Children learning to read must acquire a number of complex skills that enable them to make the necessary links between the sound that words make and the way that they appear on the page. Phonics is one of the five key areas in reading instruction, which also include phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension.
The main aim of phonics instruction is to help beginning readers understand that letters are linked to particular sounds. In English, there are 26 letters used to represent 44 speech sounds. Armed with the knowledge of how letters sound, beginning readers are able to then recognize letter-sound correspondences, and spelling patterns, and use this knowledge in their reading.
It is particularly important that beginning readers recognize the relationship between written letters and their sounds, as English spelling is based on the alphabetic principle, the notion that letters of the alphabet, or letter combinations, represent speech sounds. Whereas phonemic awareness allows a child to hear these individual sounds as part of spoken words, phonics instruction enables young readers to recognize that these smaller units of sound correspond to written letters.
A thorough understanding of phonics and this alphabetic principle is crucial for a child learning to read. Insufficient or inaccurate phonics instruction can detour a young reader from making the necessary links between the written word and the spoken word that it represents. Failure to make these links can result in reading delays.
Systematic phonics instruction, which offers young readers plenty of opportunities to make the necessary links between letters and sounds, helps young readers along the way to reading success. There are, however, different types of phonics instruction, the main two being synthetic phonics and analytic phonics.
With analytic phonics, also known as implicit phonics, children are taught to recognize whole words by sight, and later to break down the word into the smaller units of sound.
In contrast, synthetic phonics is a more accelerated form of phonics. Children are taught letter sounds upon first starting school, before they learn to read, and even before they are introduced to books. They learn the sounds of the letters in their smaller units, and then learn to put them together, or, synthesize them, as it were, hence the name “synthetic” phonics. For example, they first learn the sounds ‘c’, ‘a’, and ‘t’ before the letters are put together to form the word ‘cat’.
The Reading Eggs programme uses a systematic, synthetic phonics approach in its instruction. With the Reading Eggs programme, children begin by learning the appropriate sound for each letter of the alphabet, including letter combinations. Each letter of the alphabet is featured in its own lesson, and lessons build on one another, systematically, so that within a handful or two lessons, children are able to read their first book.
In the first 60 lessons, all the books are highly decodable, using words that have been introduced and reinforced by the lessons. The programme responds to readers at their level of ability, making it possible for children to consistently read at their level, which is the most beneficial for their learning. If the lessons are too easy, children lose interest; if they are too hard, children lose motivation. But, pitch a lesson right at a child’s level, interest and motivation is maintained, and reading comprehension grows along with reading success.
As well as working through the alphabet, and the sounds that each letter (or letter combination) makes, Reading Eggs also includes lessons on phonics skills such as working with beginning and end blends of letters, the variety of sounds that vowels make, diphthongs, consonant letter sounds such as soft c, g, and y, silent letters, double letter sounds, word families, and how to work through words with more than one syllable. The Reading Eggs programme helps young readers develop these phonics awareness skills; lessons build on one another, and reading skills improve upon the completion of every reading activity.
By using the Reading Eggs programme, children enjoy learning to read. All of the lessons, including the lessons on phonics, are embedded in game-like activities that encourage the children to play as they learn. When children succeed at the activities, they are rewarded with prizes, such as the Golden Eggs they receive at the end of each short activity they complete. With the lessons being so enjoyable, young readers enjoy spending time in the Reading Eggs programmes, and the more time they spend in the programme, the more that they learn!