The basic “code” of written English is sounds represented by letters. Learning this code begins with learning to recognize the sounds of English. Combining these sounds into two- or three-sound words is where forming words begins. And this can be taught to children before they ever see a letter.
Because learning the code of written English is so important, learning to recognize its sounds should not be rushed. A lifetime of reading, a career, the ability to support a family—so much depends on being able to read.
Kids need plenty of time and various kinds of interactions with sounds to learn to recognize sounds. The younger the children, the shorter their attention spans and the more need for game-like ways to learn.
But the learning doesn’t begin with letters. It begins with sounds.
I recommend you use several strategies to help your children identify sounds, working with your child one-on-one using manipulatives. Why?
Your child wants nothing more than to interact with you. Putting down your cell phone and sitting by her side shows your child you treasure her. And working with her on reading skills shows her how important you consider that knowledge to be.
Research shows that the more senses we use, the more likely we are to remember. If a child can touch manipulatives, hear you say sounds, say them herself, see objects when she says sounds and feel your warm hug when she learns, the learning will stick. Plus she will be relaxed and happy, in an emotional state which is open to learning.
Some of the strategies I recommend to teach tiny children how sounds form words are these.
- Work on a few sounds at a time with objects around the house. If your son’s name is Bill, for example, start with the “b” sound. Put a ball in your son’s hand and say “b” (the sound, not the letter) as in ball. Put a banana in his hands and say “b” as in banana. Do the same for other consonant sounds and for all the vowel sounds, even sounds we represent by two letters. You can say “oi” (the sound) as in oink, or “ch” (the sound) as in child. You can start this activity when a child is two or three without ever showing the child a letter.
- Find objects in picture books which begin with basic English language sounds. ABC books are good for this, but the goal should not be to say “A is for apple.” Rather it is to focus on the sounds in words. At first start with words which begin with a sound, but then move on to small words which include that sound in the middle of CVC words like “cat” and “bag.”
- When the child recognizes a handful of consonant sounds and a vowel sound such as “a,” say the “a” sound and a consonant sound slowly, one after the other. Make sounds which form a word like “a” and “t” or “a” and “x.” Repeat the sounds a little faster each time until the child can hear the sounds come together. Usually the child will say the word, but if not, help her to hear how the sounds come together to form a word.
All these activities can be done prior to ever showing your child a letter. And they can be done with all 42 sounds in English. Identifying sounds and understanding how they come together to form words is the basis of reading. Save the ABCs for a later time.