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Teaching Your Child to Read with Phonics

What is Phonics?

Put simply, phonics are the sounds that individual and letter combinations create.  Seems easy, right?    It would be except in the English language, phonics is anything but easy.  Many of our letters simply do not follow the rules making learning to read extremely difficult for some.

I currently have a first-grader in the throes of learning how to read, and I watch when he comes to a commonly used letter such as “C” and makes what is referred to as the hard “C” sound, like in “cut” only to find out the word is “circle” and uses the soft sound.

So confusing!

So what can parents and teachers do to help children learn and read via phonics?

The good news is that many letters do not try to trick our young learners or us.  B, D, F, J, K, L, M, N, Q, R, V, X, Z can be considered what I like to call “ consistent consonants.”

They make the same sound all the time when they are at the start of a word.

Then we have letters that have hard and soft sounds or are silent such as “C,’’ “G,” “W,” “H,” and “K,”

Lastly, we have blends where the initial letter change sounds based on what follows it: “Ph,” Th,” “Tr,” “Sh,” “Ch.”

The sounds I just mentioned are only the rules for beginning sounds.  When it comes to letters and combos that occur in the middle of the word, the rules get even more confusing.

Teaching Beginning & Standard Sounds

When teaching phonics, the best approach is to focus on words that use each letter’s traditional or dominant sound.  Meaning “S,” says “ssss” as in “snake” and “G” says “guh,” as in “good.” 

Keeping that concept in mind, play alliteration games with children.  Name a common word such as “Apple” or “Taco” and ask your child to name other words that start with the same sound.

Once your child has a solid foundation in the sound that letters make most of the time, we can move on to blending those sounds together.

Breaking it Apart and Blend in Together

When you are dealing with words where each letter follows their dominant sound, you can begin to work with children on breaking apart those words and piecing them back together, sound by sound.

Scrabble tiles, Index cards with letters written on them, or lettered dice are all great options to help with this method.

Here is a list of simple words you can begin with:

  • At
  • Cat
  • Bat
  • Top
  • Hop
  • Dog
  • Jog
  • Jump
  • Sit
  • Cup
  • Hat

As your child conquers each of these, continue to add more.  As you present these words, it is recommended that you use pictures with the words at the bottom, as this association will help children decipher the words.

Have them break each word down to the letter level and say the sound each individual letter makes.  So for “cat,” it would (k) (ah) (t).

Slowly have them blend the sounds together until they can produce the word smoothly and fluently. 

This procedure can be increased with longer words and blends, etc., as they are introduced to your child.

Sight Words

While sight words are not phonics, they can provide a child with a valuable tool for sounding out other words. 

Any search online will provide you with a variety of lists of sight words for young readers.  There is no “right” or “wrong” list, so if you are a parent or educator, choose one that you believe will be meaningful to your learners.

When introducing sigh words, stick to a maximum of 10 at a time.  As they master a set, move on to the next.

As children begin to recognize and learn sight words, they will also begin to recognize and learn the sounds associated with those letters and letter combinations. 

This knowledge puts them in the position to sound out new words when they come across them.  For example, if one of your child’s sight words is “cat,” and they come across the word “cap” or “bat,” they already have the phonological knowledge to sound out a new word.

As a general rule of thumb, sight word lists often contain pronouns, colors, numbers, and simple verbs and nouns.

Rhyming Words

Rhyming goes hand in hand with phonics; for two words to rhyme, they have to contain the same ending sounds: hop, pop, top, mop, etc.

Reading rhyming books and playing rhyming games will help your child solidify those sounds and recognize them in new contexts as they read.

Vowel Combos

One of the trickiest concepts is teaching children about how vowels change their sounds, but the good news is that there is (mostly) a science to it!

You can use these simple tricks to help your child learn!

  • OO – makes the sound in “boo”
    • Moose
    • Loose
    • Goose
  • When a vowel is followed by an “e,” it says its name (the exception is A)
    • Ea “meat,”
    • Ie “fie”
    • Oe “toe”
    • Ue “cue”
  • Ow/Ou – in the middle of a word says “Ow!” like you hit your head
    • Bout
    • Shout
    • Plow
    • Frown
      • Ow can also say “oh”
        • Flow
        • Mow
        • Show
  • The pattern vowel-consonant-vowel makes the first vowel say its name
    • Bake
    • Bike
    • Muse
    • Pope

Phonic Based Books

A fantastic tool that exists to assist young learners is a book series designed around a learning objective.  For example, some books use several of the same words repeatedly to teach sight words.

There are rhyming books, as we know, books that focus on question words, and there are book series designed to focus on letter blends.   

Here is a list of phonics books or series that you may want to check out:

  • First Little Readers
  • Meet the Phonics
  • Alphatales
  • Peppa Pig Phonics
  • DC Heros Phonics
  • I Can Read! (various characters)

These are a few of the ones recommended as an educator and parent, but there are plenty more out there.   The I Can Read! Books are a great option because you can tailor the characters to your child’s interests creating a greater interest in reading!

Phonics and Fun

No matter how you approach teaching a child to read, the basis should be fun, play, and an enjoyable experience. 

No one can learn when they are stressed, so the more you can tailor the activities and books to the individual child, the more likely they will participate. 

The internet is overflowing with phonic games, books, materials, and ideas from teachers, parents, and experts; use them as a resource to guide you.

Take the knowledge you have about your child and how they learn best and start your very own fun, phonic journey!

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