Helping kids learn phonics is a necessary part of helping them to learn how to read.
And because it is such a critical foundational skill, it’s imperative to teach kids how to pick it up early.
Without a firm grasp of phonics, second, third and fourth graders can easily fall behind in reading.
And as you grow older, the amount of reading you have to do in school and daily life only increases.
So how can we help kids learn phonics effectively at an early age, so they seamlessly pick up reading as they grow older?
First, let’s talk a little bit about what phonics is, and then I’ll show you the ten best ways you can help kids learn phonics.
What Do We Mean When We Talk About Phonics?
At its simplest, phonics is how you pair written symbols with corresponding sounds.
As you read this article, some of you are sounding out the words inside your head, right?
It’s intuitive for many of us, but what about kids who haven’t learned how to read yet?
How do we teach kids the process of learning how different letters and their combinations sound to improve reading?
For this, you need to teach your child or student phonological awareness.
This refers to the ability to recognize and differentiate the individual sounds which make up a word.
You can see why phonological awareness is essential for reading.
It’s what helps you spell these words out, comprehend, pronounce, remember, and recognize them.
Now that we have established the importance of helping kids learn phonics, let’s look at the 10 best ways to help children learn them.
The 10 Best Ways to Help Kids Learn Phonics
1) Recognize and Name the Letters of the Alphabet
You probably have memories of singing the alphabet song when you were younger.
That’s where we start – with the building blocks and units which string together to form words.
Learning the alphabet not only involves saying letters in sequence in a song but also knowing what they look like.
You must help kids recognize the letters in order and at random, so they form long-term memories of what each letter looks and sounds like.
This involves both the upper- and lower-case of each letter of the alphabet.
Remember, repetition helps the brain retain information better.
Children are especially great at picking up and learning new information.
Often, kids can sing you the alphabet song by heart, but they have no idea how to tell the letters apart.
When some kids jumble the letters “L, M, N, O, P” into “ellemenopee” as adorable as we find it, it means they’ve not learned their letters correctly.
Help them associate each letter, both upper- and lower-case, with the correct sound!
The more they learn to do this, the stronger they make their memory and learning of that information!
2) Match the Sound to the Letters with the Help of Pictures
The letters of the alphabet might be foreign to your child, but pictures are something they can recognize and remember easier.
Neuroscience proves that humans are better and faster at recalling visual images than text or words.
So, pairing the sounds and letters of the alphabets with a visual representation can build what we call a mnemonic association.
This refers to the practice of using a mental cue or image to retrieve specific information.
So, whether or not a child has ever read the letter “Aa,” they probably know and recognize what an apple is.
The image of an apple next to the letters helps them remember the sound of the letter – ‘A’ for apple, ‘B’ for ball, ‘C’ for cat, etc.
3) Trace Each Letter on Paper or In Sand
It’s not just enough to read and pronounce the letters – kids must learn how to write them too.
The tactile process of writing out the letters helps develop many core foundations for reading and writing.
Tracing the letters in crayons or sand can also help kids who are kinesthetic learners learn and retain information better than reading and listening to them!
Writing out the letters over and over and can also help them remember the difference between similar-looking letters like “p” and “q,” and “b” and “d.”
It also helps improve handwriting and speed of writing, through practice. Plus, doing this also helps with directionality and knowing the difference between b and d for example.
By developing the motor skills involved with writing, your kids are training their brains to recall the shape and form of each letter.
By doing this, when they think of a letter, they can not only imagine and pronounce the sound of it but also imagine its shape in their minds.
Visualizing is a super important skill in learning and memory, and the earlier you start, recalling what you read because you made mental movies out of the text on a page, aligns with how the brain recalls.
4) Distinguish Sounds and Groups of Sounds
Once kids grasp the individual sounds these letters make, the next step is to learn how combinations of these letters sound.
Learning how to sound out combinations of words, like “ba-by,” “ing,” “ar,” “sh” helps kids learn how to combine letters and sounds to form words.
5) Recognize Words that Begin with the Same Sound
By learning their letters and differentiating how they sound, kids can learn to intuitively read and spell words that made up of the same letters.
When learning the letter “B” for example, lists of words that contain the “B” sound can include “bat,” “ball,” “bear,” “bubble,” and so on.
By learning words that start with the same letter, kids are building and practicing associations.
They associate the letter “b” with a specific sound, and by applying this sound to the beginnings of words with that letter, they start to learn how to spell words they’ve never read before.
6) Recognize Words that Have the Same Medial Sound
A medial sound or letter is in the middle of a word.
In the word “sat,” the medial letter is the vowel “a.”
Teaching kids the vowels and how they sound and how to pronounce them can help kids intuitively string letters together to make sounds.
If they can recognize the medial letter or sound in words like “cap,” and “cake,” they can naturally learn how to spell and read words.
7) Recognize Words that End the Same
We’ve looked at recognizing the beginning and the middle of words – the next step is naturally recognizing the end.
How do different letters sound when they’re at the end of words?
If the word begins with “S,” and the medial letter is “a,” how will the sound be different depending on the letter at the end?
Teach kids similar words with different ending sounds, like “sat,” “sad,” “Sam,” “sap,” to help them learn how ending sounds of words differ.
Learning how words end similarly also helps in this.
With your child’s knowledge of beginning and medial letters, they can now read and learn words that end similarly, like “sat,” “rat,” “bat,” “cat,” and so on.
Which brings us to the next point –
8. Use Rhyming Words and Word Families
Now that your child or student can recognize the beginning, middle, and end of words, they can have loads of fun learning with rhyming!
We call groups of rhyming words word families or phonograms and these are an excellent way of developing vocabulary quickly.
You can introduce a word family to your kids by saying, “Today we are going to meet the “op” family.”
Then you learn all the different combinations of letters that form short and straightforward words that rhyme with “op.”
“Hop,” “mop,” “stop,” “cop,” “drop,” etc. are just a few!
Remember, as they’re learning these new words, they should also learn with images to help them associate each word to its meaning.
They can rapidly build their vocabulary in a fun and natural way!
9) Sound Out Words in Simple Text
Now it’s even more fun!
We’ve gone from letters to words, and now from words, kids can start reading and writing sentences.
Short, fun stories with simple words can not only help improve your child’s reading ability and speed but also help them feel rewarded for their efforts learning.
Using the skills they’ve learned from the steps we have already covered, kids can read a simple text like this excerpt from SuperBooks:
“An [apple] ran. An [apple] ran and ran.
An [apple] ran.
An [apple] ran and ran.”
Over time, they’ll be able to read more complex texts, like SuperBooks Kit 2:
“The sun went down, and it was dark.
A bug was in the park.
Twinkle, twinkle, wink and blink.
The bug had left its mark.”
Reading excerpts themselves and being able to understand them is one of the best motivators to help kids learn phonics.
10) Write Lists of Rhyming Words
Reading is like breathing in, and writing is like breathing out.
As you read, it’s also essential to develop writing skills.
Set kids exercises to list rhyming words that they recall.
As they build their vocabulary, get them also to exercise their imaginations, and write their own stories!
This may even encourage them to look up and learn new words and how to spell each one in order to express themselves best!
The SuperBooks Kits have handy word lists at the end which your child can practice writing.
And there you have it.
These are the 10 best ways to help kids learn phonics.
Start early and diligently, and kids will pick up phonological awareness all in the fun and games of learning!
Now that I’ve shared these tips, I’d also like to hear back from you!
Are you going to try these tips out?
Let me know!
JoAnne Nelson is the author of award-winning SuperBooks and a foremost expert in using phonics to help kids read in under two weeks.
She has written more than 150 inspiring books for sequential phonics readers that both teachers and parents love because the lesson plans are done for you and kids successfully read very quickly!
Visit SuperBooks.net to view SuperBooks Kits and Story Packs for use at home or in classroom.
SuperBooks are the original phonics-based “little books” program that has been successfully teaching children to read for over 40 years!