Most children learn to recognize the letters in the alphabet between the ages of 3 and 4. By age 5, the majority of children begin to make letter-sound associations. Learning letters and sounds takes time and is difficult for many children. On today’s post I am going to share with you some tips and strategies on how you can teach letters and sounds correctly to your children.
Step 1: Build Phonological Awareness
What is phonological awareness? It means that your child can recognize the sounds, rhythm, and rhyme involving spoken words. You hear it and you speak it. There is no print involved in phonological awareness. This happens way before children are introduced to letters of the alphabet. Research has proven that without this crucial skill, a child cannot learn to read well.
Rhyming is the first step in teaching phonological awareness. Why is this so important? It is important because rhyming draws attention to the different sounds in our language and that words actually come apart.
For example, if your child knows that jig and pig rhyme, they are focused on the ending ig.
You can begin introducing rhymes by reading rhyming stories with your child. Draw attention to the sounds of the rhyme by saying, “I hear rhyming words, dog and bog rhyme!” As you read these rhyming books aloud, you will want to really exaggerate the sound of the rhyming words.
You can also ask your child to predict the next word in the rhyming story, “One berry, two berry, pick me a ______ (child shouts out… blueberry)!
You can find rhyming books at your public library. A few of my favorites are:
Moose on the Loose by C.P. Ochs
I Swapped My Dog by Harriet Zeifert
Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney
Mrs. McNosh Hangs Up Her Wash by Sarah Weeks
A Frog in the Bog by Karma Wilson
Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas
The Flea’s Sneeze by Karla Firehammer
Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear? By Nancy White Carlstrom
Breaking up words into syllables or chunks is the second step of teaching phonological awareness.
One activity that will help your child pull apart the syllables in a word is to count them. This can be done by clapping each syllable. You can start by counting (actually clapping) the number of syllables in your child’s own name. Ja-son (clap, clap). Jon-a-than (clap, clap, clap). You can also clap out the days of the week Tues-day, the months of the year, Sep-tem-ber and fun words like cu-cum-ber or Cin-der-el-la.
If your child is having trouble understanding syllables, try using “chin dropping.” This technique will help your child really “feel” the syllables. Place your hand under your chin. Now, say a multisyllabic word aloud. Every time your chin drops, that is one syllable!
The last step to teaching phonological awareness is phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness means that your child is able to focus on and manipulate the individual sounds in spoken words.
These individual sounds are called phonemes. The word bat has three sounds – /b/, /a/, /t/. The word ship also has three sounds – /sh/, /i/, /p/. The awareness of the separate sounds in a word is what we refer to as phonemic awareness.
You can ask your child to manipulate the sounds in words:
“Say hop. How many sounds do you hear in the word hop?”
“What is the first sound you hear in hop?”
“What is the second sound that you hear in hop?”
“What is the last sound you hear in the word hop?”
You can ask your child to clap for the number of sounds he or she hears in a word. For example, “say the word pat. Clap for each sound you hear in the word pat.” Your child can also tap on the desk for each sound or stomp their fists.
I like to use sound tokens. The child listens to a word and then moves the sound token into a box for each sound in the word.
Step 2: Teach Letters and Sounds
When you are ready to begin teaching the letters and sounds to your child, you will need a set of letter/sound cards. You can make these by writing each lowercase letter on a separate index card.
Teach lowercase letters first. These are the letters that students will come across the most when they begin reading words.
Teach each letter in isolation. When working on a new letter, keep reviewing the already learned letters. Take your time and make sure your child is ready to move on to a new letter before introducing it.
Say, “When I hold up a letter, say the letter’s name and give its sound.”
You will want to engage all of your child’s senses when learning the letters and sounds. This means using visuals, motion, body movement, hands-on, and auditory elements in your lessons.
Some multisensory activities you can try out when you teach letters and sounds are:
- Use tactile materials, e.g. glitter glue, sand, playdough, LEGO or canvas to write and feel the letters.
- Pair up with your child and write letters on each other’s back with a finger. Guess what the letter is.
- While sitting on a carpet, write down each letter directly onto the carpet with two fingers.
- Fill a tray with sand or salt and write the letters in it.
- Spread shaving cream out on a tray and have your child write out the letters in the cream.
I made a YouTube Video for you on how to make your own portable sand trays.
Click HERE to watch the video:
Step 3: Watch Your Pronunciation!
When you begin to introduce each letter and sound to your child, make a note of not adding an extra vowel sound at the end, for example if you say /tuh/ instead of /t/. It is important to pronounce consonants without adding a vowel sound. The word “cat” is not pronounced kuh-ah-tuh. You will want to make sure that your child is learning the appropriate letter sounds right away, or they will become very confused when they are beginning to blend the words.
These are the letters that make one continuous or stretched out sound. These are easy sounds. You can elongate these sounds.
m, s, f, l, r, n, v, z
These are the letters that are not as easy to pronounce in isolation without adding an extra vowel sound to the end. The vowel sound should be “clipped” to make it as short as possible.
A trick that I have learned is to put your hand in front of your mouth. When you say a clip sound, there will be a little puff of air. Stop saying the sound as soon as you feel the puff of air. These are the clip sounds.
b, c, d, g, p, t, k, j
These are the tricky ones to teach. I have to play around with them a bit until I figure out the right way to pronounce the letter without adding the vowel to the end.
h, w, y, x
(If you have any tricks with these tricky sounds, please SHARE with us in the comments below!)
It is not necessary to teach the continuous sounds before the clip sounds. You can teach the alphabet anyway you choose. Personally, I like to first teach all of the consonants before teaching vowels. I use the vowels to teach beginning blending. I also separate the b and d to avoid reversals.
My next post will be on how to teach Beginning Blending… so stay tuned.
If your child is having difficulties…
Check out the PRIDE Reading Program. This reading and spelling curriculum is structured, systematic, cumulative and highly repetitive. It is really easy to use, 100% scripted and very affordable. Some kids just need a different approach to learning.
Thank you for reading my post today!