Books & Reading

Dancing Bears – More Than Meets the Eye

I’m going to put up a few pictures from the book Dancing Bears: Fast Track. This program has been a gift from God for my probably dyslexic son. He is my happy, hard-working, lego-loving, very literal boy who has hit every roadblock on the road to reading. We’ve used Spell to Write And Read, Visualizing and Verbalizing, and various readers and method books from Don Potter’s website. All have helped, but for the physical act of sitting down to read Dancing Bears stands alone. You can see our copy is much used.


I can’t put my finger on it, but there is some magic in those pages. They appear simple and (except for the stories) boring. Sometime suggested it is the cursor, a notched card used to reveal one part of a word at a time. I think that is part of it, and anyone could make one in a few minutes. I’ve added it to the second picture.


This is the end of one of the story sections. You can see the check marks on each line, indicating my son successfully read that line. I also tick the bottom corner of the page when we finish it. This page focuses on -igh, -tch, and -dge, with both words and sentences.


This is a word building page So the child reads ‘force’, then ‘enforce’, and finally ‘enforcement’. My son really likes these pages. It also has practice sentences. I’ve put the cursor over enforcement in one of the sentences. The cursor prevents the child from guessing by word shape and helps them decode from left to right. Moving it at the right speed is an art.

Except for the story sections and the fluency reading, I control the cursor. You can see the fluency section on the right page at the bottom. I believe the teacher is supposed to control the cursor on this section but it was difficult for me to keep time and move the cursor fast enough, but not too fast, for my son. Things improved when I let him move the cursor. I also found I needed to be a stickler on time and not mark the sentence if he was close to 10 seconds – he needed to be at or below that mark.

At the top of the right side are the cloze sentences. The child reads the words below the sentence, then the sentence itself, filling in the right word. If everything is correct the child gets to circle the correct word. And that is ALL the writing the child has to do. Which was a relief for my son after Spell to Write and Read.

Is Dancing Bears going to work for your child? I don’t know. I do know that I ignored this program, despite reading many reviews of it working for kids just like my son, because it looked so simple. Oh, did I mention that Dancing Bears only takes 10 minutes per day? I was skeptical because it seemed too easy and too cheap. I expected to end up using the expensive but thorough Barton system, and bought Dancing Bears as a cheap last ditch effort to avoid what was reported to be a program that took years to complete. I hope this post can help another mom evaluate this under-known program. As for us, we are almost done with Fast Track, and will then start Book C. I’ve promised my son his choice of bowling or a 3-D movie as a party when he finishes Fast Track.

As a friendly heads-up, some find the stories to be distasteful. My son likes them and we think they are funny (we have odd humor here – I’ll blame his Dad :D). But you can see the whole book if you click “see inside”. Some people use another reader, such as McGuffey. This page explains the different starting books for Dancing Bears, since there are a few options depending on the age and ability of your child.

10 thoughts on “Dancing Bears – More Than Meets the Eye

  1. Amy, I followed your link over from the AO forum and thought I’d ask a question of you here since it isn’t exactly CM. I have a ds who turned 9 this week who struggles with reading. We have been using SWR exclusively for the past 3.5 years. He has only in the past three months been able to read an easy reader like Henry and Mudge in one sitting. I’ve read and been told by the trainers at SWR not to mix with other reading programs that promise quick results because they can hinder reading fluency in the long run. We completed level N this past week. We’ve also been doing buddy reading for about two years. I’m still waiting on that magic moment when he picks up a book and can read without hesitation. SWR is the most tedious and time consuming part of our day but I’ve stuck with it since studies have shown the importance of using explicit phonics with dyslexics. I’d like to use something like Dancing Bears or Seeing Stars but don’t want it to turn into a three steps forward and five steps back type scenario. Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Avery! I found the SWR people to be … rigid. On their yahoo list I witnessed too many people trying things and being gently chided (“tsk, tsk, now stop and do it our way”) – I ended up leaving the list and asking all my SWR questions on the Well Trained Mind forums. I know they are good people, trying to help, but sometimes it seemed they were stuck in a box and couldn’t see out – not all kids fit in that box! You are further than we ever got, I think we reached the Ks or maybe the Ls. He just didn’t take off in reading, and I also found SWR tedious, so we switched. Perhaps if we’d read through the spelling words more it would have worked, or done more of the CMish activities. Who knows?

      Now for the good news – the phonograms from SWR are excellent for Dancing Bears. DB also teaches the phonograms, plus some other letter combinations like the type 1 silent e’s (-ake, -eke, -ike, etc.) So your son will have a good headstart on that. And it’s only 10 minutes a day of gentle reading practice that includes review – it just seems to automate the process of decoding. You could try it alongside SWR if you want – look at it as reading time, since there are stories in the book.

      I haven’t used Seeing Stars, even though I have read it. I don’t think that would really interfere with SWR, I look at it as a book to teach you some new tools to add to your teacher tool box. I borrowed a copy through inter-library loan. It seemed to me that SWR focused more on the auditory cues (think to spell) while Seeing Stars (and Charlotte Mason) focused on the visual memory. I notice I use both as an adult, so I try to model both for the kids.

      It sounds like you’ve been very diligent with SWR, maybe it’s time to try something new. I choose Dancing Bears because it was one book, clearly laid out, and it was based on short, daily lessons.


      1. Thank you for your thoughtful response. I looked at the web site of DB and will give the first fast track book a try. I’m afraid my son won’t care for the stories though. I’m so ready to be over this hurdle!

        1. I hope it works for you. My DH seems to have passed on his odd sense of humor to my kids. 🙂 But DB does work a lot of practice into the stories, which my son needs.

  2. I clicked on the websites for DB and I don’t see how to order? We are finishing up All About Reading which is wonderful, but a bit time consuming. Is DB something my child can do on their own? In addition to buddy reading? My dd is 10yo and is dyslexic but is now to where she can read the first Little House book with little issue. I love your blog! I came over from AO.

    1. I’m in the US, so when I click on the US flag I end up on this page: where I can order via PayPal. Dancing Bears is not something the child can do alone, someone who can read needs to work with them for 10 minutes a day. It is designed so that any reader can teach it, so teaching could be shared between spouses, grandparents, etc. My son is reading Rabbit Hill currently (when he isn’t devouring Swiss Family Robinson via audiobook that is!). We do buddy reading in addition to Dancing Bears, I’m hoping to hand 1 reading a day over to my son next term. 🙂

  3. I also am in the United States. I am looking into this program for my struggling reader. What about the actual spelling of the words used inthe phonics books? There are some words that are not spelled alike in British and American English ( color/colour, practice/practise, etc.). Do the books printed for US consumers reflect American spellings? Thanks!

    1. Sorry for the delay, I used the US web store, and the words have American spelling. However, there are a few words we don’t use in America so we just read them phonetically. If I know what they mean I’ll enlighten DS after he reads the line.

  4. Thanks for sharing this info and including some pictures! I ordered both the Fast Track and Apples and Pears sets yesterday, and I have been dying to see what’s on the inside 🙂 I have to giggle at the minor differences between cultures. For instance, here in the U.S. a children’s book would never contain the sentence, My dad asked me to fetch his glass of scotch. Ha! And my daughter would get caught up on the fetch part, as if the dad was talking to his dog. This will probably be entertaining! The word builder especially looks good. I cant wait to get started! Hopefully the struggling will be ending soon enough for my sweet girl. One question: If it only takes 10 minutes per day, would the child read the story one day, and then do the exercises for that story the next? Or are you simply supposed to time your session for 10 minutes and then stop? Just curious. Thanks again.

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