Preschool is the first introduction point of any child to the world outside their families. When parents see their kids mimicking words, identifying things around, or repeating dialogues and expressions of elders around, parents feel the need to polish their skills further, and add newer ones to their natural skill-set too. To accomplish all these objectives, they search for the best preschools and get their wards admitted there for the start of formal education.
Exactly what is being taught in preschools? A look at the Early Learning Standards and Curriculum in the United States covering pedagogy, standards, and curriculum tells that there are a few prime deliverables expected from a preschool:
- Building of early language and math basic skills
- Social and emotional behavior development
- Moral Values Development
- Identification of inherent talent and giving platform for it to nurture
Of these, the first deliverable i.e. building of early language and math basic skills is an area which is most crucial and the delicate one too. It is done through a curriculum covering aspects of reading comprising phonemics, phonemics, spelling, vocabulary, tone development, prosody, etc. In this post, we will lay our undivided attention on phonics and its role in developing reading skills in a preschooler, by covering points such as:
- Phonics and its importance
- Role of phonics in development of reading skills
- How phonics knowledge at an early age helps kids
- Why is it important to find various ways to teach phonics?
So, let’s start!
1. Phonics and Its Importance
“Systematic Phonics is a way of establishing letter-sound correspondence and apply it to learn to read and spell words.” (Harris & Hodges, 1995)
“Synthetic phonics refers to an approach to the teaching of reading in which the phonemes associated with particular graphemes are pronounced in isolation and blended together (synthesized). (Brooks’ definitions (Brooks, 2003, pp.11-12), as mentioned in the Literature review of ‘A Systematic Review of the Research Literature on the Use of Phonics in the Teaching of Reading and Spelling‘ (C. J. Torgerson, et al, 2006)
All these definitions show that phonics is an important skill required to read. It is basic knowledge, the art of associating letters with their sounds. The process involves identifying those sounds individually first and then blending them together to make different combinations. This ability to make different combinations of sounds by taking a look at the word has certain crucial roles to play in a child’s learning process. These roles are mentioned in our following sub-section.
Importance of Phonics
a. Useful for identifying and reading new words: No one is expected to by heart hefty dictionaries. It is the reading ability that helps early language learners sight, spell and pronounce new words. The phonics imparts that reading ability. Using it, kids can identify and read new words by sight.
b. Eases reading comprehension: Phonics helped reading beginners decode and spell words, and comprehend written material.
c. Improves communication abilities: What are the ultimate uses of phonics? It is actually useful in reading, that further empowers learners to make and learn new words, make proper sentences, and eventually, express themselves flawlessly.
Thus, a teacher will definitely vouch for the ease of communication that they experience while communicating with a phonics intelligent student. In outside classroom environment too, phonics offers a reliable tool to help students put forth their thoughts, and set a two-way communication system with all agencies involved with them directly, and verbally.
d. Provides premise for ascertaining special education needs: The ability to grasp phonics is one of the prime indicators of a child’s ability to learn to read, and if he can employ reading to achieve learning objectives. Thus, using phonics, the teachers can assess if the child needs special instructions or an Individualized Education Program due to the presence of any learning difficulty.
2. Role of phonics in development of reading skills in preschoolers
If we closely assess the question, ‘what is reading?’, we can define it as the ability to identify letters, represent them with a sound, combine sounds to make a word, and read all those words at an intelligent pace so that the reader, as well as the listener, can establish or comprehend the meaning of the sentence spoken. Even when the material is not read out to someone (the child reads silently), he is able to understand what is written.
Extracting the relevant meaning from this explanation of ‘reading skill’, one can establish that phonics plays the following roles in the development of reading skill:
- Phonics provides a template for children to understand how to read: It is the first basic guide that introduces the child to the world of letters and their respective sounds and walks them further into how to arrange words to make a meaningful reading.
- Phonics help kids decode words and rhyme them in different ways to understand the concept of word families: Once the child grasps one sound, say, ‘at’, they may work up their brains to find and sound out other words with similar sounds; such as, ‘cat’, ‘mat’, ‘bat’, ‘rat’, and so on. This pushes their mind encouragingly to form and develop new words.
- Phonics form the basis of picture-word association abilities: In a storybook, students see mostly pictures and associate those with sentences written to read and comprehend the whole story. This very act of identifying the picture and naming it appropriately finds its roots in phonics. In various phonics programs, the kids are introduced to a list of pictures having similar initial sounds. That forms the starting point of letter-sound association, picture-sound association, meanings, and role-based learning process, and eventually, the development of vocabulary.
Hence, the crucial role that phonics plays in any reading beginner’s is to provide them a guide on how to read to gain knowledge from it.
3. How Phonics knowledge at an early age helps kids
The idea of imparting knowledge of phonics at an early stage to kids has been a topic of discussion always. A section of intelligentsia detested the idea completely, calling it nothing but an additional burden. However, by the year 2007, almost all the US and UK schools, as well, recognized the role of phonics in bestowing kids with exceptional reading abilities and better academic performance in later years. They advocate phonics knowledge development at an early age because:
- Phonics is found to be effective in strengthening basic reading skills, which is essential for developing academic competence in formative years
- It helps extract meaning from the written text, thus, textbook reading becomes an easy affair
- With sound knowledge of phonics, kids tend to develop spelling skills easily. They can also fare well in activities like reading comprehension and dictation.
So, where lies the catch? Is there any need to find alternatives to phonics? Here is what the researchers reveal
4. Why is it important to find various ways to teach phonics?
In general, the educators categorized phonics as – analytic phonics, synthetic phonics, and embedded phonics. But, none of these is demarcated clearly from one another. Also, none of these guarantees assured results of the development of phonetic skills in preschoolers. The author Debbie Heppelwhite has critically evaluated in her article the challenges of teaching phonics in class. By understanding those challenges, it is safer to infer that not a single type of phonics program will work. There has to be a mix of activities, reading sessions, reading manipulatives use, and discussion hours, that together can make a big difference to the basic literacy skills development in early reading beginners.
Some of the ways phonics can be made a part of the learning curriculum minus the hassles are:
- Start slow and in small batches of words: We do have discussed sight words resources like apps, board games, books in various of our posts. Those can be included in the phonics teaching plans to let children have the best of all the worlds and learning tools.
- Encourage joining phonics reading programs: Several research-backed reading programs are directed at kids with varying learning outcomes at their focus. You must select those based on your learning needs and get yourself comprehensive practice material to master phonics and reading.
- Read storybooks to kids: The ability to mimic others is the biggest learning tool any kid has. Thus, if you read out the storybooks to children, and further engage them into learning words by putting your finger on those while reading, you actually give a demonstration of how to read. It will help them catch pronunciation, word sound, and ultimately attain fluency in reading.
Phonics has become a proven teaching tool for developing early reading abilities in preschoolers. It is entirely up to the parents and teachers how they use this tool to help kids grow into confident readers. The point worth remembering is that kids may have different grasping powers. So, assess those abilities first, and then decide which route to follow to teach phonics to preschoolers.