My last post talked about the importance of building letter recognition skills in your little one! Once children become familiar with letters, the next big idea is that letters represent speech sounds. Like building blocks, those letters then form together to build words, and words form together to build sentences! Voila! Reading. Easier said than done, I know.
Mastering letter-sound relationships will set the foundation for the next step of reading, which is stringing the sounds together in CVC (Consonant-Vowel-Consonant) words. If you are looking for a program to support your instruction, Jolly Phonics and Letterland are two you can use to support your teaching of letters and their sounds.
HOT TIP: There ARE in fact, more ideal orders in which to teach the sounds. Different people and programs may present different theories - I like this one. Click the photo to take you the website for more info!
Essentially, teaching those first six letters gives kids a chance to start forming very simple and recognizable 2-letter words (it, in, is, at, an, etc.) and from here you can work in word families. A word family is a group of letters that all have the same ending (e.g. cat, sat, hat, bat, pat). Each stage in phonological learning acts as a foundation for the next!
A Note on Teaching Letter Sounds
When teaching the sounds, please ensure that you are not adding an unnecessary "-uh" sound to the end of the letters. For example, when teaching the letter D, we say /d/, like doll as opposed to "d-uh". That drawn out "uh" sound can make it difficult to blend letter sounds when the time comes.
WARNING: English sucks when it comes to teaching the language. There are so many exceptions to rules. Sight words are mostly exceptions to the rules! However, with English and letters and letter sounds, come exceptions as well. As children begin to decode letter sounds, they might get tripped up on these. Before you dive in to the exceptions - let's all cringe together as we relate to this Mama and her legit struggles. Girl - I feel you. This me as a teacher ALL. THE. TIME.
1) Dual-sound letters - Letters such as C and G make hard and soft sounds. C makes the sound you find in coffee (hard), and circle (soft). G makes the sound you find in garbage (hard) and giraffe (soft). It's important to teach both, but to help your child understand that if they try one and it doesn't sound right, to try the other and see if it works!
2)Vowels - Each vowel can make a long and short sound. Take the time to teach all of the short vowels and then later, come back and do the long sounds. Once your child is decoding CVC words, then it's a great time to introduce the trick of the Magic E (a post on this to come in the future).
3) Letters that aren't named the way they sound - Some letters are easy to teach because they are named exactly the way they sound! B says /b/, D says /d/. However, some other letters actually have an "eh" sound, for example M and F. Think of the names of the letter as emm, and eff. Watching my 4 year old niece trying to figure out which letter Michelle starts with led me to understand that she doesn't see M and F as /m/ and /f/, she sees them as letters that start with the "eh" sound. This needs to be explicitly built into the instruction to clear up confusion! On top of this, there are some letters that truly do not sound the way they are named, such as W or Y. These will need lots of repetition and practice!
4)Blends and Digraphs - Once your child is beginning to blend sounds together and decode CVC words, blends and digraphs can definitely be a speedbump! This can be a whole other post in and of itself, but simply put, blends (clusters of consonants that make a blended sound, where you still hear each consonant sound such as bl-, cr- spl-) and digraphs (consonant blend that makes one new sound altogether, such as wh, sh, th, ch).
5)R Controlled Vowels - Words that have the letter R after the vowel, which creates a new sound such as -ar, -er, -or.
Learning these skills takes practice, practice, practice! Here are some tips for how to incorporate this learning into your home or classroom!
Try this: Hold up a flashcard or even a plain index card with a letter on it (in this example, let's use B!). Using something in the room, say, "I spy something that starts with the letter B! (make the "b" sound 2-3 times to reinforce the relationship)". Have your child move about the room, saying the names of things out loud (this also helps to increase oral language and vocabulary skills!). Help them to identify the item that begins with the "b" sound.
Reading to your child and modeling the connection between text and sounds is a great way to reinforce these skills. By reading slowly and clearly, and using a pointer finger as you go through the text, they can connect what you are saying to what they are seeing.
I've said it before and I'll say it one hundred more times - having visuals up on the wall is KEY to building solid literacy skills. Try labeling things around your house (each week you can focus on a different area or room!). Alternatively, have a picture-based word wall up in a learning space. No need to purchase anything fancy, index cards or blank paper will do just fine! However, if you are interested in buying a word wall, there are lots available on Teachers Pay Teachers or Scholar's Choice (or your local teacher's supply store), to start!
Explore letters through a variety of modes and materials (stamps, games, puzzles, magnets, foam bath letters, books, songs, tracing/colouring/drawing, etc.). Involve the senses - using shaving cream or playdough can be great ways to be hands-on! There are hundreds upon hundreds of apps as well, however nothing beats the effective nature of learning a skill using tactile materials.
Exposure and opportunities for practice are the keys to helping your children along in their reading journey. If you are stuck or need support, please feel free to reach out.