If you’re teaching your child to read and write, you’ve probably come across the term ‘phonics’ — but what exactly does it mean? And how can the phonics method speed up your child’s literacy development?
Today, we’re going to break down the power of phonics and show you exactly how you can boost your child’s phonemic comprehension with a few top tips.
From tackling the challenges of language, to providing you with some ready-to-use phonics worksheets to use at home, this article will help you help them to read and write.
So, let’s get started!
What is phonics and how do you teach it to your child?
Phonics is a method of teaching children how to read and write by relating different sounds to different letters. Put simply, it’s about understanding that there is a relationship between letters and the way they sound.
For example, the sound ‘k’ can be spelled as c, k or ck. Teaching this to a child will help to improve their reading comprehension and writing ability, as they will begin to recognize that the same sound can be spoken and spelled in different ways.
Eventually, as you teach your child the sounds of different letters, they will soon learn how to blend sounds together to read full words. When a child is taught the sounds for the letters t, p, a, and s, for example, they can start to read and write the words: “tap”, “taps”, “pat”, “pats”, and “sat”.
Similarly, recognizing the differences between similar words like “cot”, “cat”, and “cut” will help your child understand how the same letters and sounds can be used to create different words.
At its most fundamental level, phonics is about breaking down and simplifying words into different patterns of sound. And the best way to help your child understand these patterns is to get them reading and writing as much as possible.
As you read, though, you are likely to come across a few challenges along the way.
But don’t worry — by confronting these challenges head-on, we can quickly learn how to overcome them.
What are the common challenges of teaching phonics, and how do you overcome them?
The English language can be pretty complicated, especially for a child who is new to literacy.
And whilst phonics is a good way of simplifying our language, there are times when things can get a bit confusing.
For example, not every letter has the same sound every time it is used.
Words like ‘people’ (hard ‘p’) and ‘phone’ (‘f’ sound) both use the letter ‘p’ but sound very different. Phonic blends like these could easily confuse a child, so it’s important to always point out the different ways a letter can sound.
On the other hand, words like ‘sea’ and ‘see’ sound similar but are spelled with different letters. Explaining this to your child will assure them that they can use similar sounds for different letters and blends (like ‘ea’ / ‘ee’), which is key to teaching phonics effectively.
There’s also the added complication of how letters are actually written. Letters like ‘b / d’, ‘g / q’ and ‘f / t’ look very similar on the page, but all read very differently. Be aware of this, and put extra focus on helping your child understand trickier letters like these.
And to confuse matters even further, the English language is filled with many little quirks and exceptions that can make reading and writing a challenge for children of all ages.
Homophones, for example, like ‘which / witch’ or ‘two / to’ require the same sound for a different word. Similarly, homonyms (like ‘bear / bear’) sound the same but are used in different contexts, whilst homographs (like ‘bow / bow’ and ‘wind / wind’) look the same but sound totally different.
These differences can get extremely confusing. But practice makes perfect, as they say — so encourage your child to read and write as much as possible, and point out any nuances wherever you see them. Even better, read along with them so they can see the words and hear the proper pronounciation at the same time.
It’s also helpful to use phonics worksheets to work through the many different sounds, letters, and blends your child needs to learn.
The structured and methodological approach provided by phonics worksheets will make the process of learning to read and write clearer and more conscious, which is great in boosting your child’s comprehension.
How to teach phonics at home
Whether you’re a home-schooler or simply want to help your children outside of classroom hours, there are many ways you can teach phonics at home.
Firstly, it is definitely worth investing in as many phonics resources as you can.
Buying age-targeted books, for example, is the best way to ensure that your child has the right tools to develop their reading skills. Downloading phonics worksheets, too, will help your child actively think about the reading and writing process, which is key to improved comprehension.
Once you’ve got the right resources, it’s important to try and make phonetic exercises as fun, and as engaging, for your child as possible.
Put on character voices as you read, and pronounce your words with joy and enthusiasm. This will help your child pick up on what you’re saying, and encourage them to eventually associate different words with characters and stories they love.
And if your child has a favorite book that they enjoy reading, don’t hesitate in letting them revisit it again and again. Whilst you might think the more books your child reads the better, studies have suggested that allowing your child to master just one or two books is the best way to help build confidence and advance their progress.
How to teach phonics in a way that’s targeted to your child’s age
The way you teach phonics at home will also depend on the age of your child.
At kindergarten age, for example, it’s important to keep phonics as simple as possible. Encourage your child to listen out for regular sounds (like animal sounds) and familiarize them with simple, day-to-day language like ‘hello’, ‘dog’, and family names.
At this early stage, it’s important to keep your language directly related to your child’s experiences. This will help them develop a basic understanding of how to express themselves with words, which is key to learning phonics later down the line.
As your child enters elementary school, you should start thinking a little more carefully about your language use.
Children are taught to pronounce letters in a very expressive and clear way — the letter ‘p’, for example, becomes ‘puh’, and the letter ‘s’ is pronounced as a hiss, more than a ‘suh’. When reading to your child — and getting them to first experiment with writing letter shapes — you should borrow this approach to reinforce what they learn at school.
Similarly, as your child develops a more conscious understanding of the world around them, you should talk and read to them about topics that they find most interesting. At this stage, you may also want to task them with writing short paragraphs related to their day-to-day life. This will help to keep reading and writing as relevant and as fun as possible.
You should also look for resources that reflect your child’s development. Throughout elementary school, your child’s understanding of language will grow very quickly, and so it’s helpful to keep up with that change to facilitate continued improvement.
In short, teaching phonics to your child is about adapting your approach in line with the different stages of your child’s development. Try to always complement their in-school education, and remember to keep literacy tasks as enthusiastic and joyful as you can.
And to really engage your child in learning to read, don’t forget to check out our phonics worksheets by clicking here.
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