Monday, January 17, 2011

When to start teaching phonics

I have had a lot of students who came to see me for reading support in kindergarten because they were having difficulty with their phonics skills (the sound written letters make). The main cause for their difficulty acquiring this new skill seemed to be that they were not ready to tackle learning phonics, hence we needed to back-track.

I thought that one item that might be helpful to my blog readers was a checklist of what skills a child should have BEFORE they begin phonics:

1. The child must have a good grasp of phonemic awareness (the concept that spoken words are made up of sounds).
One easy way to test this is through some oral games. Ask your child what sound starts the word cat? What sound is at the end sit? If they show that they are able to hear single sounds within a word, they have one of the skills they need.

2. The child should know the name of each letter in the alphabet, and be able to recognize and name them out of order.

3. The child should have a basic understanding that letters around them make up words, words mean something, and an interest to know what those words are.

If your child has mastered these skills, he/she is probably ready to start learning phonics. I suggest starting at the very beginning and teaching that each letter has a sound (no combos yet). Stick with individual letters and not words with combination sounds like "ea" or "sh."
If you are not sure what sound to associate with a letter (for example vowels), it is best to use the most common sound usage.  In this case it would be short vowel sounds (remember that long vowels "say their letter name.")

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