Teaching your child how to read using phonics is essential for their reading success. This post will discuss how to read using phonics and the steps for teaching your child to read using phonics. We have also included some free activities and games that you can do with your little one.
What is Phonics?
The alphabet lies at the core of any phonics program. Phonics focuses on the relationship between letters of the alphabet and their corresponding sounds, and your child then applies this knowledge when decoding words that they have not read before.
The goal when teaching phonics is to help your child understand that the relationship between letters in the alphabet and the spoken sounds is logical, predictable and organised.
Why is Teaching Phonics Important?
There are many reasons as to why phonics should be taught when trying to teach your child to read, but we'll go over some basics: It helps children understand what different symbols mean so they don't confuse “b” with “d” or “p” with “q.” It's also important because it helps children learn how to sound out words and make sense of the letters they see.
Understanding phonics helps your child break down a word into sounds, allowing them to decode (sound out) unfamiliar words.
If your child does not have this basic understanding of letter and sound relationships, they will struggle to read when faced with more challenging words and lose confidence.
What Age Can You Start Introducing Phonics?
The answer to this question is different for every child. Some parents might start introducing phonics at the age of three, while others may wait until children are five or six years old before they begin teaching their child to read.
The Children Learning Reading Program can teach children as young as 2.5 years old to read. You can read a full review of the program here.
The critical thing to remember is that reading readiness cannot be rushed. Children who have been read to regularly or have older siblings are likely to show an interest in reading earlier than other children.
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Steps to Teaching Phonics
Step 1 – Introduce the Sounds
The first step in teaching phonics is to introduce your child to the different sounds within a word. This step aims not to teach your child to recite the alphabet but rather to teach them that words are made up of different sounds.
For example, the word ‘bat' is not one sound but rather 3 sounds /b/ /a/ /t/. (the / / on either side of a letter denotes sound).
This is an important step your child needs to learn before they can even start reading.
Games are a great way to encourage learning.
- Start with some rhyming games. For example, you could say, “What rhymes with bat?” and your child says a word that rhymes with ‘bat'. If your child comes up with silly nonsensical words, that is completely fine; we want them to get the concept of sounds at this stage.
- Ask them what letter their name starts with? You can then build on this by asking what letter their friend's names start with.
- Use daily activities as an opportunity to practise letter sounds. For example, as you are grocery shopping, ask them what the first sound is for each item you place in your shopping trolley.
- Games like ‘I spy with my little eye something beginning with…” are a great way to practise letter sounds.
- You could also play ‘Let's build (insert letter/sound) list'. For example, you may say, let's build a ‘b' /b/ list, then you say a word that starts with that letter, for example ‘, banana', your child then adds another /b/ word until you run out of ideas.
Step 2 – Introduce Oral Blending
Oral blending is the ability to put sounds together to make a word. For example, knowing that the sounds in the word ‘dog' are /d/ /o/ /g/ and that these sounds make the word ‘dog' when put together.
As you have not yet introduced letters, you will teach this to your child by simply saying the words. You would say, “What word am I saying /c/ /a/ /t/?” and your child should then respond ‘cat’. Remember, you are saying the sounds of the letters denoted by / /, not the letters themselves.
This is a critical skill, so do not rush this, have fun playing different silly games with your child to keep them engaged.
Step 3 – Introduce the Letters of the Alphabet.
Once your child has mastered sounds and blending, now is the time to introduce them to the letters of the alphabet.
We now want them to learn the letters and their corresponding sounds. As with step one, the goal is not to teach your child to merely recite the alphabet, but now we want to teach them the sounds that each letter of the alphabet makes.
Start with lowercase letters first, as introducing capital letters at this stage will be confusing.
Start slowly – don't try to introduce all 26 letters at once.
- Buy some magnetic letter tiles for the fridge or letters for the bath. Place a few letters next to each other (they do not have to make a word at this stage), and then ask your child what the corresponding sound is for each letter. Once your child has mastered the first 4, introduce another four until they know all 26 letters and their corresponding sounds.
- Hide one of the four letters you placed on the fridge or in the bath and ask your child which one is missing.
- Print off some simple pictures and letters and place them on a wall in your house. Ask your child to find the picture of an apple. Then ask them what letter apple starts with and what sound the ‘a' makes. You want them to know that the letter ‘a' makes the /a/ sound.
If your child is struggling with a particular sound, give them an anchor word for this sound. For example, if they are stuck on the “d” sound, you could say something like, ” What animal barks?”
Step 4 – Blending Their First Words.
Once your child has started mastering some of the letters and corresponding sounds, you can now introduce blending in actual words.
This is similar to Step 1, but now you introduce the letters visually. The sooner you introduce blending, the better; you do not have to wait until they have learned all the letters and sounds before you start teaching them how to blend their first words.
Below is a list of words that you can use:
You can print this table here:
As you will see in the table above, only one letter has been changed each time in each group of words.
Use your magnet tiles, bath tiles or print off words for your child to sound out and read.
Step 5 – Practise, Practise, Practise
Once your child has started to master these skills, it then comes down to practise. The more they practise, the more proficient they will become.
As they become more proficient you can start to add more advanced activities.
Vary the games and activities to keep them engaged and excited to keep learning.
Once your child starts achieving success from the process of learning to read, they’ll want to do it again and again.
This is a huge milestone for your child, one that takes lots of practice. Every child is different and reading readiness cannot be forced. If your little one is struggling, instead stop and try again in a few months.