In truth there are many ways ways to teach a child to read. All of them are right, all of them will work but some methods for teaching children how to read work much quicker and more effectively than others.
In our experience the best way to teach children how to read is with phonics at the beginning and slowly adding a mixture of both the whole word approach and phonetic reading as the child progresses. In time the mixture of both techniques becomes ingrained and unnoticeable as the learner becomes increasingly literate.
We like to introduce all of the letters of the alphabet using an Alphabet Placemat. The LEEP Alphabet placemats are a really effective tool for familiarization. Two of the most important aspects of reading are frequency and exposure. So using a LEEP Placemat opens up at least 3 opportunities per day to learn phonics; breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Placemat is however in means confined to the table. It's a great tool for learning The ABC Song with Alphabet Sounds and playing any number of phonic related games.
Once we are reasonably sure that a child is familiar with most of the letters of the alphabet we like to start incorporating our LEEP Cards. LEEP Cards are another way of teaching the same information but presented in a different manner. Being able to repeat the content of a lesson while presenting it in a different way is an amazingly simple way to make sure that learning to read is entertaining. In this stage of the LEEP program the focus shifts from reading single letters to combining 2-3 phonemes and beginning to read.
To use LEEP Cards simply download a set of cards, print them and then laminate them. Laminating is time consuming and/or costs a little bit of money but it means you can get years of use out of the LEEP Cards rather than a lesson or two before your kids start ripping them up.
This is a full colour LEEP letter. We use these letters to introduce each letters phoneme. The colours are bright, vibrant and designed to be both visually stimulating and immediately recognizable for young learners.
The second step in the LEEP process is transitional images. Although the basic design is the same as the full colour image, the blue background acts as a bridge between the full colour LEEP letter on the left and the traditional letter on the right.
The third step in the LEEP process is removing the "pronunciation hint images". After studying both the full colour images and the blue versions a transition towards traditional letters is easy.
The final step in our phonetic reading system is our LEEP Textbook. Although the finished product isn't quite ready yet we've made several pages available for you to download for free. Our Phonic Textbook uses the same bright and vibrant colours the children have grown accustomed to but works in a lot of relevant and level appropriate tools and tasks that will help learners make take the final steps between combining phonemes and actual phonetic reading!
Whole word reading is the process of reading and remembering complete words rather than their phonetic pieces. This method of reading is often taught with the use of sight word cards or by giving students list of words and asking them to repeatedly write the words out. Eventually this practice of rote memorization forces students to internalize the shape of each word until it can be recalled and used from memory.
In our experience phonetic learning is slow at first but faster in the long run. Reading is a skill that you learn and has a finish point. At some point you can read and are considered literate. With phonetic reading you're sounding out words step-by- step. This means a phonetic reader can read any word you show them. For example, a phonetic reader can decipher a word like antidisestablishmentarianism without having seen it before. At some point words they read a lot will become sight words and the high frequency words will be instantly interpeinterpreteded like little pictures that they remember.
The best way to teach your child how to read is with fun games that are played in short bursts. Children do not have long attention spans. If you want to keep them interested you have to make a point of teaching positive and exciting lessons for a few minutes a day. If you try and drag a lesson out to pack in more learning; it will most likely backfire. Play a fun game, sing a song or read a book but don't expect to get a child's undivided attention for longer than 10 minutes at a time.
If you find that a particular game or activity is working extremely well. Try to cut it off early. This will leaving your learners wanting more and getting your lesson started will be a lot easier in the future.
Don't do too much only use small groups of cards (3-7). Don't force it. Children won't learn if they're not happy. Don't get frustrated, relax, your child and/or students will mimic your disposition, so it's extremely important to be having fun. Don't try to do too much. Your students have a limited attention span. If you try to cram too much "learning" into one session, your children will quickly begin to tune you out.
We use the LEEP Cards in classes starting from age 2. We only teach the single sounds and usually don't even try to get the toddlers to read. Mostly we're using the LEEP Cards to teach pronunciation and make sure learners are comfortable with the words on each of the cards.
Most of the children I've observed don't start reading until there about five or six years old. However, nothing is ever carved in stone. If you're teaching your child at home then teach at your child's pace. Very young kids love the gestures and the songs. Remember some kids learn very quickly others will take a little longer. I generally prefer to keep classes as simple as possible and if some children are ahead to the classes pace I'll generally just offer them a more advanced reader as a way of keeping them engaged in the lesson.
Above all the most important step you can take in helping your child or students learn to read phonetically is getting started. Exposure builds confidence and let's learners relax. Stop wasting time worrying about how to do it and take action by starting to teach your little learners how to read phonetically today. They'll be happy you did!