In the recent past, phonics has become an important way to teach English language to children. It is especially important and useful for reading at an earlier age.
Some months back (when we could still go out and meet other people), I met my friend, a mother of a 4-5 year old boy. Both she and her husband work in MNCs. Each day, one of them would return home at 5pm, while the other could work longer hours. As a result, their son would go to school at 8am, followed by a daycare and would come home to either of his parents at 5pm.
Now, this friend of mine wanted to send her son for phonics classes 3-4 days in a week after she came back from office. The child was so little, and engaged in school or daycare activities throughout the day. I asked her why she would want to send her son off for another hour of class instead of spending that time together.
She said – “We were never taught ‘phonics’. I don’t know what it is and how to teach it. All my neighbors are sending their kids to this class so I am thinking it might be a good idea for my son too. I don’t want him left behind”.
“Not wanting our children to be left behind” – This phrase is something I hear so often.
It is a lot because of this thinking that many parents put too much pressure on their young children. I believe that for most of us, who are decently well-educated parents, there is nothing for which we have to send such young children for extra classes, especially for anything related to academics. (It could be beneficial to let them go for art, singing, music or sports classes for which we might not have the expertise, but extra classes for academics is usually not necessary for young children.)
What is Phonics?
Phonics, as I told my friend also, is just the sound of the letters. It is matching the alphabet(s) to the sound – that is all there is to it. It is the way by means of which we can read words we have never seen before.
When we were young, we learnt it by experience. As we read more and more, our brain automatically began matching the alphabet groups to the sounds. Now a days, this same thing is taught.
The benefit is that children with exposure to and understanding of phonics will be able to read at a younger age.
How can you teach phonics at home?
It is quite simple, really – if you do it without stressing yourself or your child. What is important is taking it slowly, especially in the beginning.
Here is a simple chart which shows the common sounds used in English and in the order in which it can be taught. You can start with A-B also, but researchers believe that the below order makes it easier to learn.
|oo (short)||oo (long)||ng||v||w||z|
Take 1-2 sounds at a time. Repeat a number of words with that sound. Show the words, if possible, with pictures associated with that sound. For example, after you teach the first line of the above chart, you can teach words like ‘sat’, ‘pat’, ‘tat’; ‘pin’, ‘tin’; ‘sit’, ‘pit’; This will not only give the child idea of new words, but also ingrain the sound with alphabet.
Start with 3 letter words
3 letter words especially ones with consonant-vowel-consonant are the easiest to read and understand for a child. Start with that. Ask them to say the sound of each alphabet and then show them how it blends in a word. For example – S-I-T, repeat each individual sound and then how it blends. Change the 1st alphabet (P-I-T) and see whether they can say the word themselves. Repeat with other words. Change the last alphabet (S-I-P) and see whether they can say the word.
With practice, it becomes easier to read 3 letter and as you move to digraphs (2 alphabets which make a sound like ‘sh’, ‘ch’, ‘oo’), it becomes easier to read 4 letter words as well.
Read, Read and Read
Read aloud with your child. There is no substitute for reading if you want to learn or teach a language. Read books like Peppa Pig or Pepper which have typically 3-4 letter words and just a few words per page with a good illustration with what it means. Initially, focus on just a few words every time you read a book, make the child read it.
Repeat the same books, and let your child read more and more every time. Before you know it, they will be reading full sentences on their own and soon after full books.
Invest in Books and Spend Time
Instead of investing in extra classes for such small children, invest in books and invest your time in your child. The more you read, pointing to words, enunciating the sounds clearly, the faster the children will catch on to the association between the alphabets and their sounds, and the earlier they will be able to read themselves.
Fun Activity to Teach Phonics
Flash cards are a great way to teach phonics. An activity that I have seen is a lot of fun for children uses flash cards and corresponding object.
Keep some objects – socks, pen, bat, hat, chips, ship, etc (depending on what is available)
Take small pieces of paper with the names of the objects written in them.
Point to an object, and let the children find the corresponding piece of paper. Alternatively, show the children the paper and ask them to find the object. Each correct association done within a stipulated time (you can keep a timer for that for 30 seconds or 1 minute) gets the child one point. If there are more children playing, it can be a friendly competition as well.
English, as a language, has many-many exceptions to the general rule. You can know these only if you have read enough. So play, read and have fun while teaching phonics and the art of reading to your child. It is not a rocket science and can be done at home as well.