Anyone beginning the journey of teaching their child to read quickly learns how important phonics is for kids. You’d be hard-pressed to find a reading programme that doesn’t place a lot of emphasis on the importance of phonics. But what is phonics anyway, and why is it so important in the wider scheme of literacy?
Although the name sounds complex, the idea of phonics is very simple. The main focus of phonics instruction is to help young readers understand how letters relate to small units of sound, called phonemes, in order to form letter-sound correspondences and spelling patterns. These letter-sound correspondences are also known as the alphabetic principle. The letters of the English alphabet are directly related to particular sounds, and phonics instruction helps young readers apply their understanding of the alphabetic principle in their reading.
The most effective reading programmes offer phonics instruction in a systematic way. There has also been a great deal of debate about which kind of phonics instruction is the most effective. Although there isn’t a full-out war between the different camps of phonics instruction, the most clearly-drawn lines of battle are between the camps of analytic and synthetic phonics.
Analytic phonics moves from looking at a whole word, to then analysing the smaller units of sound in a word. When using analytic phonics, teachers may have kids look at a range of different words, such as ‘pig’, ‘park’, ‘pear’, in order to help kids deduce that all of those words share the same phoneme /p/. This kind of approach has a tendency to dip a bit too often into the area of rote learning. Because kids are expected to tackle whole words head on, they tend to just memorise the words whole, as they would a sight word. However, if the word is not used often they can easily forget it. Approaching words as whole entities doesn’t help kids to learn how to tackle unfamiliar words.
In contrast to an analytic phonics approach, synthetic phonics teaches kids how to break a word down into its individual sounds before moving on to the whole word. Synthetic phonics gets its name because this approach teaches kids to synthesise, or put together the sounds that a word is made up from. Essential to synthetic phonics instruction is a thorough understanding of the alphabetic principle.
This understanding of the alphabetic principle helps kids as they learn to read unfamiliar words. Instead of approaching the word head-on and then being daunted by its unfamiliarity, young readers learn to approach the word bit-by-bit, sounding it out and running the sounds together until they are able to read the entire word.
Phonics instruction is very important, but its aim should always be to help children read real texts. Reading real texts reinforces all the phonics instruction previously learned and secures it in the mind.
The Reading Eggs programme uses a synthetic phonics approach throughout all of its lessons. The programme offers instruction in all five of the key literacy skill areas: phonemic awareness, phonics instruction, fluency, vocabulary and reading comprehension. Early lessons map individual letters, or letter combinations, linking them with their appropriate sound. This helps to build thorough knowledge of the alphabetic principle in young readers. Children then use that knowledge when they read real books, which they get to do as early as Lesson 9 in the Reading Eggs programme. All of the Reading Eggs books are written to provide young readers with ample opportunities to practise their letter-sound correspondences and sight words. Reading Eggs is committed to providing high-quality phonics instruction for kids; all within the larger framework of comprehensive reading instruction.
My son is four. I really didn’t think he was old enough to start a phonics programme but I figured it was fun and engaging for him it couldn’t hurt. I didn’t have very high expectations. He went from having no phonics knowledge to reading in about a month! The ‘game’ is so fun for him, he asks to do it nearly every day. He loves the egg reward system too; when he completes enough lessons he gets to go ‘shopping’ in the ‘store’ for game items…I highly recommend this programme to all my friends with young children. This is the best online programme we have found for phonics!
- J. Thornburg
Hi there, I’m a Learning Support teacher and I think this programme is the best computer programme I have seen for teaching phonics. Thanks for such a great resource!