine winners had dinners and dined in the diner. (p 104)


The nose knows the difference between a rose and rows of stinkweed. (p 165)

Pros are professionals.  Can professional poets write prose? (p 208)


I love the upbeat character of these sentences.  The author obviously had a lot of fun making this program, and that shines through these books time and again. 


Notice, however, that these sentences seem too sophisticated for six year-olds. McCabe says it’s important for a struggling learner to be able to read and spell words even if he doesn’t know what they mean.  He also points out, quite logically, that a student is more likely to learn from these sentences than from simpler ones like, “See the pretty red balloon.”


The Reading Teacher’s List of Over 5500 Basic Spelling Words by Don McCabe   $29.95 for printed pages in a binder or free as a download with membership 

Mr. McCabe lists the 5500 basic spelling words in four ways

  • in order of difficulty according to the scale developed by Dr. Harry Greene of the University of Iowa
  • alphabetically, with the difficulty score listed beside each word
  • alphabetically, with percentages of students, grades 2 to 8, who can spell the word correctly 
  • alphabetically, referenced to the relevant page in The Patterns of English Spelling


This book is handy for spelling review, since I can go directly to the words of appropriate difficulty for each individual child.  It’s also great for teaching spelling since each word is linked to similar words in The Patterns of English Spelling.  Thus, rather than teaching only the one word the student can’t spell (or read), you can easily teach a whole family of words. 


I’m using these words to help some of my children prepare for a spelling bee.  At this stage, I hate to get them started on a different spelling program, but we may do so in the future, if necessary.


Patterns of English Spelling, Volumes 1-10 by Don McCabe (huge, over 1600 pages!) almost $400 for printed pages in binders or free as a download with membership 

These ten volumes are not easy books to be picked up and used within fifteen minutes.  They take a while to understand, partly because they are so comprehensive, and partly because they are so thorough.  They are not difficult to use, though.  Each pattern of spelling in the English language is represented, with lists of word families put in sentence context.  Words are classified by families and difficulty, and entries include spelling demons, related families, homophones, homographs, and heteronyms.  (Yes, I learned a bit of vocabulary today!  I’m running out of space to share definitions of these three ‘h’ words in this post, but I can post them later if anyone asks.)  This is priceless for teaching spelling, and I encourage you to look at some of the samlples.

On top of all this, Patterns of English Spelling is a fabulous rhyming dictionary for poets, since it lists words by their end patterns and has cross references between rhyming patterns.



The Teaching of Reading & Spelling: A Continuum from Kindergarten to College by Don McCabe  $59.95 for printed pages in a binder or free as a download with membership


This book is for “College Education Majors,  Parents Who Want to Homeschool Their Children, The Training of Adult Literacy Volunteer Tutors, & Especially College Reading Instructors Willing to Try New Approaches to Old Problems.”  It includes information about phonics, reading, writing, spelling, and testing, and could be helpful to parents of dyslexic children.


For me, the most fascinating part of this book was the discussion of what dyslexia actually is.  There I read a description of Littlest Miss who becomes incredibly frustrated when words don’t follow rules!  Instantly all my reading for this review became personal.  We’ll give our current phonics and spelling systems some more time.   (As the Moores point out, some children just aren’t ready to read competently at the age of seven—none of our other children were.)  If necessary, however, we’ll be switching to AVKO methods in the future. 




To Teach a Dyslexic by Don McCade $14.95 for the book or free as a download with membership


The focus of this lighthearted autobiography is to show how McCade, a dyslexic, learned, and especially how he learned to teach dyslexics.  It is a fascinating and informative overview of the entire AVKO system as well as of Don McCade’s life. 



Workshop Recordings $2.50 for each audio CD or free as a download with membership   


These workshops are about dyslexia, spelling, and phonics.  One of them, entitled “How to Create Your Own Spelling Program that Really Works” points out two keys:  to improve spelling, practice daily and use letter patterns.  Another is “You Don’t Need a Master’s Degree to Teach your Kids, Just a Degree of Caring.” 


I love Don McCabe’s unique style.  Here’s an example that makes me chuckle:  “I don’t punish people for being early by making them wait.”



Selections for Reading Comprehension and Instructional Ideas

Funny, inspiring selections are included for reading comprehension.  Some are beyond a child’s comprehension, such as a story about Toyota and GM, but others are great for children as well as adults.  They remind me of the old 20th century Reader’s Digests—priceless on the whole, but with some cautions before handing to children (especially the puns).   

A few extra instructional aids are provided as PDF downloads. 

 There is also a detailed outline describing how to use Spelling City with AVKOLists of AVKO words are already on Spelling City, ready for anyone to use! 


My Conclusions and Recommendations 

If you have a dyslexic child, seriously consider buying an AVKO membership.  If you live near a literacy center, tell them about AVKO and encourage them to get a membership.  If you know an adult or teen who wants to learn to read, encourage them to try the AVKO way. 


AVKO is also an amazing spelling resource. If you do not yet have a spelling program, you could really benefit from a membership. Just be aware you might end up buying Sequential Spelling as well, although you can set up your own individualized spelling program using the information Don McCade gives in his audio workshop (included in a membership). 


AVKO is a wonderful resource for many people, but I do not think a membership would be helpful for homeschoolers who learn to read and spell easily.   



Even if you don’t get an AVKO membership, your family will benefit from these gems. (They are going up on my kitchen bulletin board!)


  • Mistakes are opportunities to learn.
  • You don’t need a master’s degree to teach your kids, just a degree of caring.
  • Practice spelling (and other memory work) daily.



AVKO’s philosophy is available here.  To see more examples of what this research foundation stands for, check out the AVKO website.    The website also has excerpts of the books available to members.  For more homeschool parents’ opinions please visit the Homeschool Crew blog. 


You can buy a basic membership for $25 US.  This includes the books mentioned above, a 25% discount on all printed AVKO books, and the member-only freebies mentioned.



Disclosure Policy:   As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received a free one year AVKO membership. 



  1. proverbsmama says:

    We used sequential spelling with dd, not because she was dyslexic, but because it made such good sense to me! I loved the way they start with a small word, then by the end of the lesson, your child is speling much bigger words from that one smaller word.

    However, as she progressed to the upper levels, we didn't like it. Too many of the spelling words were words dd would never use in a typical conversation, or even in an essay. Several of the words, I wasn't even familiar with, and I was an avid reader until I started working outside the home. For that reason, we stopped using their program

    We also found that same problem when using Spelling Power.

  2. AnnieKate says:

    You know, Stacy, I think that's a problem that most spelling programs share.

    My older ones did Christian Liberty Press grade 6, 7, and 8, and it has words that are used fairly often. Unfortunately, CLP doesn't make as much sense as Sequential Spelling.

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