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6 Simple Steps to Start Teaching Kids Phonics

If you grew up in the ’80s, ’90s, or early 2000s, you’ll likely remember the catchy TV and radio advertisements touting the benefits of teaching kids phonics. Even today, phonics remains an effective method for teaching beginning readers how to recognize the relationship between letters and sounds, usually in fun and interactive ways.  

As a parent, you may be wondering if teaching phonics at home is right for your child — and, if so, when it’s time to start. 

What Is Phonics, Exactly? 

Simply put, phonics is the connection between what we say and what we read and write. For example, if a child knows that the letter “c” makes a cah sound, the letter “a” makes an ah or ay sound, and the letter “t” makes a t sound, then they can probably sound out the word “cat” on their own the first time they see it. 

Children must be able to process what they read quickly and automatically to become fluent readers. Phonics facilitates this process, linking sounds to letters and letter groupings so young readers don’t stumble over words. 

Why Is Phonics Important? 

While there have been debates about whether phonics versus whole-language instruction is best for early readers, studies continue to prove phonics’ value. It’s a beneficial method for teaching young children how an alphabetic writing system works and can help them become readers before entering kindergarten. 

With phonics, children can independently decode each letter into its respective sounds, which is an essential skill that they’ll use throughout their lives. Even as an adult, you probably use phonics without realizing it! Think about the last time you saw an unfamiliar word, like the name of a prescription drug, and tried to sound it out. You applied the sounds you already know to the letters to make your best guess, and you probably weren’t far off in your pronunciation. 

Teaching kids phonics is much more straightforward since most of the unfamiliar words they attempt to read on the page are already familiar to them from everyday life. 

When Should You Start Teaching Kids Phonics? 

Children are ready to begin phonics instruction when they can identify letters, usually between ages 3 and 4. Your child should also have phonological awareness, or the ability to separate words into their respective sounds. You can boost your child’s phonological awareness through rhyming, singing, and games. 

Once a child gains this awareness, they can understand how reading works. However, keep in mind that you don’t have to wait until your child starts school to start this process; the earlier you introduce your child to phonics, the better. 

Tips for Teaching Kids Phonics at Home 

Tips for Teaching Kids Phonics at Home 

  1. Read Aloud

Reading aloud to your child gets them excited for stories and should make them look forward to reading themselves. Try to make this time as fun as possible, using different character voices and reading with enthusiasm. Books that use creative, made-up words like Pinkalicious and the Pinkadorable Pony are also great for generating excitement and providing opportunities to break down letter sounds. 

Always let the child pick the book so they feel involved in the reading process. It’s okay if they choose a short one, especially when they’re younger because text-heavy reads likely won’t keep their attention. As they get older, you can introduce longer books. Angle the book so both of you are viewing the page together. You might even point to each word as you read it aloud so they can follow along and make that connection between what they see and what they hear. 

  1. Revisit Favorite Books

Most kids can re-read their favorite book over and over again, but that’s okay! Re-reading is very beneficial for budding readers. You may even want to introduce some favorite characters and stories from your own childhood, such as the Berenstain Bears, and read the same book to your little one until they start to recognize certain words on their own. 

If you’re tired of reading the same book repeatedly, make a game of reading it in different voices. You can also stop reading at key words to see if your child can tell you what comes next. 

  1. Listen to Your Child Read

Besides reading aloud yourself, you should also listen to your child read every day, even if they struggle. Whenever they stumble over a word, gently encourage them to sound it out. If they’re still stuck, note which letters and sounds they’re not connecting and focus on teaching those in another phonics session. Pete the Cat is a popular character friend to help your little one stay motivated. 

  1. Go Slow and Out of Order

It may seem counterintuitive, but introducing letters and sounds in A to Z order isn’t the best strategy. Although experts differ on where to start, most suggest introducing /f/, /m/, and /s/ by themselves quickly followed by /a/ (short a), /t/, and /p/. 

You may find that you can introduce one or two phonemes per week until your child has a good enough grasp to form basic words they can recognize and learn to spell. Don’t move on too quickly, but don’t let your child feel bored either. 

  1. Make the Sounds Meaningful

Connect each phoneme to your things your child recognizes. For instance, emphasize that /z/ makes a sound like a buzzing bee, or the /ch/ sound is like a choo-choo train. Making meaningful connections between your child’s interests, identifiable sounds, and letters will help them improve their reading abilities that much quicker. 

  1. Use Multisensory Techniques

The most effective instruction is the type that incorporates multiple senses. For example, you might smear shaving cream on a table and have your child trace a letter in the foam while simultaneously saying its sound. Creating letters out of clay or kinetic sand works nicely too. 

If you’d rather not clean up a mess, tracing letters or words in the air can be just as effective. You can even use magnetic letters and spell simple words on the refrigerator. 

When searching for phonics activities to do at home, incorporate a good mix of kinesthetic, auditory, and visual exercises. 

Phonics is a tried-and-true method for improving a child’s understanding of how written language works and helping them become independent readers from a younger age. Have you taught phonics to your children at home? Which tips and tricks would you suggest? 

How to Help Your Child Be a Better Reader

We all want our kids to be the best versions of themselves. At times, it can be difficult to distinguish between getting to know our child’s strengths and weaknesses and our desire for them to be good at everything. That’s a lot of pressure to put on ourselves and on our children. When it comes to reading, lower the stakes and try to make the pursuit as fun as possible. Here are a few ways that you can take the stress out of reading and teach your child how to be a better reader in the process. 

Choose age-appropriate books. 

Great literature exists for all ages and levels. If you’re a reader, you may be tempted to share old favorites with your child. This can be such a rewarding experience provided your child is ready for them. As with movies, you want to get the age right, so your kids love the stories as much as you do! Try not to rush things, and enjoy finding new classics as well as sharing old favorites. For younger readers, books about Amelia Bedelia and Frog and Toad are well-paired with groovy stories about Pete the Cat or Pinkalicious. Sometimes, the best experiences are the ones you share together for the first time. 

Build on screen time. 

If your child loves a certain movie or TV show, find a book that features the character. It may not be your favorite way to spend your read-aloud time, but it will allow your child to meet characters in more than one format and associate reading as an extension of something they already love. On the flip side, we’ve spotted one of our favorite creators rapping about various phonemics from old Electric Company episodes. We see you, Lin-Manuel Miranda. 

Expose them to a variety of genres. 

Do you love thrillers? Nonfiction? Poetry? Almost every genre of adult books also exists for children. Give them a taste of it all, and see what they gravitate towards. Then, help them find more of what they like. Remember that tastes change, so continue to expose them to a variety of stories, and give them the freedom to choose age-appropriate books on their own as well. 

Story Time Tips to Improve Reading Comprehension

To help your child become a confident and well-rounded reader, it’s important to improve reading comprehension early on. According to multiple studies, reading encourages brain development in young children, expanding their capacity for creativity, helping them develop empathy, and advancing their vocabulary. It’s a useful habit to develop in kids, which, if properly encouraged, will stay with them as they grow older!  

For your child to reap these benefits, they need to fully comprehend what they read. Follow these story time tips to improve reading comprehension and inspire a lifelong love of reading. 

Choose interesting material. 

The first step to boosting your child’s reading comprehension is to ensure that they find the material interesting. This way, you’re able to hold their attention and keep them focused on the subject matter. Discover what your child’s interests are and find books that explore the subject or related areas. If your child loves animals, you can buy them books about dogs, cats, and other exciting creatures. Your child will remain engaged as you read these stories together.  

Use age-appropriate text. 

A child’s brain develops with age. The same way you wouldn’t buy kids clothes that are too big or too small, you shouldn’t buy them books outside a certain difficulty level. Advanced material can overwhelm early readers and impede their comprehension. They won’t be able to fully grasp the concepts outlined in the text, even though they’re interested in the subject matter. On the other hand, material below their reading level will not be stimulating and as a result, will leave kids feeling bored and uninterested. 

Age-appropriate material will contain concepts that they’re familiar with and words that they can define and pronounce. It’s a good thing to introduce your children to complex words and concepts, but you need to do so gradually as their ability to understand what they’re reading improves. 

There’s a lot of age-appropriate reading material for kids available. Start there and build your way up to improve reading comprehension over time. That’s how brilliant kids are formed! 

Employ visual cues. 

Children are visual creatures who learn from what they see. It also helps when they read, which explains why picture books are great for beginner readers. Describe what’s going on in the book as vividly as you can. You can improvise with colors and props as well as other sensory cues like sounds, smells, and sensations to keep your child’s mind fully engaged.  

Invite the child to form their own visual description of the setting and plot to be sure that they fully understand the text. It’s a fun yet instructive way to improve reading comprehension in younger children that not only works for fictional stories but nonfictional ones as well. 

Pause and ask questions. 

Before each reading session, take some time to set goals by asking your child a few questions such as: Why do you want to read this book? What do you hope to learn? What do you hope to discover? 

While reading with your child, take a pause every few minutes or so to ask them what they’ve learned so far. This is a great way to determine if your child is following or not. It also gives them an opportunity to ask questions and gain a better understanding of the text, which will help improve reading comprehension overall. 

Read the material multiple times. 

Re-reading can help clarify any confusing portions of the text. In addition, it helps your child build fluency — the ability to read articulately, smoothly, and effortlessly. It’s also great pronunciation practice. Perfecting fluency and pronunciation will inspire confidence in your child, which can go a long way toward making them lifelong readers. 

Children love to re-read books they enjoy purely for entertainment reasons. Nevertheless, it’s key in familiarizing them with every aspect of the book and exploring the different concepts it presents. Think about how you, as an adult, gain a new insight each time you read your favorite book or study material. Children will also reap the same benefits from re-reading any book they love. 

Make real-life connections. 

A great test of whether your child understands what they’re reading is their ability to make real-life connections. If your child is reading a book that deals with issues such as overcoming a fear or making new friends, it can help to connect those stories to a time when your child had a similar experience.  

Introduce your child to the concepts they’re reading about as a way to improve reading comprehension. A good way to do this is by organizing field trips! If they’re reading about certain animals, take them to the zoo. If their book is about a certain sport, sign them up for a few classes. Physically engaging with the topics they read about will enhance their ability to grasp difficult concepts. 

Furthermore, making these real-life connections will build empathy in your child. They may not be able to relate directly to a situation, but if they come across a concept in a book and understand it, they will be able to empathize with a friend or classmate who is experiencing the same thing. 

Practice unlocking clues. 

Much of improving how children understand what they’re reading involves practicing — new words, reading aloud, etc. Unlocking clues is another concept you need to introduce. Clues in books help you infer what a character is feeling. The text won’t always describe these emotions directly, so you’ll have to discover the clues and explain them to your kid. For instance, “reddened cheeks” describe embarrassment, while “widened eyes” can indicate surprise or shock.  

When you find such clues in a book, pause and ask your child what they think it means. This tip will not only improve reading comprehension but also help them recognize visual cues and body language in real life. 

Utilizing these techniques will increase your child’s appetite for reading and learning. Share what has worked for you in the comment section below and help other kids on their way to becoming better readers!

Get Ready for Back-To-School with I Can Read! Book Club

The phrase back-to-school may bring to mind time spent shopping for school supplies and labeling lunches, but making sure your child is ready to return to the classroom goes beyond the extra hand wipes and healthy snacks. Helping your kiddo get ready for back-to-school means also ensuring that they feel confident in their own abilities, especially reading books, in group environments.

Here are 5 perks about our monthly book club, or book subscription box, to help your early reader get ready for back-to-school.

  1. Build classroom confidence

Reading is a part of every subject and every class. If your child struggles with reading, it may affect their classroom confidence. As your child reads through more books on their own, or together with you, they will naturally improve early literary skills, like fluency and vocabulary. Reading skills can support their comfortability speaking in front of a class, as well as translate to better grades in various subjects, like English, math, and science. 

  1. Get excited about reading time

Reading can be seen as a burdensome chore instead of a fun activity for kids, which is why they might dread it. The increase in homework as your child moves through elementary school can make reading time even worse! To spark the joy of reading, show your child the fun side of reading time by introducing books that are purely for personal enjoyment. With our subscription book box, there are no assignments or grades to add any pressure to reading time. 

  1. Foster meaningful friendships

At any age, peer relationships and friendships can sometimes be tough. Toddlers and youngsters especially are still learning all of the rules and nuances that guide our social interactions. By reading I Can Read! books together at home, your child will have stories about new people, places, and things they can share with their peers, as well as learn a thing or two about the meaning of friendship. Early readers may even want to recommend a favorite book to a friend or recreate an exciting story time adventure.

  1. Develop areas of interest

There’s a big world out there to explore, and early reading helps kids open their minds and hearts. Even if you can’t drive to the beach to see the ocean waves or talk to someone who lived in colonial times, kids can go anywhere in their imagination. When a child learns how to read, they can be anywhere, be anything, at any time. New ideas and interests are just a page-turn and adventure away. Reading books, starting at a young age, is the best springboard to dive deeper into areas of interest and pursue lifelong hobbies. 

  1. Spark imagination and big ideas

One of the wonders of childhood is that nothing is outside of the realm of possibility. Reading is an excellent way to foster your child’s ability to think big and get creative. I Can Read! leveled books share a treasure trove of relatable subject matter, like school, bravery, and triumph, that teach kids that they can overcome anything. All it takes is a little courage to get ready for back-to-school and start each new grade with confidence. The more characters and stories you share with your child, at any age, the more options they have for their own creative play!

8 Ways to Refresh Your Child’s Reading Routine

There’s a lot of buzz about the importance of daily reading starting in early childhood, and we couldn’t agree more. Reading for at least 20 minutes a day has countless benefits for skill development. Whether your child is just starting preschool or on their way to elementary school, it’s never too late to create a reading ritual at home.

Here are 8 ways to breathe new life into your child’s reading routine and inspire healthy reading habits in the process.

  1. Create a reading nook

Do you have a favorite place to read? Maybe your child likes to read in bed under the covers or outside in the backyard. Switch things up and try something new, like building a play fort, setting up a hammock, or creating a cozy corner filled with pillows and their beloved stuffed animals. For endless inspiration, try checking out the hashtag #readingnook on Instagram. 

  1. Switch up reading times

A lot can be said for reading habits, but don’t feel as though you have to stick to the same reading time every day. See if you can squeeze in a story when your child wakes up in the morning, before nap time, or after school. If you’re feeling pinched for time, try having them read to you while you prepare a meal, or putting on an eBook to listen to together. 

  1. Talk about books together

Talking about books at home can be just as important as actually reading them! Think about ways to bring up a subject or character from an I Can Read! book while the whole family is together. This way, reading is incorporated into daily conversations that go beyond your designated reading routine.  

  1. Go on a book-themed outing

Think outside the book and plan a day trip or weekend activity based on a story your little one loves. For example, read Play Ball, Amelia Bedelia and take a trip to a local baseball game, or, read a book about Baby Shark and plan a beach day or waterpark adventure. (No matter what you plan, you can take the credit!)

  1. Get cooking! 

Many popular children’s books and some of our favorite I Can Read! books involve delicious food. For example,  Fancy Nancy loves throwing tea parties and Pete the Cat loves taking trips to the supermarket. To switch things up in your early reader’s world, try baking cookies, making finger sandwiches, or going grocery shopping together. You could even find a story that features a character in another country and research local foods to try at home.

  1. Create a kids book club

Choosing kids activities can be daunting with options that are seemingly endless. Why not try an activity related to reading? Gather a small group of bookish friends and suggest a book, or series, about an I Can Read! character. Kiddos can choose their favorite scene from the book(s) and meet to discuss and play. Hint hint: we introduce kids to new character friends each month!

  1. Attend a story time event

Local libraries and bookstores can be a great resource to help develop your child’s reading routine. Many of them even have free story hours on a weekly basis! Take a trip with your kiddo and go somewhere in the area that suits you, whether it’s after school or over the weekend.

  1. Keep a book on hand

Entertaining kids during downtime can be tricky. Pack a book with you to have on hand wherever you go (we make it easy with portable paperbacks)! It’s those unexpected small moments, like waiting at the doctor’s office or for a sibling to finish a swim lesson, that sometime make the best story times.