What is Phonics?

Phonics is a method for teaching children how to read by combining some 44 sounds of the English language to sound out words. For instance, /k/a/t/ combines to say the name of the animal CAT.

When children can identify and combine sounds in words and sentences, they develop autonomous literacy skills.  They can even read non-words like this one by Mary Poppins “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” which means nothing, really! By the way that is the ultimate test at the end of our course when kids can read that word on their own – albeit slowly.

In short, with phonics, your child will have the confidence to identify the vowels and consonant combinations that form words and read independently. It’s like magic when a child goes from zero to hero phonics skills. Our Kiz Phonics program delivers that magic, with the most comprehensive set of resources that anyone can use to teach a child how to read. We have also been amazed by the overwhelmingly positive feedback from teachers who have used Kiz Phonics to teach adults with zero literacy skills – we had not anticipated that. 

Technical Definition of Phonics

Phonics develops phonemic awareness in children, which is the building block for early literacy skills. Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate individual sounds or phonemes. Phonemic awareness is the realization that within a word are individual sounds or phonemes. A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound that can differentiate meaning. For example, in the word cat, we can hear three distinct phonemes /k/ /a/ /t/. If we change /k/ /a/ /t/ to /k/ /a/ /p/ the meaning of the word will change completely. Therefore, children need to be able to hear and distinguish phonemes. 

But before that, we must develop print awareness. Print awareness refers to a child’s understanding and use of print. It involves such things such as recognizing the 26 letters of the alphabet, knowing that we read from left to right and much more. Print awareness has a direct relationship to word awareness. Word awareness is the ability to recognize words as distinct parts of oral and written communication. Before kindergarten, most children should possess this skill. Print awareness is the first step in developing literacy and is best done at the preschool level.

Once children can recognize the 26 letters of the alphabet – technically classified as graphemes – they can be combined to generate the 44 sounds of the English language – called phonemes. For instance, children will learn vowel digraphs such as /oa/, as well as consonant digraphs such as /sh/. Digraphs are two letters which come together to make one sound: ex. With vowel digraph /oa/ as in goat, the long ‘o’ sound is made in this case by two letters coming together. Meanwhile, the consonant digraph /sh/ makes the sound we hear at the start of the words, sheep and at the end of the word fish.

Why is phonics important?

Phonics helps your child learn to read and spell. Without this ability, your child will struggle with reading. Words are like codes, and phonics teaches children how to crack the reading code. Phonics is, therefore, an essential part of any reading development program. It unlocks the wealth of knowledge in many other subjects such as science and math. Thus, it is the single most important gift you can give a child – teaching how to read early.

When is the best time to learn?

It is often best to develop phonics skills from as little as three years of age. In our experience, postponing this early development is a wasted opportunity. We have taught kids how to read short words and sentences at the age of three, and by the time they are five, they devour short storybooks.

But it is often best to start slowly by exposing the child to letters of the alphabet from as low as two years of age or even earlier. This does not need to be done explicitly. It can be done in subtle ways, such as having those alphabet charts on the wall or teaching the ABC song early, or gamifying the whole experience so it does not feel like teaching. The next step is teaching them what the letters say. This song can help: https://www.kizphonics.com/abc-sound-song/

Research has shown that children who have not developed reading skills by second grade will experience an overall delay in learning throughout their school life.

What kind of phonics approach does Kiz Phonics use?

At Kiz Phonics, we use a direct systematic and explicit phonics approach to organize our materials here.  You can see this especially in the arrangement of our worksheets under different levels. They are arranged in the order in which they should be taught. However, those using an embedded phonics approach may simply look for materials by type. After you choose a worksheet, find a video, game and listening to go with that worksheet, by searching.

I am a parent. How can I help my child learn to read?

A child actually begins to learn to read at home, not at school. Teachers finish the job at school. Even with teachers helping at school, children always do better when their parents are involved in their learning. Set aside as little as 20 minutes every day to do a phonics lesson. Just keep it regular and short. You can follow our program structure here

How can I develop my child’s print awareness?

Here are a few techniques for developing print awareness in preschoolers. This list is by no means exhaustive:

  1. Take a children’s English book. Turn the book front side down and ask the child to correct it to the natural reading position
  2. Take a children’s English book and ask the child to show you the front
  3. Ask the child to point to the title of the book
  4. Teach the names of letters to ZIt is essential for teaching letter-sound correspondence.
  5. Teach the child that letters in English have uppercase like A and lowercase letters like a.
  6. Show a word and ask the child which letters are in the word. For example, the word dog has the letters d, o, g.
  7. Show a sentence in the kids’ book and make a child see that words are separated by spaces (better a kid’s book with big and bold fonts)
  8. Show the child where to start reading in a book
  9. Show the child the first word and last word of a sentence
  10. Point out to the child that we read from left to right and top to bottom of a page
  11. Show the child that books have pages and pages can be numbered
  12. Show two books, one with fewer pages, another with more pages and ask the child to point to books with more pages and vice versa
  13. Show the child a children’s book and point out that books can have pictures and texts
  14. Show the child the first word of a sentence and ask him or her to show you the last. By the time, your child or child can do all of the above, they would have achieved good print awareness. For non-native speakers of English, it is always a good idea to use an English book. This is because not all languages always write from left to right – Arabic comes to mind here.

 What is the difference between a phoneme and a grapheme?

We said earlier that a phoneme is the smallest unit if sound that can differentiate meaning. If a phoneme is the smallest unit of sound that can differentiate meaning, then a grapheme is the smallest unit of written language that can differentiate meaning. A grapheme could be a letter or a symbol. The letter a is an example of a grapheme. The sound(phoneme) the grapheme a makes can be /a/ as in apple.

Please note that the problem with English is that we have 26 letters of the alphabet, but over 44 phonemes. For example, c can make two sounds. We have c as in cat and c as in city. Also, c can combine with h to make a different sound /ch/ as in chair. Think about it this way. There are 26 letters of the alphabet (which are 26 graphemes). One of these letters is ‘y’. The letter ‘y’ makes 4 different sounds. Don’t believe me? Well look at these words: yak, gym, baby, cry. To make it more interesting, the letter ‘y’ can make consonant and vowel sounds. This means, the letters of the alphabet are unreliable for teaching phonemes, but they can be a good start for teaching key graphemes and phonemes. That is why phonics goes way beyond recognizing letters of the alphabet. 

Are there different types of phonemes (sounds) in English? 

Sounds are commonly broken up into two groups, and some would say three - Vowels, Consonants and Diphthongs. 

What are vowel sounds? 

Vowels are sounds that are said without stopping the flow of air from your lungs. The most commonly known vowel sounds are made by the letters - a, eiou. These letters can represent short and long vowels. Try to say the following words: apple, egg, igloo, octopus, up. Did you notice that when you say the short vowel sounds of a, e, i, o, u, the air in your mouth isn’t stopped? That’s what vowels do. 

The most common misconception people have is that there are 5 vowels in English. True and False! There are 6 letters (aeiou & sometimes y) that commonly represent vowels, but there are at least 19 vowel sounds in English. OMG! Okay, calm down! And you over there, stop yawning!  What if I told you your child will learn to read using our Kiz Phonics program without hassle? 

What are consonant sounds? 

Consonants are sounds that are made by partial or complete closure of air coming from your lungs. Consonants are most commonly represented by all other letters that are NOT a, e, i, o, u. This means b, c, d, f, g, h and the rest. There are 25 consonant sounds in English.

This consonant and vowel business is confusing. Can you simplify it?

Before you get confused, let’s simplify things:

There are 26 letters of the alphabet. The 26 letters can be manipulated to make 44 sounds. There are 44 sounds in the English language. Of these sounds, 19 are vowel sounds, while 25 are consonant sounds. The vowels are most commonly represented by the symbols a, e, i, o, u. The consonants are most often represented by symbols b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, w, x, y & z. The letter ‘y’ can make a consonant and vowel sound. By playing around with these 26 letters, through phonics, we can learn the 44 sounds (phonemes). For example, we can put /ch/ together to make a new sound as in the word chair. This art of combining two letters to form one sound is called a digraph. There are consonant and vowel digraphs

Did you say digraphs again? 

Yes I did, and you already know it. A digraph is when a pair of letters come together to make one sound. For example, s + h combine to make the sound we hear at the end of fish. Common consonant digraphs include: ch as in chair, sh as in sheep, th as in think, ck as in duck. Common vowel digraphs include: oa as in goat, ee as in feet, ai as in train and more.

I get it now

That’s a good start. Now that you understand what phonics is, check out all the resources we offer to help in your teaching:

Now that you know go and tell it on the mountain. Good news must be shared!