There are lots of ways children can learn to read. One way schools help children learn to read is by teaching ‘phonics’. Find out what the fuss is about with phonics and how you can help your child learn about letters and sounds.
What is phonics?
Phonics is a way of teaching English reading and writing that focusses on the relationship between letters (and combinations of letters) and the sounds in spoken words. There are 44 sounds that make up the English language, but only 26 letters in the English alphabet.
Phonics begins with simple sounds, for example the sound ‘b’ in ‘bag’ or ‘a’ in ant. Later children progress to sounds made by combinations of letters, for example ‘sh’ in ‘shop’. Once children can hear and say the sounds the letters make they are ready to blend them to form simple words. If a child hears ‘b-u-s’ as three separate sounds they can blend them to say ‘bus’.
When children can match letters or groups of letters with sounds they are able to read many words.
What’s all the fuss about?
In the past there have been debates about the best way to teach reading, with explicit phonics based teaching versus other approaches.
Phonics is great for helping beginning readers to work out and pronounce words. To be effective readers, children also need to understand what the words they read mean – not just say them correctly.
In Australia, phonics is part of the national curriculum. Schools use an integrated approach for teaching reading that explicitly teaches phonics, and also encourages fluency, vocabulary knowledge and comprehension.
Helping your child with phonics
You don’t need to be an expert to help your child develop their phonics knowledge and skills. Here are some simple things you can try:
- Try to read with your child every day – read to them, read with them and get them to read out loud to you.
- Sound out words with your child while reading together.
- Ask your child’s teacher what they are working on in class and how you can support their learning at home.
- Try playing letter/word games, like I-Spy, Junior Scrabble and Boggle.
- Point out and talk with your child about the ‘irregular’ words they come across, like ‘said’, ‘does’, ‘are’, and ‘was’ – with irregular words, some or all of the letters do not represent their most commonly used sound, so they are more difficult to ‘sound out’.
- Praise and encouragement! Let your child know you are proud of their reading and praise them for their effort.