Phonics—Are They Important?

Anyone who has been to school has learned phonics. Phonics is the basic reading instruction that teaches children the relationships between letters and sounds. Phonics teaches children to use these relationships to speak and write words. According to a study by the Partnership for Reading, the objective of phonics instruction is to help children learn and use the "alphabetic principle"-the systematic and predictable relationships between written letters and spoken sounds. Knowing these relationships through phonics helps young readers to recognize familiar words accurately and easily "decode" new words.

The Progressing Stages of Phonics

  • Realize that sentences are made up of words.

  • Realize that words can rhyme. Make your own rhymes.

  • Realize that words can be broken down into syllables. Start breaking down words into syllables.

  • Realize that words can begin with the same sound. Practice these first sounds.

  • Realize that words can end with the same sound. Practice these ending sounds.

  • Realize that words can have the same medial sounds. Practice these medial sounds.

  • Realize that words can be broken down into individual sounds. Practice these sounds.

  • Realize that sounds can be deleted from words to make new words. Practice these.

  • Start blending sounds to make words.

  • Start segmenting words into component sounds.

Learning Phonics

The Public Broadcasting Company has produced informative literature on learning phonics. They state, "As children are exposed to written language, they discover that marks on a page stand for letters and words. You may have heard children singing the alphabet song like this: ellamenopee. With increased and consistent interaction with print, language, and books, children eventually realize that the string of letters is really l, m, n, o, p and sing the alphabet song with greater confidence and ease. To read well, children need to understand that written English consists of letters and groups of letters that stand for a series of sounds."

What This Means About Phonics

The PBS article continues, by saying, "Phonics helps children understand the relationships between letters and individual sounds. Children need to understand that the letter m stands for the /m/ sound, for example. Knowing these relationships helps children more accurately read familiar words, analyze new words, and write words. When children understand that bake is spelled with an "e" rather than bak, they are better able to read, spell, and write words like cake, lake, make, take, wake, and snake."

What To Look For

They list the following behaviors that indicate children's growing mastery of phonics.

  • Know consonant sounds

  • Know that a, e, i, o, and u are vowels.

  • Know sounds of digraphs. Example: /sh/ in shell.

  • Know sounds of consonant blends. Example: /bl/ in block and /str/ in string.

  • Know short vowel word families. Example: at, an, op, on, it, in.

  • Break words into syllables.

  • Find familiar words within unknown words. Example: mat in matter.

  • Substitute or add letters to make new words. Example: When asked to take away the letter t in the word tan, can the child say the word is an? Can the child put the letter t on an to make the word ant?

How You Can Help Your Child Learn Phonics

The PBS article suggests a few activities to help your child develop phonics skills. They preface theses activities with this statement: "Children implicitly as they hear good books being read and write stories using invented spellings. They also learn through clear and explicit modeling. A balanced approach allows for both types of learning."

Learn Phonics with-Letter-Sound Cards

  • Make personal letter cards with each child. Write the upper- and lowercase form of a letter on one side of an index card. On the other side, help children draw, paste pictures, or write words that begin with the sound. For example, on one side write Bb. On the other side children can write, draw, or paste a bat, bee, or boat.

I Spy-A Fun Phonics Game

  • Invite children to play a guessing game. Without revealing it to the child, select an object in the room and provide phonics clues to help the child guess what it is. For example, "I spy something that begins with the sound /t/." Keep offering clues until the child guesses that the object is a table.

Learn About Phonics by "Sorting"

  • Create a stack of cards with pictures that represent words beginning with two initial consonants that you would like the child to work on, for example l and t. Have children say the word and match the picture with the correct initial sound. Invite them to think of other words that might be included in each stack.