Saturday, 8 March 2014

Mastering Phonetics

Imagine the process of reading for a child, first he visualizes the letter, then he associates it with it's respective sound, that message is then relayed to the tongue and then he utters the sound. This process is the first skill. Now imagine blending the sounds in. This is the second skill.  It means to mix in the first sound with the next sound and it is not as easy as it looks for a young child. You try picking up a foreign language, even at this stage and let us see how well you manage.

So the first rule when dealing with children in their reading development years, lots of patience and then some more. The second rule is not quantification of practice. It's more consistency and quality. But we'll come to that shortly. The third rule is creativity while doing the above.

In this article I'll be giving a crash course on how to jump start your child's reading skills. Keep in mind, every kid picks up at his own pace. Don't force and expect magical results. It's a skill set that develops slowly so pride yourself and the child on every achievement. Try to make it enjoyable and fun.

 Age 3-4:

At about the age of three, children have developed a good sense of vocabulary and are able to speak simple sentences. Enunciation of certain letters may still be developing like 'sh' and 'r'. But it does not matter at this stage. Though it is optimal to start formally with a child when he actually starts getting phonic lessons at school at the age of four in kindergarten, you can introduce your child to picture books and story books. This will develop and interest in books. Further you can practice first sounds of certain objects, like 's' sun. But the issue with this is that there are two ways in which phonics are taught:

The system where only the initial sound of the letter is uttered for e.g 'mmmmm' moon as opposed to 'mu' moon and similarly 'sssssss' sun (like a hissing sound) as opposed to 'su' sun is called the 'synthetic sounds' system. Now if you do one thing and the school he later goes to does the other, it could cause confusion. But still it's fine to practice the concept once in a while.

Age 4-6:

Most basic reading skills develop at this age. Parents will know by now what system the school is incorporating, and they will also have the formal reading program. That will be the backbone of your reading incentive but a lot more can be done on your side to make it easier and fun. To learn a quick round up of what you need to know about general reading programs click here. Please be clear that the letter names and letter sounds are different things. Focus is given to the sounds so that kids can learn reading faster and are associated with lower case letters. The letter names are associated with upper case or capital letters.

1. Learning the sounds: You can now play the game I mentioned earlier, what's the first sound or find an object that begins with 'b'. You can do last letter also if your child becomes proficient enough. To learn the sounds of letters and their proper enunciation click here. Just remember to really exaggerate the movements of your lips when you practice phonics with your child. The more hyper you are, the better he will learn.

2. Associating the sound with its written letter: Besides the normal workbooks and copies in which the children will practice writing the letter, you can aide him by using different textures to map out the making the letters in sand when you go to the beach, or on some rough sand paper or with paint or on the roti dough you make. Children tend to retain more when the sense of touch is used in learning. Chalk boards and white boards are also helpful. Tracing letters in the air and saying their sound is also a good reminder...but just remember if your child is standing in front of you, you have to trace the letter in the inverted position so that your child sees it right.

A makeshift phonics book made with 3 small note pads.

3. Audio Visual Aides: These days iPads and even your smart phone have software that can download apps that teach kids phonics and there are beautiful games as well. Games like these and so many more. Just search for reading games or phonics in your apps play store. Putting up a chart with words that rhyme or that belong to the same family like 'ch' words or 'sh' words is also a good way to improve reading. Another tact is to label general objects in your home. Children will recognize the pattern of the word initially and identify it if they come across it again. Just remember to use lower case letters.

4. Flash cards: Perhaps the most effective tool there is. These are of two kinds: the phonic words and the frequent sight words that usually don't follow phonetical rules like 'what' or 'ball'. You get these easily in book shops or you could make your own. I find the 5-10 minutes while we wait for the bus in the morning is a good time to go through some flash cards.

5. Reading program: Then of course is the regular reading of the reading book assigned by the school. This should be read everyday too. You could put up a chart of the key words of their book around the house. 

Age 6-9:

If you have read the link I gave above, you will know that your child will have begun to get the hand of sound blends and digraphs. Here's what you can do to promote his reading skills now:

1. A reading program of your own: I have the "Peter and Jane" series. It's amazing and has story books in accordance to the level your child is on. Kids as young as 5 can get started on it. There probably are others too.

2. Picture writing: Take a nice playful picture and have your child frame out simple sentences. Have a discussion first.

3. Internet as tool: We all know how our pal Google can give us amazing tips.  Also the most wonderful site for young readers in my opinion is linked. Most of it is available without charge and it will help your child master the basic phonic sounds.

4. Reluctant readers:  Some children will still struggle. Don't give up on them. A certain time has to be allocated everyday for reading, even if it is just 10 minutes. Sometimes there could be other reasons too..maybe it is an eye sight issue, or its beyond his level or its just plain old boring. Identify the issue then resolve it. Remember the first step is desire.

5. Extended reading material:  Comics, jokes, riddles, card games, board games can jump start reading skills. Bookmarks, incentives like stars and reading charts can motivate children. Games like pictionary and hangman can help. The idea is to build confidence in your child and desire. Let them pick out a book to read in the book shop. Online games are also built to motivate children wherein they have to follow a set of instructions to reach the goal. They'll have to read first to get to the next level.

These are all my own little tips that I myself have used and still am using. Of course any activity from either age group can be used interchangeably according to the level of reading.  

Once your child has mastered this art, he'll be reading like a pro in no time. I hope this little article has been helpful.

If you feel that despite the best efforts of the teacher and yourself are proving futile, it's best to ask for professional help. There could be some minor learning difficulty. Professionals can guide you how to best cope in those situations and most are overcome surprisingly well. 

Good luck and happy reading.


  1. This is a really good post Rahima, I'm going to try these methods on my girl. I suggest you repost this on the group again. Really really good :)