I was so excited to be chosen to review Can Do Cubes by jollyliteracy.com (just2ducks LLC). I love wooden toys and tools that lend themselves to open exploration, and I knew whatever I thought of the program, we would love adding the Can Do Cubes to our stash of exploration toys.
The Can Do Cubes are divided into two trays, with each tray representing a different level. Stage One blocks show one spelling for each sound found in English and Stage Two adds more than 175 spelling variations for those same sounds.
I was pleased with the physical product as soon as I opened the box. The blocks are just a smidge bigger than an inch cubed, feel nice in your hand, and the letters are clear and easy to read. Really, they are a beautiful, well-made product.
I shouldn’t have been shocked that as soon as I stepped away from the opened tray, Sissy came along and dumped the blocks out. The first time this happened, it took me quite a while to sort through all the blocks to return them to the correct position in the tray.
The second time it happened—because, yes, I’m a slow learner—I realized that just2ducks LLC had cleverly prepared for this situation by adding a teeny tiny number to each Stage One cube to make it easy to return to the proper slot. They didn’t do this to the Stage Two blocks, and a few of the sound that are grouped together surprised me—the “aw” sounds were placed in a slot with the other blocks labeled “air” and “ear”. I’m not sure if this is because these, like Jolly Phonics, are made in England where the “r” is pronounced much more softly than it is here, or if “aw” just wasn’t labeled in the tray (or if I just got mixed up!), but once I noticed this quirk, it was easy to adapt and adjust during clean up.
The Can Do Cubes come with an Instruction/Activity Book for both Stage One and Stage Two. These books provide information to the parent about the phonemes—what sounds each letter or letter combination says, along with a cheat sheet to help you remember (you can also listen to Debbie Hepplewhite pronounce the sounds on the interactive DVD). They also provide several different ways to use the cubes in formal and in informal instruction.
The Can Do Cubes also came with an Interactive DVD that contained a few clips of the creators explaining the reasons behind a phonics-based approach to teaching reading as well as modeling the use of the cubes–it was worth a quick watch to see a few ways to use the cubes.
We chose to use these cubes alongside Jolly Phonics. For instance, one day I used the Student Workbook to introduce Bubba to the “oa” sound. Later that day, I put a handful of cubes in front of him and asked him if he could figure out a way to spell “oak”. I encouraged him as he puzzled it out, and reminded him that “oa” was the sound we had talked about earlier that day; once he figured it out, then I asked him to try to add a letter to make the word say “soak.”
I love this truly hands-on approach to spelling—in a way that just talking about it never could do, the cubes reinforced the connection between similar words, and Bubba was able to make the connections himself, in his own mind (without using a pencil—which is still such a challenge for us!).
The Can Do Cubes came with a couple At-a-Glance Word and Synthetic Phonics Overview charts that make it really easy to pick blocks that work together to create words. These are poster-sized, and we don’t have wall space for them. I wish these word lists especially were also available in a little flip book like the Instruction/Activity Books, because they are so helpful.
While we paired the Can Do Cubes with JollyPhonics, you could pair them with any phonics program or use them independently alongside a whole language approach to learning reading to help instill an understanding of phonics as well. The cubes do come with a CD of PDFs that can be printed and used as a sort of workbook to accompany the cubes themselves—this includes both teacher instructions and printable worksheets with blank templates to use as a mat for the cubes, or with partial words with letters missing for students to fill in or spell out using the cubes.
Overall, this is an fantastic product that will get much on-going use in our house. If you want to read more reviews of the Can Do Cubes, check out the School House Review Crew’s main post.