Reading is not a task that comes naturally for most children. Instead, they need to be taught to read. They won’t learn simply by looking at books or listening to adults read (even though few things are more valuable in raising a lifelong reader than reading to them from birth on!).
Recognizing words easily is one of the first steps on the path to a love of reading and learning. And using phonics can help you get the ball rolling for your child!
Phonics — which, at its core, is the linking of sounds to letters — is a fundamental part of reading. Even without noticing, you use phonics every time you see a new name or an unfamiliar word to figure out how that word should be pronounced.
That said, we understand that helping your child with phonics might be a little overwhelming at times. The good news is, in this article, we share easy and fun ways to help your child develop foundational phonics at home!
We break it all down for you: what phonics is, the benefits of adding it to your little one’s learning journey, and when (and how!) to introduce it.
What Is Phonics And How Does It Work?
We’ve all occasionally been stumped by a long, unfamiliar word or two and have had to “sound it out.”
This is phonics at its core — the relationship between letters and sounds. It’s a method of instruction that teaches children to see a letter and attribute a sound to it or hear a sound and match that sound with a letter.
To give you a better idea of how phonics works, we need to talk about the alphabet a bit. The alphabet is simply a collection of symbols we call letters that we match to sounds. In English, each symbol (or letter) can be matched to one or more sounds.
Phonics is the heart of the alphabetic code. It helps your child as they learn to read and write by helping them pair sounds with letters.
Why Use Phonics To Help Your Child Read
Phonics is an essential tool for learning to read in any language that uses an alphabet to write words. In English, a large proportion of words, especially words beginning readers encounter, follow the rules of the alphabetic code. These words are considered phonetically regular.
You can find examples of this everywhere — think of letters like the e in bent or the a in sat. These letters sound and behave the way you would expect (and make for some pretty poetry in a pinch).
Other words behave irregularly. Think of words like yacht, isle, or women. If you sound out the individual letters using their most common sounds, the words become almost impossible to understand. Another example would be the word was rhyming with buzz instead of has.
This can be confusing for young kids who are just beginning to read. Because of that, phonics focuses on introducing children to words with regular sounds.
By beginning with the basics, your child will gain the confidence they need to become a strong, enthusiastic reader!
Adding phonics to your child’s tool belt will become especially helpful once they begin to read longer words. Knowing to sound out words when they’re stuck will help them break multisyllabic words into bite-sized snacks for their brains.
A foundation in phonics can be a safety net for your little one to fall back on when they eventually start to read on their own. They’ll know that by breaking words down and sounding them out, they can read just about anything!
When To Introduce Your Child To Phonics
Kids can begin learning phonics as early as three or four years old, though they are usually introduced to phonics when they start kindergarten. How do you know if your little one is ready to jump on the phonics train?
There are two major milestones to watch for:
- Your child can read and recite the alphabet
- They show some ability and interest in phonological awareness tasks such as playing with words, sounds, and language
Phonological Awareness Checks
Phonological awareness sounds complicated, but actually, most children develop it naturally over time. You can easily understand where your child is in their phonological-awareness journey as you go about your day (and they won’t even see it coming!).
If you’re wondering which level of phonological awareness your child is on, you can try these activities.
You’re probably already doing this naturally, as saying nursery rhymes and singing rhyming songs help kids develop an awareness of rhyming.
To find out how confident your child is with rhyming, you can ask them if two words rhyme or do not rhyme (cat and rat, or cat and net?). For younger kids, give them a head start by saying a few words that rhyme so they have an idea of what to listen for.
If your child needs a little help, consider turning it into a fun game by testing each other’s skills. You could make it silly by occasionally making mistakes on your turn and saying, “Oops, that doesn’t rhyme!”
For this activity, have your child clap for each word they hear in a sentence. You can make it fun by turning it into silly singing time and singing the words as your little one claps to them!
By choosing phonological awareness checks that are fun and challenging, you can easily get a good idea of where your child is on their reading journey.
If you’re looking for additional support, you might consider signing up for a free trial at HOMER, our award-winning early learning app.
After answering a few simple questions, you’ll receive a learning path for your child that fosters phonological awareness and, when the time is right, teaches children to read and spell. You will also have access to great stories that are just right for your child!
How To Encourage Phonological Awareness
We believe in fun, personalized, and engaging early learning for your child. So what better way to encourage phonological development in your child than with games?
After deciding what aspect of phonological awareness you’d like to focus on, you might try one of these games to help give your child an extra boost of confidence — all while you’re already spending time laughing and bonding with one another.
No extra work or hour-long recitations required!
A Rhyming Game
Gather a basket of small toys or pictures of objects with names that rhyme (cat, hat, bat, mat, and so on).
Hold up an object and begin the rhyme by saying something like, “In my hand, there’s a bat.” Then say, “Your turn!” and encourage your child to find a toy that adds to the rhyme. (“In my hand, there’s a hat.”).
A New Twist On An Old Song
For this game, you can rely on a tradition from when you were a kid –– the Old MacDonald song! Except this time, you’ll be playing a funnier version with your child.
During the part of the song when everyone yells, EEH-EYE-EEH-EYE-OH, have your child replace the letters with the name of an animal, even if it’s not the exact same amount of syllables. For example: kit-ty-kit-ty-cat or goat-y-goat-y-goat.
This gets your little one working on syllable segmentation without even knowing it. They’ll be cracking themselves up while still developing their skills — and a love for learning!
The Wrong Words
Not only will this next game make your child laugh, but it will also help give them tons of confidence — because they’ll be correcting your silly mistakes!
Choose a nursery rhyme your child is familiar with, like “Jack and Jill” or “I’m A Little Teapot.” Sing with them, but when it’s time for some of the iconic rhymes, start messing up the words.
Your child will probably laugh and correct your rhyme. Without them even realizing it, this game encourages your child to listen carefully for the right sounds.
Plus, it’s a simple way to incorporate phonological awareness, the foundation for phonics, into your daily routine! You can sing while cooking dinner, driving around town, cleaning up the house, or anything else on your to-do list.
For more game ideas that go beyond a typical learning program and serve your child’s unique interests, check out our activities!
Building A Lifetime Love Of Learning
Phonics is not the only way to help your child learn to read, but your child’s relationship with reading can be encouraged by a strong foundation in phonics!
That phonics foundation gives your little one a strong starting point for their reading journey. As they learn to understand sounds and match them up with letters and words, they will continue to master other reading skills and develop a lifetime love of learning!
Need additional resources to boost your little one’s reading confidence? Consider taking a look at the stories and activities inside our kid-powered, personalized online learning program.
From all of us at Begin, happy reading!