Everything Parents Should Know About Phonics

by Christine Chadwick

From the time you were young, you've probably heard the phrase "hooked on phonics." Chances are that you have a general understanding of what it means, but as far as being able to specifically describe what is and how it is used as a teaching tool...well, that understanding is a bit more sketchy for most people.

Of course, now that you have your own children, you have an intense interest in anything that can be of help in teaching your little one everything about how the world, and all that surrounds him, works. Here's a little background on the use of phonics to help you better navigate the "curious years" of your early learner.

What Exactly is Phonics?

Simply put, phonics is the relationship between letters, letter groups and sounds. It is the basic system through which early learners begin to understand how to read, write and pronounce words. The foundation of learning through phonics is the mastery of the alphabet. In many languages, the sound that letters and letter groups are meant to create can change depending on grammar rules, context or particular spelling. In order for children to fully grasp the connections between sounds and letters, they must first have a strong understanding of the alphabet and all of its usage forms and exceptions.

Phonics is sometimes referred to as "decoding" because once children understand the sounds that each separate letter makes, they can then use that knowledge to create a system or "code" that unlocks a specific combined sound and solves the puzzle of individual letters put together.

Is it an Effective Way to Learn to Read?

Phonics is an essential tool for teaching early learners about how language works. A study conducted by the National Reading Panel specifically identified "the importance of phonemic awareness, phonics, and good literature in reading instruction for students." Subsequently, The National Right to Read Foundation listed phonics as the most effective way to teach children how to read.

What Age Should Children Start Phonics?

Although phonics is typically taught to very early learners between the ages of 5 and 7, studies have shown that they are also helpful in teaching older children who may have difficulty with reading. Children usually begin phonics instruction in primary school, where they learn to recognise letters by name and by the sound that they make. Later on, more attention is placed on how letters fit together to make words, which introduces children to the world of reading on their own. As children increase their skills in recognising words and whole sentences, their ability to write and spell words correctly improves as well.