For most children, learning to read is an exciting experience but for parents, it can be extremely frustrating. In most cases, the parents generation was taught in a different fashion than that of the current generation, this can lead to a clash between parents teaching styles. It also presents a daunting task when trying to teach them to read, or supplement what they are learning from their teacher. Below is a step-by-step process of how children learn to read, and how you can teach them with today’s new phonics techniques.

Most people think that learning to read begins with teaching the alphabet, but that’s not the case. There is a pre-reading stage called Phonemic Awareness that takes place before actually learning to read. To teach Phonemic Awareness, you should:

  1. Teach your child to listen, not only listen to adults and other children, but listening to short stories, poems, and rhymes read aloud to them.
  2. Teach rhyming words; rhyming has to be practiced and practiced, and this can easily be achieved by teaching them nursery rhymes.
  1. Teach alliteration; in our generation, it was called “tongue twisters”. For example, “Six slimy snakes” – this teaches the sound of the letter “s” in a fun way.
  2. Teach them how to compare and contrast the sounds of rhymes. This is sometimes referred to as an “Oddity Task” – the child learns to spot the “odd one out”. A simple way to do this is to take a nursery rhyme and swap it around. Have your children “catch you out” as they compare the version they are familiar with to your odd version. For example: “Humpty Dumpty sat on a horse”. By using this technique, you improving their listening skills so they will be able to recognize patterns and phonemes in words.

After your child has mastered all of these concepts, you can begin teaching them the alphabet. While you are teaching the alphabet, you should teach these skills also:

Awareness of Syllables: Divide words into parts and explain that they are called syllables. This will help your child learn how to count out the number of phonemes in a word. One of the easiest ways to introduce this is to clap and count the syllables in their name or family members’ names, and then asks them which one has the most syllables, or which one is the longest.

Phoneme Recognition:  A phoneme is the name of the smallest unit of sound in the English language. Phoneme Recognition is the awareness that the words we say are made up of different, smaller sounds. An example is the first phoneme in the word dog is the “d” sound. Since they have mastered the pre-reading activities with listening to nursery rhymes, they should be able to pick up the smallest sounds they are hearing in each word.

Phoneme Spelling: This is where a child becomes so familiar with sounds that they will be able to put words together by adding or deleting phonemes at the beginning, middle, and end of words in order to make new words. An example of this is when the word “pat” can become “sat” or “rat” since the first phoneme is changed. We can change the second phoneme to “o” or “u” to make “rot” or “rut”. When the end phoneme is changed, the word can become “rap”, “ran” or “rag”. This is simple spelling that builds a foundation for more advanced reading and spelling later.

 Teaching the Alphabet

While teaching the previous concepts, you can incorporate teaching the alphabet. You can teach the alphabet in random order, alphabetical order, vowels and then consonants, or a good mix of consonants and vowels – whichever you feel most comfortable with. The best way to teach the alphabet is to teach the letter, how to draw the letter, and the sound the letter makes. Most phonics and reading programs teach using the mixture of vowels and consonants. The most common starting letters, in the mixed order, are: P, I, N,T,A,S. This way, the child is able to quickly learn how to spell and read 3-letter words because these letters can make up a variety of 3-letter shorts:  Pan, Nap, Nip, Nit, Pit, Tap, Tin and so on. After those first 6 letters are mastered, you can mix the rest of the vowels and consonants in groups of 3 or 6. It is important to discuss how the long vowel sound is the actual letter, and then teach the short vowel sound. Just be careful not to add vowels to the end to make the first vowel long.

There are many resources online, and your child’s teacher may also be able to point you to some extra resources. Here is a basic checklist of words to model for your child, isolating letter sounds. Note that some words will begin and end with the same sound, in order to emphasize the sound of that particular letter:

  • A as in Airplane
  • B as in Bunny
  • C as in Can
  • D as in Door
  • E as in Eagle
  • F as in Ford
  • G as in Gear
  • H as in House
  • I as in Ice Cream
  • J as in Jelly
  • K as in Koala
  • L as in Life
  • M as in Monkey
  • O as in Orange
  • P as in Purple
  • Q as in queen
  • R as in Regal
  • S as in Snake
  • T as in Tent
  • U as in Under
  • V as in Volvo
  • W as in Winter
  • X as in Box
  • Z as in Fuzz

Teaching phonics can be used with a mirror, of all things. When you are teaching phonics, make sure your children watch your mouth and tongue position. When you have modeled certain sounds, have your child take a mirror and try to imitate how your lips and mouth moved to make the sound. This gives them visual clues, as well as helps build listening skills. This is a fun way to teach phonics and may help speed up the process of learning.