When it comes to reading we all want what is best for our children. We want to set them up for success. So what is the best method? The “experts” keep going back and forth on this – phonics or whole language? Which is the best? I am a firm believer that phonics are important and here is why….
WHY TEACHING PHONICS IS IMPORTANT
What are phonics? Phonics is the study of sound as a method of teaching reading. You teach reading according to the sounds letters make. When the sounds of letters are blended together it helps them decode unfamiliar or unknown words by sounding them out. We often use the phrase “sound it out” when working with children in early stages of reading. Decoding letters into their respective sounds is a skill that is essential for children to read unfamiliar words by themselves. Having letter-sound knowledge will allow children to make the link between the unfamiliar print words to their spoken knowledge.
Simply put: phonics is a way of teaching children how to read and write. It helps children hear, identify and use different sounds that distinguish one word from another in the English language.
Of course, English really is a confusing language. I will be the first to admit this. My husband is German and my girls are bilingual. I learned Australian English so there are differences in spelling, idioms, meaning, etc. Then we go ahead and teach so many “rules” and many of these “rules” actually have more non-examples than examples. Like “I before E except after C”. I learned that one. But it honestly has more words that don’t fit this rule, so why do we teach it? For example…..
Then we have homonyms and homographs. It has weird plurals at times that do not follow the “s” or “es” rule. And we should mention contranyms, idioms, syllable stress changes meaning, silent letters…..and don’t get me started on OUGH…..”Though,” “through,” “thorough,” “thought,” “tough,” “trough” and “bough” all mean different things and are pronounced differently with the same “OUGH”.
But we need to start somewhere to build a good foundation, and this is where phonics comes in.
The Phonics Method is one of the most popular and commonly used methods. In the beginning you might get frustrated as it is slow and halting as your child is breaking things down, but eventually the cognitive processes involved become automatic and your child gains fluency. However, English is not always spelled the way it sounds. This means some words can’t be sounded out and need to be learned through memorization. This is why we have sight words to complement the phonics method.
DON’T LEAVE IT OUT OF SCHOOL
It is important to not that kids struggle to read when phonics are left out of schools. Research shows that children who don’t learn to read by the end of third grade are likely to remain poor readers for the rest of their lives, and they’re likely to fall behind in other academic areas, too.
There are 44 different letter sounds. Out of 26 letters that is quite some difference. The sounds can also be spelled in different ways. For example, the sound k can be spelled as c, k, ck or ch.
English has 20 vowel sounds. WOW! There are short vowels, long vowels and diphthong (blended). And then there is the letter y – is it a vowel or a consonant? It is both! Linguistically, the “sometimes” part of teaching the letter as a vowel doesn’t make sense, since the letter y is more commonly pronounced as a vowel. But, when we look at it, the consonant sound is unique, and that seems to be why y is more often considered to be a consonant and only “sometimes” a vowel.
How to break down the letters and sounds.
|Letter||Sound of Letter Name||All sounds of letter||Examples|
|A, a||ā-ee (long a to long e, also spell “ay”)||æ, ā, ah, ā-uh, uh||cat, late, all, and, around|
|C, c||See||kuh, suh||cake, city|
|E, e||Ee||eh, ee, silent||bed, free, late|
|G, g||Jee||guh, juh||glad, large|
|H, h||ā-ch||huh, silent||hotel, what|
|I, i||ah-ee||ah-ee, ĭ||light, sit|
|L, l||El||luh, ul||lot, full|
|O, o||ō (oh)||ah, ō, uh, oo, ů||hot, slow, computer, fool, good|
|Q, q||Kyoo (kyū)||kwuh||quick|
|R, r||Ah-r||ruh, ur||race, stir|
|S, s||Es||suh, zuh||stick, is|
|T, t||Tee||tuh, duh, N, silent, stopped tuh||table, better, mountain, interview, hot|
|U, u||Yoo (yū)||uh, yoo, oo, ů||up, use, flute, full|
|W, w||Dubōyoo||wuh, silent||well, slow|
|X, x||Eks||ks, zuh||box, xylophone|
|Y, y||Wah-ee||yuh, ee, ah-ee (i), ĭ||yes, happy, try, cylinder|
PHONICS IS EASY TO TEACH
It doesn’t have to be difficult to teach phonics. You can make it a game. This is something I have done the past few years with the girls. It can be done when shopping, when driving, when going for a walk. It goes something like this:
- What letter is that?
- What sound does it make?
- Can you think of words that start with that letter?
**This, of course, will lead into the fact that other letters can make the “k” sound, like c or ch (like in my name, Michayla).
You can also teach Word Families. This is where you start with simple one syllable words. Focus on a sound, like “at”. Then you build up words that use the “at” ending.
You end up with a list like:
at, cat, bat, fat, sat, hat, mat, rat, pat
Your child is learning out to put sounds together to help decode words. We have fun trying to see how many proper words we can make using word families
WHOLE WORD APPROACH
What is the whole word approach? This is where you are teaching children to read by sight and relies upon memorization through repeated exposure to the written form of a word along with hearing the word. You are not sounding out words but rather learning to say the word by recognizing the way it’s written, so you are not decoding. Context is important and images or pictures can help. Familiar words may initially be presented on their own, then in short sentences and eventually in longer sentences. As their vocabulary grows, children begin to extract rules and patterns that they can use to read new words. This is sometimes called sight reading and the whole sight words list is from.
Learning to read through the whole word or whole language approach can be frustrating for children, especially if they struggle to remember the words. Also, there are so many words in the English language that look very similar, so this approach can make children vulnerable to mis-reading and mis-spelling even very common words. Some children have fantastic visual memories, but even they can struggle as they try to learn more and more words.
START WITH THE BASICS
Now, let me say that I believe there is ground work that needs to happen before we start the formal teaching of reading. We should be giving our children daily opportunities to hear books being read to them – starting when they are a few months old (do it during tummy time – works a charm!) Reading and listening to books helps young children understand important ideas about books that are called concepts of print, such as the fact that you read text front to back, left to right, and top to bottom, and other important features of books. It also introduces them to rich language, which refers to vocabulary words that children might not hear in normal conversation. This is all part of the foundation needed for phonics.
So, coming back to teaching phonics….yes. Let’s start with that. If we teach children the letter names and sounds, decoding and blending, then we are setting up for success. We can combine that with sight words for those words that don’t fall into the “sound it out” category.
IT WORKS FOR US
I have seen how it works well for my girls. We are more organic in how we are approaching learning how to read. I would rather that it come from reading, reading, reading, and through fun activities. Now, I also teach English to Chinese children and my girls like to come and look at the lessons (and I think, “Why not? You will only learn something”.) One day I was looking over a lesson I hadn’t taught before and Kira came up and said “…….is run a marathon.” I looked at her and said “yes, is runNING a marathon. How do you know it said marathon?” She rolled her eyes at me and said “I sounded it out.” I was so darned proud! 😉
I LOVE PHONICS
So, I am not ashamed to say how much I love phonics and teaching phonics. I am a firm believer in teaching it to set our children up for success in reading. May it be a beautiful thing for you too as you see your children decoding, moving beyond the halting reading style into fluency and a world of books!
Here is a great additional resource as to why phonics are important.
Here are a couple of good phonics curriculum or resources you can use at home with your children.