Phonics for kids is a modern technique used to teach reading and writing with the help of sounds rather than the conventional whole word method. Phonics can be thought of as the visual representation of the sounds we produce. Research studies have found phonics to be more effective than the general alphabetical method, especially when it comes to reading skills in children. In this blog, we explain why phonics came into existence and what this method actually is.
Phonics Sounds for Kids – Video & Downloadable Audio (mp3)
The problem with English
English is not an easy language to learn. The complexity arises due to the fact that there are 44 unique sounds but are represented by only 26 letters of the alphabet. English letters do NOT carry one-to-one correspondence with the sounds they represent. For instance, letter ‘b’ is pronounced as ‘bee’, but in many words such as “ball” or “bat”, it is pronounced as ‘ba’. The same group of letters may be pronounced in different ways. The same combination of letters, “ch” for example, sounds very different in words such as, “chair”, “machine” and “christmas”. These problems gave birth to the phonics as a method to teach English. But phonics was not the only approach. There was also the ‘whole word’ method.
Whole Word Method
The “whole word” method of reading, was explored as a solution to the above mentioned problem with English language. Although inefficient, this method does reduce the problem of multiple pronunciations of the same letters, to a certain degree. It is however primitive in its approach. It requires children to memorize the whole word rather than a collection of individual sounds. This is a tedious task for a child as it encounters 6-8 new words per day. The whole word approach makes the words feel more like an ideograph or a symbol. Similar to the Mandarin language. It necessitates that the child memorize the word as a design or shape, just as we remember some brands using their logos.
According to Dr. Samuel Blumenfeld, “When you impose an ideographic teaching on an alphabetic writing system, you get a reading disability.” A child who is accustomed to the whole word method often finds itself at a disadvantage whenever it confronts a new word. Its brain has to work much harder to decipher what it is reading. It is much harder for such a child to be a good reader.
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Phonemic awareness is an important precursor to phonics. Phonemic awareness refers to the ability of a child to hear, identify and manipulate sounds into spoken words. This is an oral skill but it also requires the child to analyze the sound of spoken words. It is an important precursor to better reading and comprehension development in the child.
Phonics for Kids
Any letter in a language has three basic components: shape, name and sound. For example, the letter ‘b’ has a definite shape, a name “bee” and a sound “ba”. While the traditional alphabetic approach focuses only on the name and shape of a letter, phonics emphasize on all three dimensions. Phonics begins by making the child aware about phonemes. Phonemes are the basic units of sound. A phoneme may be consisting of a single, double or triple letter representation. It is not necessary that phonemes must be taught in the alphabetic order.
In fact, researchers have found out that the most effective order of teaching phonemes is:
Video related to Phonics
Two Approaches to Phonics
Two popular phonics methods are Analysis (or Segmentation) and Synthesis (or Blending).
Analysis (or Segmentation)
Analysis (or Segmentation), as the name implies, is to divide a particular entity into several parts. In this way of teaching, we divide a word in to the various sounds it comprises. It can also be viewed as stretching a word long enough so that its components are distinct. For example, ‘Bat’ is stretched into ‘b-a-t’ or ‘Chair’ is stretched as ‘ch-air’.
Synthesis (or Blending)
Synthesis, on the other hand, is the process of combining. While teaching phoneme synthesis, a child is made aware of the various guidelines to form a word from sounds. These is no strict set of rules and there may be exceptions. But a general structure is provided to the child about formation of words from sounds. Researchers have found out more than 150 such guidelines for the English language. Even if 150 guidelines sounds like a lot, it is still a far more efficient method than the whole-word method!
Development Milestones (18 – 36 Months)
While ‘Analysis’ approach is a good tool for a child when it comes to reading, ‘Synthesis’ approach is handy when it comes to writing. For best results it is recommended that both these methods be used together.
Phonics: Avoid these mistakes!
Parents should avoid the following practices that hinder or cause an adverse effect on the child’s learning. A common problem is the wrong pronunciation of phonemes. It is a natural tendency to complete the sounds produced by a phoneme with some additional sounds (usually aa for Indians) that can lead to weird outcomes. For example, we tend to teach sounds by speaking out “ba”, “ta”, “fa”, “ra”, “ga” instead of “b”, “t”, “f”, “r” or “g”. If the child gets accustomed to that, frog and bat would be fa-ra-o-ga or ba-a-ta rather than f-r-o-g or b-a-t. Therefore it is strongly recommended is that we teach the proper sound of each phoneme.
Another problem that usually goes unnoticed is the excessive use of the initial sound of a word to serve as examples. Generally, it is a practice to teach letters of the alphabet (A, B, C, D …) by presenting an example that starts from the particular letter. Example, ‘B for Bat’. It is instead a better practice to teach the child by stretching out a word into various sounds rather than focusing on one specific sound. Example, ‘bat is b-a-t’. This way, the child will learn how the sounds combine to make up words rather than hearing these sounds in isolation. It is similar to the musical notes and the chords. Just like notes are combined to form a chord, a child must learn phonemes and be able to combine them to produce words.
Phonics Activities suggested by Ira
We suggest the following phonics activities (games) to enhance the phonemic awareness of your toddler, preschooler or kindergartener.
Activity 1: Flashcards
You can create flashcards with various phonemes written down. Initially, ask the children to read out the content of the flashcards. It is better to present random cards to them and make the session like a game. After it masters reading out the sounds, you can reverse the action. You can now ask the child to pull out flashcards for the sound it hears. You can further combine cards to spell out a word.
Activity 2: Replacing Phonemes one by one
While teaching to spell out words, always try to replace phonemes one by one, instead of switching over to new words. Children generally observe the change of a single phoneme with more interest. For instance, the pattern P-a-t, P-u-t, P-o-t, P-i-t, P-e-t will be grasped by the child easily as compared to P-a-t, C-u-t, S-i-t.
Activity 3: Letter Hopscotch
Hopscotch is enjoyed by most children. We can convert it into a ‘letter hopscotch’ by inscribing phonemes into the cells. The child must spell out the phoneme it steps on to. In case he/she steps on the crossbar, it must spell out the 2-letter phoneme.
Activity 4: Scavenger Hunt
Ask the child to pull out a random flashcard and find any object whose name consists of the sound represented by that particular card. Such scavenger hunts will teach the child about the practical applications of phonemes.
Activity 5: Make kids read storybooks aloud
This is applicable for children who have begun to read words. Let the child read out stories. It enables the child to analyze and synthesize new words. You can help the child with the difficult words, but avoid saying it completely. Instead, encourage the child to do so with a few helpful hints.
The English language is unfortunately not inherently phonetic, unlike most Indian languages like Hindi or Tamil, which have adequate characters for the sounds. Phonics method enables children to crack the alphabetic code of letter combinations and helps them become proficient readers.