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How phonics help your child to move forward in the world of reading and writing - All about Phonics

Divya Banik
06/05/2017 0 0

Many parents of beginning readers have heard about phonics and many have questions: What does my child’s teacher really mean when she talks about phonics? Does my child need to learn phonics to learn to read? Is phonics most effective if taught at a certain age?

What is phonics?

From an early age, your child is aware of the different sounds and words in language. When she was just a baby, she could understand “no” and “bye-bye”, even though she had never seen the words written down. As your child learns to speak, those first attempts at words such as “ma ma ma” and “da da da” are actually phonics!

Phonics describes the relationship between the sounds of letters (phonemes) and the letters (or groups of letters) that represent them (graphemes). Words are made up from small units of sound called phonemes. Phonics teaches children to be able to listen carefully and identify the phonemes that make up each word. This helps children to learn to read words and to spell words.

For example, a phoneme is the sound of “c” as in cat, “ch” as in chip or “ee” as in sheep. The grapheme for the “c” sound is the letter c, the grapheme for the “ch” sound is made up of two letters, c and h. Some graphemes are made up of three letters, for example “igh” as in night.

Phonics is an approach used to help your child learn to read and write, based on this early understanding of sounds and words. By learning to recognize and link sounds to letters, they will start to understand how words are formed. We all use our phonic knowledge when we read and write, but as adults we don’t think about it any more - it’s automatic!

Teaching phonics in a structured way is a quick and efficient way to teach most young children how to read. Your child can also use phonics to help them decode new words they come across in reading, by “sounding out” the different letters from left to right. Learning phonics will help your children learn to read and spell. Written language can be compared to a code, so knowing the sounds of letters and letter combinations will help your child decode words as he reads. Knowing phonics will also help your child know which letters to use as he writes words.

In phonics lessons children are taught three main things:

1) GPCs: GPCs stands for Grapheme Phoneme Correspondences. This simply means that they are taught all the phonemes in the English language and ways of writing them down. These sounds are taught in a particular order.

2) Blending: Children are taught to be able to blend. This is when children say the sounds that make up a word and are able to merge the sounds together until they can hear what the word is. This skill is vital in learning to read.

3) Segmenting: Children are also taught to segment. This is the opposite of blending. Children are able to say a word and then break it up into the phonemes that make it up. This skill is vital in being able to spell words.

What makes phonics tricky?

In some languages learning phonics is easy because each phoneme has just one grapheme to represent it. The English language is a bit more complicated than this. This is largely because England has been invaded so many times throughout its history. Each set of invaders brought new words and new sounds with them. As a result, English only has around 44 phonemes but there are around 120 graphemes or ways of writing down those 44 phonemes. Obviously we only have 26 letters in the alphabet so some graphemes are made up from more than one letter.

ch th oo ay (these are all digraphs - graphemes with two letters)

There are other graphemes that are trigraphs (made up of 3 letters) and even a few made from 4 letters. Another slightly sticky problem is that some graphemes can represent more than one phoneme. For example ch makes very different sounds in these three words: chip, school, chef.

So why bother learning phonics?

In the past people argued that because the English language is so tricky, there was no point teaching children phonics. Now, most people agree that these tricky bits mean that it is even more important that we teach phonics and children learn it clearly and systematically. A written language is basically a kind of a code. Teaching phonics is just teaching children to crack that code. Children learn the simple bits first and then easily progress to get the hang of the trickier bits.

When is phonics usually taught?

Your child will probably learn phonics in kindergarten through second grade. In kindergarten, children usually learn the sounds of the consonant letters (all letters except the vowels a, e, i, o, and u). First- and second-graders typically learn all the sounds of letters, letter combinations, and word parts (such as “ing” and “ed”). They practice reading and spelling words containing those letters and patterns. Second-graders typically review and practice the phonics skills they have learned to make spelling and reading smooth and automatic.

Children vary in the amount of phonics instruction they need and when they need it. Some children need very little phonics instruction, while others still benefit from phonics instruction in third grade. Many children with dyslexia benefit from phonics instruction even beyond third grade.

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