As your child starts school for the first time, they will face a number of new opportunities and challenges. One key skill that they will develop is their reading ability. But learning to read for the first time can be a daunting task for both children and their parents. This is where “phonics” can help. Many parents of new readers will have heard about the connection between “phonics” and reading. But what are phonics? And why are they so important?
What is phonics?
Phonics can appear to be a complex concept. But, in fact, it is very simple! Phonics is the relationship between letters and sounds in language. When your child learns that the letter D has the sound “Duh” or that the letter B has the sound “Buh” they are learning phonics.
This relationship may seem obvious or common sense for fluent readers. However, for new readers, an understanding of this relationship is vital, as it provides them with the tools for discovering new words!
Without an understanding of phonics, reading is not possible!
Why is phonics important?
Phonics is one of the primary building blocks of reading. As children learn the alphabet and the sounds associated with these letters, they become familiar with the sound-letter rules and relationships that are inherent in the English language. And not every sound-letter relationship is straightforward! For example, it is only through phonics that children can learn that “tion” sounds like /shun/ and “ph” sounds like /f/.
Initially, it can be difficult to teach these relationships to children. However, the benefit in the long run far outweighs the alternative of learning every word by sight. Some children do begin to read by memorising all words by sight. While this approach initially yields great results, as the child reaches about Year Two, the volume of words at this level rapidly increases and may become overwhelming. As a result, the reading process is stalled because the child has not learnt a strategy to approach unknown words. This often causes confused parents to ask why their child could read last year but cannot this year. An understanding of phonics is vital for independent reading!
Who recommends phonics?
It is not just educators and teachers who are passionate about phonics! New South Wales Minister for Education Adrian Piccoli has put his full support behind phonics education. In 2014, he announced that providers of teacher education courses in NSW will risk losing their accreditation if they do not provide comprehensive instruction in phonics.
“Phonics is a key skill in the teaching of reading. We want to ensure it is treated as a ‘must do’ in teacher education courses,” Mr Piccoli said. “The clear verdict of international and national research supports the teaching of phonics. I have been unapologetic in saying that we need high standards in education — and we have moved to lift those standards through our Great Teaching, Inspired Learning reforms.”
How you can help your child learn phonics?
- Listen to your child read every day
It is important to read with your child on a daily basis. When children read aloud, parents should encourage them to sound out difficult words. More importantly, a parent can encourage their child if they become disheartened or discouraged. One reading tactic is to take turns reading paragraphs until they become confident!
- Read books over and over again
Often children have a favourite book that they want to read over and over again! Some parents may be concerned that these early books are too ‘easy’. However, in actual fact reading easy books can help children built familiarity with the words and develop reading fluency.
- Make reading exciting
Reading is always more fun when you are reading interesting and exciting books! As parents, you should try to choose thrilling books on topics that your child may already be interested in. Educational Phonics Books such as Anna’s Amazing Adventure, Ben’s Basketball Battle and Caitlin Cleans her Closet are great choices to read to your child. They will fall in love with the engaging characters and brilliant illustrations, while learning phonics and a key lesson each time! For more exciting stories, visit www.geniuspublishing.com.au
- Talk to their teacher
It is important to regularly be in contact with your child’s teacher about how you can help them improve their phonics learning and reading at home.
- Ask questions while reading
Want to take your child’s reading ability to the next level? Try asking them questions about what happens in the book! Questions such as “what do you think happens next?” and “how to you think they are feeling” not only checks for understanding, but improves your child’s overall comprehension ability.
 Deslea Konza, ‘Phonics’ (2012) Research into practice: Understanding the reading process 1, 1 <http://www.decd.sa.gov.au/literacy/files/links/1_3_Phonics_June_2012.pdf>