Phonetic reading is the process of learning, understanding and manipulating the sound that each letter makes. Each letter in the English language has one or more designated sounds associated with it. These "sounds" are referred to as phonemes. Phonetic reading requires learners to use each letters phoneme when attempting to decipher (sound out) words.
In our experience phonetic learning is slow at first but faster in the long run. Reading is a skill that you learn and it has a finish point which we refer to as literacy. With phonetic reading you're sounding out words step-by- step, so they can read any word you show them. For example, a phonetic reader can read a word like antidisestablishmentarianism without having seen it before. At some point words they read a lot will become sight words to them, they will become like little pictures that they remember.
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.
Parents and teachers are often unsure about the best way to start teaching their children how to read. In truth, like most things in life the most important thing to do is start. It may not be perfect from the start but one of the key principles to learning how to read phonetically is exposure. The simple act of having the letters of the alphabet present and visible in a child's daily life will go a long way in helping establish a familiarity with each letter and reduce a lot of the reluctance to learning displayed in the early stages of reading. As a general rule of thumb I've noticed that when children seem uninterested in learning or actively against learning the alphabet, the root cause is almost always a fear of failure. By having the letters of the alphabet on visible, whether hung on the wall, on a placemat , on a carpet , etc, you can easily increase a child's exposure to each letter and provide opportunities for you youngest learner to internalize their meanings on their own time and at their own pace. If you'd like to download a free copy of our LEEP Letters you can do that here.
Another key factor in teaching your child to read phonetically is frequency. Young children will typically be able to remember each letter's phoneme fairly quickly when you use LEEP's full colour letters that contain phonetic hints. However just learning to read the stylized letters is only step 1. As a parent or educator you have to contribute a sustained amount of time and effort to make sure that after a child learns each letter's pronunciation they internalize it and then cement it their long term memories. In reality, this only takes a couple of minutes a few times a week. It's not hard but it's a commitment. In my personal experience, using a placemat sized alphabet sheet is the best way to do this. I printed and laminated a few copies of our LEEP game board when my children were ages 2 and 0. They've been on the table, scattered across the living room and in their bedrooms ever since.
Having them present on the table everytime we eat has made it extremly easy to talk about different letters in a casual way without it ever feeling like a "reading lesson".
It is extremely important that when you are teaching a child to read that you are doing in manageable chunks of information. If you try and teach your child all 26 letters, the first time you introduce the concept of reading to them, they will shut down quickly due to information overload. As an adult you can liken this to learning a new language. If someone presents you with a long list of new words and tries to teach you 26 at a time how long would it take before you start daydreaming? I doubt I'd last longer than a minute.
I usually try to introduce 3 to four letters at a time. Once, I'm sure a child understands each letter's sound I'll add a few extra letters into the next lesson while making sure to review the ones we already learned on a consistent basis.
People generally don't like criticism or failure. Children are no different. When teaching young learners how to read it's extremely important that you do your best not to add any negativity to your lesson. Ideally, a child will correlate reading and fun. One of the best ways to make sure your learners enjoy reading is to offer lots and lots of positive reinforcement. It's simple, when a child answers a question correctly say "god job" and give them a high five or a thumbs up. It doesn't really matter what you are doing as long as you are smiling and making sure to have a good time.
One of the most common mistakes parents and teacher make when teaching their children how to read is not giving people a chance to succeed. For example we always use this placemat when teaching demo lessons or when showing other parents how to teach their children how to read. We'll ask a child to look at the board and find the /a/ /a/ apple. About 50% of the time a parent will step in "help" their child by pointing to the letter A. Parents always help their children out of love. They are sincerely trying to help. However when a parent "helps" their child by giving them the answer they have also taken away the child's chance to get the right answer on their own. When you're a year toddler "Where's the /a/ /a/ apple?" is a tough question. It might take longer to find it than you'd expect.
We'd recommend giving your child all of the time they need to make their own guess before you step in and help and then asking if they'd like help before showing them the answer. Working hard to come up with the right answer gives a learner confidence and it let's a child build trust in their own judgment.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly teaching your child to read phonetically is easier, faster and more effective by using games. I don't like rote memorization, you probably don't either and I can all but guarantee you your child hates it. The important thing to remember is that you need to use age and level appropriate games. Here are a few of our favorite games to play when teaching phonetic reading.
What is it?
Teaching your child to read is extremely important but in all likelihood you child will learn to read regardless of what you do. However, the earlier your child starts to read the sooner they can begin focusing on the actual lessons being taught instead of worrying about their reading. You can set your child or students up for success by simply making sure that your lessons are taught consistently,have a manageable chunks of new information, a lot of positive reinforcement and above all are lots fun.