Curriculum Review - Explode the Code

Curriculum Review - Explode the Code


My love for Explode the Code goes way back to when I was a private teacher before I was a mother. I started teaching my student, Charlie, when he was six years old. When I started teaching him, he hadn’t started reading yet and was resistant to the idea and to most seated work. He was especially resistant to anything that required him to hold a pencil for more than a minute. How was I going to take on the task of teaching this child to read and spell?

I found Explode the Code and couldn’t believe how quickly he took to it. He loved the bite-sized lessons, minimal writing required, simple black-and-white illustrations, and the witty humor found within the pages. I loved how simple it was to instruct, with little-to-no preparation ahead of time. We both loved how quickly he caught on to letter sounds, blends, and how that translated into reading and spelling.

explode the code curriculum review

We started at book 1 and went all the way to book 8. We didn’t use any other form of reading instruction, other than having him practice reading aloud to me and it was enough. We did use another curriculum to aid with spelling, but I believe most of his skills in spelling came from consistent practice in Explode the Code. For some, I know Explode the Code is used as more of a supplement than their main phonics instruction. I love that it can be either, depending on the situation and the child. I also love the ½ levels that are offered if a child needs more practice with a particular phonics skill before moving on. 

When I became a mother and started homeschooling, Explode the Code was one of the first resources I purchased. We started with the Primer books around age 5-6 and quickly progressed through the series, ending with the last book around age 8. We found it to be enough for our phonics instruction, along with the children reading beginner readers aloud like Dash into Learning’s series, My Father’s World Bible Reader, and Pathways Readers

Here is a more in-depth overview of this low-cost phonics curriculum:

Explode The Code offers 17 phonics workbooks, ranging from Primer levels (preschool) through Book 8 (somewhere between grades 2-4). This also includes the “half levels”, which are more practice of the main levels for children who may need more time to master a skill before moving on. They also offer Teacher’s Guides, but I never found them necessary because the workbooks themselves do a great job of explaining each skill. 

The workbooks are not labeled by grade.

explode the code curriculum review

One wonderful thing about this curriculum is that the workbooks are not labeled by grade, just by levels. I find that this helps a child to progress at their pace with confidence, without the grade level pressuring them. 

The main skill that Explode the Code focuses on is phonics decoding and reading, but I have found that the lessons touch on so much more. Some other areas I saw my students improve in by using this guide are reading comprehension, critical thinking, handwriting, spelling, and vocabulary. 

The workbooks are printed in black and white and have large print.

explode the code curriculum review

The amount of work on each page is minimal, making it approachable for children who are easily distracted or get overwhelmed by the sight of a lot on one page. Once a child has a basic understanding of phonics and the way Explode the Code is set up, they should be able to do most work independently. 

The workbooks teach phonetic concepts in a systematic approach.

explode the code product review

This systemic approach covers new concepts in each book and reviews past skills learned. 

Here are the phonetic concepts you will find in each book:

Book 1 and 1 ½
short vowels and short-vowel words
Book 2 and 2 ½
initial and final consonant blends
Book 3 and 3 ½
one-syllable words that end with a long vowel or the letter y, silent-e rule, and vowel and consonant digraphs
Book 4 and 4 ½
vowel digraphs, syllable division, suffixes, and compound words
Book 5 and 5 ½
word families, three-letter blends, qu, ey, and the three sounds of ed
Book 6 and 6 ½
more difficult diphthongs and r-controlled vowels
Book 7 and 7 ½
soft c and g, silent letters, the sounds of ear, ei, eigh, and the digraph ph
Book 8 and 8 ½
suffixes and irregular endings


You can find Explode the Code on Amazon, Christian Book, and various other places. If you want to see sample pages from the books to help you decide which to start with your child, you can do that by clicking on each book and then “View Sample Pages” here

While I have not personally used it, I do know that Explode the Code also offers an online version of the lessons, as well as, an online reading assessment to help with placement. They also have Beyond the Code, which focuses on reading comprehension. We used it for a short period, but didn’t like it as well as Explode the Code. 

If you are interested in learning more about what resources we used for early reading skills, before starting Explode the Code, read this blog post.

I hope this review helps you decide if Explode the Code would benefit your family!



Thank you for the detailed curriculum resources. Your dedication to helping homeschoolers is invaluable. The phonics and reading suggestions are fantastic!


Thank you for this blog post. Makes me feel better because we have been using Explode the code since book A. We love it. Simple and fun! My daughter enjoys it. I do use this as a stand alone phonics/reading curriculum and we read a lot of books too! I don’t feel the need to add another curriculum when my daughter is a great reader. I guess it depends on the child. This alone would not work for a struggling reading. My daughter was very interested in learning to read and she caught on real fast.


Hi Ashley! We don’t use it as a full curriculum but I have found it’s great for extra phonics work and to supplement.


I have been told that Explode the Code isn’t a “full reading program” and that it should only be used as a supplement. What is your perspective on this?

Treehouse Schoolhouse

Hi Alayna! I think the workbooks alone are sufficient :)

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.