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Teaching Letters and Sounds to Young Children

Early Phonics Instruction

Our local school uses a phonics program that links reading and writing. It’s a nice program and works well when children are ready to write, but I prefer to start phonics earlier in a fun, informal way.

Why Do I Start Teaching Phonics Early?

When children are developmentally ready it is easier for them to grasp letter sounds outside of a school setting.

I knew my three-year-old was ready, when he suddenly became interested in the first letter of his name and he started spotting the letter “W” everywhere we went. I decided it was time to teach the letters and sounds.

My favourite program is Zoo-phonics because each letter is associated with an animal, an action, and the sound. This is good for kinaesthetic learners and just plain active three-year-old boys (like my son).

There are many other similar programs available to suit younger children. You can even make up your own phonics program incorporating your child’s interests (e.g. vehicles). I would include the sound, letter character, and action if I were to create my own.

My rule of thumb is to spend no more than three minutes of instruction with a three-year-old (4 minutes with a four-year-old, etc). Children this young have a short attention span and it is critical to keep phonics instruction fun and informal.

When I introduce Allie Alligator for letter “a”  I chase my son around the lounge using my arms like snapping alligator jaws while I make the sound “a”, “a”, “a”. This is fun for him and he doesn’t even realise he is learning his letter sounds.

Let me know if you find an original way to introduce the letters and sounds. If you keep it fun and informal, your child will be more than ready to read when the time comes.

The Five-Finger Rule: How To Choose A ‘Just Right’ Book

How To Choose a ‘Just Right’ Book

How to select a ‘just right’ book

The Five-Finger rule – How To Choose A Just Right Book

Last week, my son came home from school with a reading book that was far too difficult for him.

“But…but… my teacher said I could read books from the European section of the library. My friend Sarah is reading it and says it’s really good.”

As I listened to him struggle over the first couple of pages, I knew he was going to get too frustrated to finish the book. It was time to teach him how to choose a ‘just right’ book for independent reading.

We need to teach our children how to select appropriate independent reading books. These are books that will increase their reading fluency and, at the same time, help them develop their reading comprehension skills.

How To Choose A ‘Just Right’ Book

  1. In order to choose a ‘just right’ book encourage the child to pick up a story that looks interesting by glancing at the front cover and reading the title.
  2. Next, the child should do a ‘book walk’ by flipping through the pages, looking at the illustrations, and reading the captions and/or chapter titles.
  3. Finally, they should choose a page in the middle of the book to read. As they come to difficult words they should hold up a finger. If they have 5 or more fingers up by the end of the page, the book is most likely too difficult for them to read independently. Of course, we must apply this rule with common sense. If the children are missing names of people or places we may decide not to count these. My son loves reading tales of Greek heroes and gods. These names are difficult even for me, so I don’t count them when we use the 5-finger rule.

Here is a link to a thorough explanation of this rule that I found helpful.

Now that I am a parent I believe that this is one of the most important concepts a teacher can share with parents and children. The Five-Finger rule empowers children to choose the books that will really move them forward.

When To Revisit Easy Books

Of course, there are times when it is beneficial to revisit ‘easy’ books. I often encourage my son to read picture books to his little brother. He loves to do this and it really helps his reading fluency and ability to read aloud with expression.

When To Use Challenging Books

I also expose my son to challenging books above his independent reading level when I read him a story each evening. I purposely choose this book because I know he will enjoy the story. I choose this book with the purpose of promoting vocabulary development and providing ample opportunities for discussions that will enhance comprehension.