If your preschooler knows a few letters of the alphabet and is showing an interest in reading, the time is just right for introducing him to phonics. Don’t let the word intimidate you. Phonics is a method of teaching reading in which children learn that letters have a corresponding sound. Children who are successful in phonics understand that words are made by combining these sounds. You don’t have to be a trained teacher to get your child ready to read when he does start school. Reading actually begins with mastery of prerequisite abilities like recognizing letters and identifying and producing their sounds. Since you already know these skills yourself, you are already well-qualified to teach them to your child. You don’t need a college degree or expensive supplies.
Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate sounds. This may sound technical and incredibly boring, but teaching phonemic skills can be fun. When you read a story with rhyming words, see if your child can recognize them. If he can, ask him to give you another word that rhymes with the ones you read. After he masters this skill, try phoneme substitution, which simply involves taking the first sound out of a word, like the “c” in cat, and inserting another sound to make a new word. If your preschooler can do this, he is definitely on the road to reading success.
You may think your child knows the alphabet if he can sing the traditional ABC song. However, letter recognition is the crucial skill. Help your child learn the names of letters in random order, the way he sees them in print. You can do this with alphabet flash cards and online game sites like Starfall and PBS Kids. Another easy and no-hassle way is to ask your child to find targeted letters on a cereal box or on signs you see while traveling.
Children must know the sounds that each letter makes before they can read independently. Sounding out is the main strategy kids use to read most words. Teaching sounds is easy but your child needs frequent practice. Say the sound for each letter when you review letter names. Point to an object in the home like a lamp, name the object, then ask your child what sound she heard first when you said “lamp.” This initial sound skill is more complex than just knowing sounds in isolation because she has to think about every sound she heard in the word. If your child is having difficulty with this, just keep reviewing single consonant sounds. Do not despair or think something is wrong. Preschoolers develop at varying levels. If you keep working with your child, she will eventually be able to identify the beginning sounds in words.
When your child can say the sounds he hears in words and blend the sounds into words, he is decoding. This is a cumulative phonics skill. Your child is recognizing and naming letters, isolating sounds and figuring out the words simultaneously. You will be able to celebrate this milestone with him. With your guidance, your child is now ready to read. Just don’t give him a third grade-level book. Choose books with short sentences and words that are easy to blend. You can find printable booklets for beginning readers online for free. (See Resources) You want him to be successful before he moves to a higher reading level. A confident reader will be motivated to continue reading.