July 18, 2010

phonics, parents and learning to read

Welcome to the July Teach/Learn Blogging Carnival.

The Teach/Learn Blogging Carnival hosted by Science@home is for anyone, because we are all teachers and learners all the time. This month our theme is "English", including Speaking, Listening, Reading and Viewing. I think our bloggers have covered all of these and there are lots of resources and game ideas, plus a giveaway. Please read through to the end to find links to the other participating blogs.


My eldest son, who is 4 years old, is beginning to read and write independently.  It is with some trepidation that I think about helping him with these skills.  I’ve never helped anyone learn to read or write before.  It seems so important and perhaps just a bit harder than helping someone learn to walk or talk, which I suppose I have done before.
So, I’ve been wondering what can I do to help my son with his developing reading and writing skills.  And from there, phonics rears its head. 

What is phonics?
Phonics is the ability to translate the print on the page into sound: for example, seeing the word cat on the page and saying cat; or being able to break it up into sounds and saying: kuh-a-tuh.
From Reading Magic, by Mem Fox

The trouble is, I dislike phonics.  I love to read, enjoy writing and I’m a great speller, but when I try and figure out the sounds in a word I get confused. 
As a child, I can’t remember knowing or needing phonics.  I can remember wanting to be able to read the words in books.  As an adult, I find phonics boring and requiring a great deal of concentration from me to get right.  So, do I need to teach my child phonics?

The role of phonics in learning to read and write
Phonics is one strategy that people can use when they come across an unfamiliar word while reading or need to spell an unfamiliar word when writing.  Phonics is useful but not essential in learning to read.
Reading is making meaning from the from the marks on the page.  Sounding out words is not necessarily reading because it is quite possible to read with all the correct phonics in place but not understand what is written on the page.  Phonics needs to be used along with a person’s prior knowledge and the context in which a word is used.
Many children will learn about phonics through reading and writing.  Some children will need more explicit instruction in letter-sound relationships. 

Given this information about the role of phonics in reading and writing and my dislike of phonics (which I’m sure my son will pick up) I will choose to focus at home on making sure my son loves reading and wants to read.  If phonics instruction is needed I will leave it to trained teachers.  I don’t have the knowledge on how to use phonics in reading instruction or the motivation to learn to take on this role. 

What can I do at home to help my child with beginning reading?
  • read together everyday
  • interact with books, talking about the pictures and the words on the page
  • pointing out words in the environment as we go through the day
  • play with words – tongue twisters, jokes, rhymes
  • play alphabet games
  • encourage my child to write - lists, letters, stories or whatever he wants

If you’d like to read more about phonics and its role in reading these resources were helpful to me in writing this:

How do you feel about phonics?  How do you think parents can best help their child learn to read?  And if you’re a teacher, should parents worry about phonics or leave it to teachers?

Visit Science@home to find out more about the Teach/Learn Blogging Carnival. Teach/Learn
Please take the time to visit the other participants and check out their posts on "English."

  • Monique at Your Cheeky Monkey has written about why her family thinks storytelling is so important, some storytelling ideas, and a few of their favorite books.
  • Julie at Works For Me Homemaking is encouraging sound play with preschoolers and not just for fun. It is an important tool to develop sound awareness skills and enhance early literacy development.
  • Staci from Teaching Money to Kids reminds us that sometimes language and interaction need to be explicitly taught and practiced, and has some ways to teach the language of sharing.
  • Leechbabe from Stuff with Thing asks what happens when your child interprets everything said to them in a very literal way? How do you aid their understanding of the funny things people say?
  • Squiggle Mum was reminded recently that you don't have to be a literacy specialist to know how to read aloud to a young child. After all, it ain't rocket science...
  • Lisa at SMMART Ideas has a LETTER MATCHING activity to help you practice spelling words, or even foreign language vocabulary.
  • Deb from Science@home has a giveaway to help you go on an expedition on your bookshelf.
  • Colin Wee at Super Parents is teaching his kids to argue by learning how to create a reasoned argument for English creative writing and the OREO Acronym.
  • The Planning Queen from Planning With Kids had her own bookclub when she and her son read the same book. It was a great experience to have a book discussion with her son where she hadn't been reading the story "to him".
  • Deb Chitwood from Living Montessori agrees with Maria Montessori that young children have a natural love of learning. Thanks to matching Montessori sandpaper letters with small objects, her son decided as a toddler that learning to read was just a fun game.
  • Amanda at HomeAge posts that we all know The Very Hungry Caterpillar, but Eric Carle has so much more to offer to young readers, particularly those interested in the natural world. With bright, beautiful artworks and simple, repetitive stories these books are a wonderful way to entice the young "reader".
  • Miss Carly from Early Childhood Resources has steps and advice in creating a literacy rich environment for children of all ages.
  • Christie at Childhood 101 points out that the process of sharing stories through oral storytelling is an age old tradition amongst families, but does it have a place in our busy modern day family life?
  • Sarah at Bringing up Baby Bilingual describes her public library's Writing Buddies program where high school student volunteers lead groups of at-risk fourth and fifth graders through a series of outer-space-themed writing activities. Writing prompts and resources included in the post!
  • CatWay at Adventures With Kids asks What is phonics all about? Is this something I should know more about to help my child learn to read and write?
  • Narelle from A Bunch of Keys has some simple suggestions for making your own literacy resources for children at home. Includes ideas for books with simple rhymes, books with puppets, books about family trips and making felt boards.
  • Zoe at Playing By the Book has gone fishing for words in illustrated dictionaries to support her early reader.
    Thanks for visiting our carnival, we hope you enjoy some of these posts and have found some interesting blogs.


    amandab said...

    We break down words into "portions" when talking about ideas (not a good idea when discussing driving through the country. Think about it :P , but we are not trying to teach reading. Alove of books and reading, but reading itself, no.

    If Princess learns to read before going to school that is fine, but us teaching her to read may be different to how she is taught at school and we don't want confusion to arise later.

    If Princess wants to write we will put the words on a page for her to copy and talk about them ("a" is a circle with a little stick, that kind of thing), but again, it's her choice and we will follow her lead with what she wants to learn, and how.

    Great and thought provoking post :)

    Marita said...

    Phonics is an interesting question in our house. Annie just seems to absorb words and rarely needs to sound anything out.

    Heidi on the other hand is still struggling with her alphabet and we try to link letter sounds with words she is familiar with to help her understand the letter has a meaning. L 'Lah' Liam or H 'huh' Heidi.

    Playing by the book said...

    Great to read such an honest post! Phonics has been adopted in the UK as the way to teach all children to read (rather than a whole word approach, which is what it was when I was a kid). Fortunately my daughter's school did a session for parents at the start of term all about phonics so that we would understand what our kids were talking about.

    Miss Carly said...

    Phonics is something I am not too 'keen' on myself. I did not learn this way in primary school. I was the year before it changed.

    For me, I think that some schools take the Jolly Phonics a little too far and use it for all the morning session {which is primarily used for English}. The school I am at and was at at the beginning to the year doesn't use phonics to the extreme and I love it. My friend on the other hand was using it all day almost!

    I sound out the words, but sometimes you cannot rely on this and that's where the sight words come in.

    Best of luck with your child learning to read!

    Donna said...

    Great post...
    Like everything - moderation is the key with phonics I think...moderation mixed with recognition of different learning styles and needs.

    Some children need to have the words broken down - some don't - focusing too much on one particular way is very unbalanced.

    My general philosophy is embrace a love of reading with loads of 'being read to' and lots of 'playing with words, sounds and letters'. It is great for the children to recognise patterns, rhymes and rhythms in words, without being too formal about it.

    Enjoyed your post - everything is a balance !!!! as all Mums know....

    Deb Chitwood @ Living Montessori Now said...

    I’m a Montessorian and total lover of phonics! I’ve just had such great luck with using Montessori methods (which use phonics) to teach children to read. My post for the Teach/Learn Carnival is actually about fun ways to use phonics. The things you’re doing with your son are great as well.

    Colin Wee said...

    I generally dislike phonics as well. I have seen a community of children grow up learning phonics and literally have spelling that SUX. However, my children are growing up in a Montessori school where they learn some phonics as they start to write. My daughter seems to be a poster child for this approach - she's got moxy and the freedom to write quite long and fairly well structured paragraphs and stories. I have also noticed that as she gets more familiar with the way things are spelled, there's some self-correction happening - so not all is lost. I suppose the continual need to check and re-check spelling will occur throughout our lives. I shouldn't stress too much. Cheers, Colin


    Julie said...

    I agree that balance is important. I really can't understand people who are at extreme ends of the whole-word/ phonics debate. In my experience, many children learn to read through repeated exposure to literature, and there is no need for those children to have explicit phonics teaching. HOWEVER, it seems to be those "struggling" readers, who benefit most from a phonics-based approach to literacy. Those are the children who often get lost or left behind without specific literacy instruction. I definitely think phonics is important and has a place for these beginning readers.

    PlanningQueen said...

    I agree whole heartedly with Julie's comments. A blend is needed of both and depending on the chid more phonics could be needed to be taught. I have seen this with my own children. Our school does both phonics/whole language approach and it probably a bit light with the phonice side of things. This wasn't ideal for one of my children and I have had to do quite a bit of work with them on phonics to help them with their reading.

    SquiggleMum said...

    I guess I'm answering as both a teacher and a mother.

    In one sense I like phonics, because phonics are sounds, and sounds make words. Children who work out how to represent these sounds become great little readers and writers. That said, I don't think a phonics approach to reading, at the exclusion of whole language, is in children's best interests. As said in other comments, it's all about balance.

    The real question I think you're asking in this post though, is about what to do with children who are beginning to make connections between letters and sounds before they reach school. My advice is to go with your child, but tread gently and don't rush them. By all means talk about letters and sounds, but basically - stick to the easy and obvious ones! (By that I mean leave vowel sounds, tricky blended sounds like sh, etc) Your child's name is a good place to start, as are Mum/Dad and sibling names.

    And of course, the best thing you can do is read, read, read aloud to them!

    CatWay said...

    Thank you all for your thoughful comments. I have really appreciated the discussion and it has been great to have the opinions and experience of people who already have children reading or are more expert in this area than I.

    Elise said...

    I echo Donna's sentiments - a combination of approaches. As a secondary school teacher who taught for ten years before having children, believe that relying solely on phonics can contribute to problems with spelling.

    I am off to check out the links you provided in this post.

    Your Cheeky Monkey said...

    Love this post thank you - my oldest son is 4 too so its exactly the stage we are at as well :-)

    Christie - Childhood 101 said...

    I believe the best approach to teaching reading and writing is a combined one - lots of reading together and whole language experiences for meaning making and comprehension, combined with sight word recognition of high frequency words and an understanding of phonics as a way of breaking words into their component. However, I do not believe that formal instruction in any of these areas is necessary before primary school begins. For now, follow your son's lead and don't feel pressured by what you see or read (especially online) that others are doing.