Phonics instruction has received a lot of attention in education circles of late. It is making a much-needed return to literacy instruction after falling out of favour for a time. The particular kind of phonics instruction that has been criticised is the analytic approach to phonics that encouraged rote learning. This method attempted to force-feed whole words to kids learning to read, rather than teach them how to approach words in their more manageable bite-sized parts.
Phonics is simply the understanding of how letters are linked to sounds (also called phonemes). It’s the knowledge of how letters and sounds relate creating their appropriate sound and spelling pattern. This is known as the alphabetic principle, and a thorough understanding of this goes a long way toward helping kids learn how to read.
A synthetic phonics approach emphasises an understanding of the alphabetic principle. It provides phonics activities that encourage kids to thoroughly explore the letters of the alphabet and the sounds that each letter or letter combinations make. While the learning of sight words is necessary, particularly those high-frequency words that cannot easily be broken into smaller units of sound, synthetic phonics emphasises teaching kids how to approach words bit-by-bit rather than swallowing them whole.
Of course, some argue that it’s easy to spend so much time on phonics activities that reading is actually neglected. This certainly occurred in the past, and there is always a danger of this occurring in any educational setting that does not have kids reading real books as its goal. What is the purpose of the phonics activities that a kid does in school or home? Is it just to fill the time? Is it to get a shiny star stuck on the page? Or is it to help kids fill their reading toolboxes with the tools they need to be able to open up books and read books to their heart’s content?
With that great goal in mind—kids reading real books—here are some great phonics activities with which to engage your child.
Playing with your child is actually enormously significant to their language development. As you play with them, in whatever activity, whether it’s building Lego block towers, train tracks, playing with dolls in their dollhouse, or drawing, be intentional about using language. This can feel stilted and unnatural at first, but it becomes easier with time. There are few different types of ‘talk’ you can use. This helps you have a means of discussing things if you’re struggling:
Parallel Talk—This focuses on what the child is doing. You simply report back to the child what they are doing. For example, ‘You are pushing the blue train along the train track’, or ‘you are building a high block tower’. In this way you link language to what they are doing, thereby making direct links between words and things in the mind of the child.
Descriptive Talk—This focuses on the object. You provide words and descriptors for the things your child is playing with. For example, you might say, ‘the red play dough is squishy’, or ‘the blocks tumble down to the ground’.
Self Talk—Using this kind of talk, you focus on what you are doing. ‘I’m drawing a purple butterfly with green polka dots’, or ‘I’m rebuilding the block tower now, to be better than ever before’.
This type of talk may seem unnecessary, but it actually helps kids develop their own language skills, and the more words they have in their memory banks, the better readers that they will be.
Singing is often overlooked as a valid phonics activity and a means of developing the language ability of children. But it shouldn’t be. Nursery rhymes used to be de rigueur once upon a time, and for very good reason. Anytime that you mix words, meter, and music together, you actually end up with an incredibly powerful learning tool. Words alone are powerful, but add rhythm, meter, and melody, and you have something that can burrow further into the mind than a burr under the saddle of a Palomino.
So sing to your child. Sing with your child. Teach them your favourite songs, and learn the ones that they enjoy. Here are a few to jog your memory to help you get started:
Eensy Weensy Spider
Twinkle Twinkle little Star
Mary had a Little Lamb
And, of course, we cannot neglect the fine art of reading. Focusing on phonics activities must never be done at the expense of actually sitting down and reading books with children. Reading to your child teaches them that books are enjoyable things to engage with. It also models book-handling skills, as well as the fluent reading of a text. Children pick up a lot about how to read just by listening to a parent or caregiver read to them.
The understanding of phonics is very important to developing a strong reading ability. While emphasis on phonics can, at times, overshadow that of reading, the goal for any phonics activity is to get kids reading real books.
Reading Eggs uses a synthetic approach to phonics. Each letter of the alphabet is introduced in its own lesson, allowing kids to focus on the correspondence between a particular letter and its appropriate sounds, thus reinforcing the alphabetic principle. All the lessons in Reading Eggs build one upon the next so that by Lesson 9, kids read their first book. All activities in the programme, including the phonics activities, focus on the reading of real books. All of the reading books dovetail seamlessly with the content of their respective lessons; therefore, all phonics instruction that kids receive in a lesson is put to immediate use in the reading of real texts. The lessons are engaging, and reward kids for every lesson they complete. This keeps kids engaged in the learning environment, keeps them motivated to learn, and helps them enjoy reading.
My children love Reading Eggs. They enjoy learning to read and spell with the lessons. My son struggled with other phonics programmes. But he loved Reading Eggs. Opening a new egg after each lesson kept him motivated to finish the programme. My daughter loved the Skills Bank part of the programme. She was glad Reading Eggs had a spelling section.
- L. Taylor
Our students love this site. It is bright, entertaining, engaging and educationally sound. What a fun way to learn to read! They can’t get enough of it and ask regularly ‘is it our turn on Reading Eggs today?’
- Katrina Kruger, Elliot Heads State School