Although phonics is the evidence-based approach to teaching reading, there’s still a gap between reading instruction in schools and the science of reading.
This is why you need to think twice about HOW your child will learn to read, especially if your local school is teaching the outdated “whole language” approach that’s based on a theory of reading that’s been debunked by cognitive scientists.
With just a few minutes a day, you can set up your preschooler for success with learning to read by teaching phonics at home.
My gentle, child-led approach focuses on indirect preparation.
Even though I talk about "teaching your child to read", it's really about providing opportunities for children to teach themselves. I don't believe in putting pressure on 3 or 4 year old children to start reading before they are developmentally ready!
Keep reading to learn the 4 steps in the learning sequence to teaching phonics at home using hands-on Montessori activities.
It’s important to understand the steps from pre-reading to early reading. That way you you’ll be able decide quickly whether or not your child is ready for a specific activity that you find on Pinterest.
Before we get into HOW to teach phonics, let’s start with a definition of phonics. You may have heard the term “phonics” before without really knowing what it is.
So, what exactly does “phonics” mean?
The alphabet letters in English are written symbols that represent speech sounds. We can communicate through writing because we’ve all agreed that a certain letter or combination of letters represents a single sound in our spoken language.
Individual speech sounds are called phonemes and the written symbols that represent those sounds are called phonograms.
A phonogram can be a single letter or a combination of letters. For example, when we say the word “cat” and then write it on paper, the speech sound /c/ is represented by the letter “c”, the speech sound /a/ is represented by the letter “a” and the speech sound /t/ is represented by the letter “t”. It’s easy to read the word “cat” when you know the sound that each letter represents!
Learning to read and write in English is a bit more complicated than other languages because there are more than just the phonemes that correspond to the 26 alphabet letters.
There are about 44 unique speech sounds in the English language, and some of them have multiple spellings! For example, the long a vowel sound can be spelled as a (acorn) and also ai (train), a_e (cake), ay (play), ei (vein), eigh (eight) and ea (break).
To have a solid foundation for reading, your child needs to learn about 70 phonograms. Of course, we don’t overwhelm children by teaching all 70 phonograms at the same time!
We want to first start with basic phonics. This means that you’ll first focus your sound-letter association activities on teaching the alphabet letters that represent the short vowel sounds and hard consonant sounds.
Then you’ll layer on the other common phonograms such as ai, sh, ee, ch, ou, etc to cover advanced phonics. Over time, you’ll draw attention to the various spellings of the 44 unique speech sounds.
It’s important for your preschooler or kindergartener to learn phonics for two main reasons.
In fact, a good way to assess your child’s knowledge of phonics is to invite him or her to write or read nonsense words such as gax, baj, steck, vaith and strone.
A huge advantage of teaching phonics is that your child won’t need to memorize long lists of words!
This is because most words you’ll find on high-frequency word lists or sight words lists can actually be sounded out easily by children who have knowledge of the phonetic code.
Children who learn phonics also don’t need to guess at words by looking at the picture or the first sound of the word, and they don't need to skip any words in a sentence. These are the strategies of struggling readers who don’t have a solid foundation in phonics.
Here’s the step-by-step overview of the learning sequence for teaching phonics at home with your preschooler that I teach inside The Playful Path to Reading™.
You can sign up to watch my FREE CLASS that walks you through this 4-step method to teach reading at home. You'll learn the 3 biggest mistakes to avoid and you'll pinpoint where your child is at in the learning sequence.
The first three steps develop pre-reading skills. These activities offer indirect preparation for reading. We’ll use language objects, sandpaper letters and a moveable alphabet to develop all the skills needed to learn phonics — without any worksheets or crafts!
The first step to teaching phonics is to play "sound games" when your child is around 3 years old to help your preschooler develop phonemic awareness.
Phonemic awareness activities involve NO letter symbols!
The focus is just on drawing attention to the individual speech sounds (phonemes) in spoken words. That will prepare your child to understand that letters are symbols that represent speech sounds.
It's important not to skip this step because phonemic awareness is the best predictor of how well children learn to read.
"Without phonemic awareness, phonics is harder to learn.In other words, phonemic awareness is something that should be taught before phonics — or at least early in the phonics sequence — so children receive maximum benefit from their phonics instruction.” (2005 National Reading Panel Report)
The second step to teaching phonics is to help your child connect the speech sounds in spoken words with the letter symbols of our written language.
At this point, your preschooler will already be able to identify at least the beginning sounds of spoken words.
Having already developed some phonemic awareness, the letter symbols will have meaning for your child. Your preschooler will be able to draw on that knowledge to make sense of letter symbols.
Sound-letter association games using Montessori sandpaper letters develop visual, muscular and auditory memory to learn basic and advanced phonics.
The third step to teaching phonics is to show your child how to put speech sounds (represented by letter symbols) in a row to make words using a Montessori moveable alphabet.
This "writing before reading" step allows children to use their existing phonics knowledge to communicate ideas through print without any pressure to read what they have written.
Often children are ready to build words before the pencil grip has developed, so we’ll use a Montessori moveable alphabet instead of pencil and paper.
Your child can just focus on finding the Montessori moveable alphabet letters needed without worrying about having to write any letters with a pencil. This takes the pressure off!
Most children will discover their ability to read through the process of building words! Your child is now ready to develop decoding skills through practice reading words, phrases and then sentences.
Once your child has begun reading words using phonics knowledge, you can encourage your child to memorize some sight words to boost reading fluency and then introduce decodable readers that require knowledge of basic and advanced phonics.
Phonics is the method of teaching reading and writing through explicit instruction of the code between speech sounds and written symbols. Research supports using phonics over the whole language approach.
There are 4 steps in the learning sequence from pre-reading to early reading using hands-on Montessori activities.
It’s important to understand the big picture so that you’ll be able to decide very quickly whether or not your child is ready for an activity that you find on Pinterest. That way you can be reassured that you're not putting any pressure on your child to learn to read before he or she is developmentally ready.