A Sunrise Montessori Primary-aged child grouping objects with the first letter sound
Does anyone remember the Whole Language approach as a means to learn reading? I do and it was terrible, primarily because it didn’t believe in teaching phonics. After a few years of trying Whole Language (and a lot of illiterate elementary students), a consensus was reached that phonics needed to be the locomotive with a smidgeon of Whole Language supplementing as the caboose. Why did we go back to phonics? Because it works so well. The Montessori curriculum method for reading and writing is unchanged for more than 100 years; it uses phonics. That is why when our 5 year olds move on to Kindergarten each August, they are typically reading chapter books, a second grade reading skill. Our Sunrise Montessori teachers do what they can to help their students learn how to read through phonics, but you as a parent can absolutely help your child more quickly reach greater heights by incorporating some fun games into your normal daily routine. If you want to find out the process for how we teach your child to read and write, you can find that blog post here. What follows is a quick explanation of what phonics is, why using phonics is so powerful, and what you can do to practice phonics with your child in the car, at the store, during bath time, on the way to the neighborhood park, or at home.
What is phonics?
Phonics is a method of literacy instruction in which each written letter or group of letters is connected to a specific sound that we use when we speak. We start with basic phonics using the most common letters a child hears and sees and focus sound-letter association activities on teaching the alphabet letters that represent the short vowel sounds and hard consonant sounds. Later, we add on other combined sounds, such as ai, sh, ee, ch, and ou to cover advanced phonics. Over time, our students learn the various spellings of the 44 unique speech sounds. It is important to note here that phonics is the SOUND of the letter or letters, not the name of the letter. There are letters, like A, that have multiple sounds, like a long “aaaa” for ape but a short “ah” sound for apple. Phonics is the first step in reading by learning the sounds of letters. Children learn the name of each letter later.
Why is teaching a child to read using phonics the best way to learn?
It’s important for your preschooler to learn phonics because then they know which letters to use when writing words and decode words by sounding out the letters that they’ve never seen before. There is no other method that teaches how to read in this way. Another advantage of teaching phonics is that a child won’t need to memorize a long list of words. Phonics is pretty awesome in its simplicity and also the independence it naturally bestows on a young learner. Once they have all of the letter sounds down, they can sound out letters of words and before you know it, reading blasts off!
What you can do to practice phonics with your child
So here’s where you come in as your child’s greatest advocate. Like the sneaky ways I used to get my young son, John, to eat his vegetables by pureeing and adding them to pasta sauce with his spaghetti, you can ask questions of your child and help them work on their phonics without them even knowing it! Plus if you turn it into a game, they’ll see it as fun, too. You can do these activities with your child while driving them around town or at the store, cooking dinner, bath time, walking to the park, and more!
Here is a list of ways you can easily help your child beef up their mastery of phonics:
- Read one of the top children’s books at bedtime that are designed to build on your child’s phonics, such as The Berenstain Bears’ B Book or Cat in the Hat.
- Have them read a word or sentence or an entire book to you or a younger sibling (if your child doesn’t have a sibling, you can use a dog or cat, too…it’s pretty cute and they love it!)
- Buy a book set that specifically teaches your child how to read phonics using a familiar character they love, like Peppa the Pig or Pete the Cat! Scholastic is a treasure trove of phonics-encouraging books.
- Does your child get a certain amount of screen time on a tablet/TV? Tell them they can get 15 minutes more if they play a phonics game! Here’s a link to a list of phonics games, like Teach Your Monster How to Read.
- Come up with a word, like pen, and ask your child to tell you what word rhymes with it (hen, ten, etc.). Then ask them to spell it out or give you the first letter.
- Hide some letters around your house and tell your child that when they find them and tell you what the sound is, they get a treat, like going to the park or extra screen time to play phonics. 😉
- Give your child a camera and ask them to take ten pictures of things they love, then ask them to tell you in each picture what it is they love. Have them sound out the letters of that object.
- Allow them to watch a phonics DVD or program.
- During bath time, give your child a certain letter sound, like the “ssss” sound of the letter S, and ask them to give you a word that starts with that sound. For more advanced learners, ask them to tell you a word that ends in that sound.
- Put magnetic letters on your fridge and ask them to make a word. You can turn it into a weekly ritual that your whole family participates in! Take a picture and over time, see how their words get more complex!
- While you’re making dinner, give your child a plate filled with flour or cornmeal and ask them to draw a certain sound with their index finger. Only takes a second to look over your shoulder to confirm they are correct and it’s easy for them to erase and start the next letter. We use sand in our classrooms for this exercise.
Your child’s world opens up after they learn how to read! They start journaling (see pic to the left) made up stories, giving you a glimpse of what they’re thinking about and how creative they are. With just a few minutes a day of a fun activity with you, you can help them read that much sooner. 🙂