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Why Phonics Builds Better Readers

Young boy ready at school with his backpack on

Your three-year old daughter has memorized all the words to her favourite bedtime story.

Your three-year son plays with the refrigerator magnets and asks you to name the letters for him.

It’s time to teach your child to read.

The first step is to take a trip to the library to pick out books together; it’s an important part of the reading process—it helps kids feel a sense of ownership and an excitement to read. But more important than selecting what books to read is the method used to teach a child how to read.

That’s because of the two main reading instruction methods—whole language and phonics—only phonics teaches children how to become active thinkers as they begin the process of understanding written language.

Infants first hear language by listening to their parents. They hear sounds, learn to distinguish the differences between these sounds, and then learn to blend these sounds together. Once that skill is mastered, children begin to understand what the individually blended sounds (words) stand for.

Once children can speak, the next step is to learn the alphabet. The building blocks of words are letters, and there are only 26 of them.

Phonics, as an instruction method, uses the same structure that children have already been using to comprehend language: it breaks words down into their component sounds. To kids, this makes sense, because they have learned language using the same structure.

On the other side of early language instruction, the “whole language” method teaches that words themselves—not letters—are the building blocks of the language.

This approach can be confusing for young children because it isn’t intuitive—it’s just memorization. Can you imagine having to memorize by sight every single word in the English language?

The whole language method encourages a number of practices that can be detrimental to future learning. It encourages and rewards memorization, as well as estimation—if you don’t know the word, guess. Phonics, on the other hand, teaches that there is precision and a logical flow to understanding how things work. It teaches that persistence leads to understanding.

Not only does the phonetic method of language acquisition lead to stronger reading skills, it leads to better thinking and learning abilities. It teaches kids to have confidence in their abilities. This pays dividends in the classroom.

When it comes to reading, the best way to ensure that young readers don’t get frustrated is to sound it out.

For over 25 years, Oxford Learning’s Little Readers® program has been using the phonetic method of language acquisition to help young readers develop the skills that they need to be strong readers for life.

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