Top Tips for Helping Your Child Learn Phonics
The term “phonics” has become synonymous with learning to read in childhood. At its simplest level, it’s described as the system of relationships between letters and sounds in a given language. This involves learning both simple sounds (that the letter B has the sound of /b/) and more complex blends (such as that the combination of letters “tion” sounds like /shun). From this, children are able to apply these concepts to real-life reading, relying on their knowledge of these systematic and predictable relationships between written letters and spoken sounds to puzzle out words and begin to develop reading fluency.
Tips for Phonics Mastery
While phonics continues to be a staple in most kindergarten curriculums, there are some things you can do at home at the preschool age and during the early school years that can help support the process of learning phonics. Here are some great ideas of where to start.
- Ensure phonemic awareness: While phonemic awareness and phonics are often confused there is a distinction that parallels the difference between spoken and written language. Phonemic awareness is the concept that the sounds of spoken language work together to make words. Phonics builds on this as an understanding that there is a predictable relationship between the sounds letter can make and the letters of written language. Basically, children need to grasp phonetic awareness to benefit from phonics instruction. Many preschool activities, songs, games, and videos can help you achieve this in a fun and effective way.
- Introduce sounds gradually: The general recommendation is to introduce the sounds one at a time, starting with easy single-sound letters and then later moving to more complex letter combinations, blends, and so on. This allows the knowledge to build according to the child’s comfort level, without him or her feeling overwhelmed. It’s important to choose early readers that incorporate the particular sounds you are working on so the child can feel success. This is one of the benefits of investing in a learning phonics program: the pacing and book pairing is done for you.
- Keep things positive. Young children are particularly susceptible to negative feedback, which can undermine self-confidence and impact motivation. If your child feels pressure or feels failure, what may happen is a gradual development of dislike for reading. Remember, children who dislike something tend to avoid it altogether or only give it their partial attention. Keeping the phonics learning process enjoyable it critical to early success.
- Make it fun! Learning to read is hard work, so you want to keep your phonics activities as engaging as possible. There are endless phonics games and activities out there, so find whatever you think your child will most enjoy and start there. While one child may benefit from baking alphabet cookies and practicing sounds while doing so, another might prefer alphabet-centered picture books and stories that help to teach sounds. For tech-savvy young ones, there are a variety of online games they can play for free (though online activities should always be monitored).
One of the biggest things researchers have found over the years when it comes to reading is that kids need cognitive clarity about what they are learning: in other words, they need to understand the why of the exercise, or why phonics is important and necessary. When working with your child, always keep things simple, so your child is engaged yet not overwhelmed. But above all, make the activity fun and enjoyable (remember, you are building memories here, too). Making phonics learning a fun and enjoyable experience will help ensure your child grows into a strong reader.