Explaining phonics rules to a preschooler - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 15 Old 04-21-2012, 02:41 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Obviously, my 3 year old doesn't need to know how to read now, or anytime soon, and if it was up to me, I wouldn't teach him yet.  But he LOVES phonics.  Some of his favorite activities are trying to sound out bits of text he sees, typing things on the computer and then attempting to read them, talking to me about how things are spelled, etc...  I think he just finds the code of letters and sounds to be an interesting puzzle.

 

My issue is how to explain the rules in the simplest way possible for him.  He understands consonant sounds and short vowel sounds, and some of the double vowels like "oo" and "ee", but not the rest of the rules.  So he sees something like "to" or "bone" and wants to pronounce them "tah" and "bah-neh", and then asks if he's right.  I always end up saying something like "actually, in this word it makes a different sound" then telling him what it says...  And I can see he's not satisfied with that answer.

 

I don't remember learning phonics explicitly, it was so long ago.  Are there any resources to help me learn the rules and explain them in language a 3 year old might understand?

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#2 of 15 Old 04-21-2012, 04:19 PM
 
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You might check out www.starfall.com.  It introduces some of the basic phonics rules like silent e and "when two vowels go walking."
 

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#3 of 15 Old 04-22-2012, 09:50 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I've let him use starfall a couple times - he can do it, but much prefers to type on a plain word document.  I suppose I could play it myself for a little while and see how they present the rules though, and maybe then use that to help me explain to him. We happened to look at words with "y" the other day - and between "by" "yoyo" and "baby", I was totally lost to give him any good reason why it made 3 different sounds.

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#4 of 15 Old 04-23-2012, 04:13 AM
 
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One of the things I like about starfall's phonics is the songs. Even if your son isn't interested in it, you could use it as a guide for yourself to just use it when things come up....like for example with my DD, when she sees a silent e word, I'll sing the little jingle as we sound the word out together. It will give you a list of the basic beginner phonics rules. when you come up to a word that doesn't follow the rule, as you most certainly will! you can just say....yes, this does sound like "whatever it sounds like phonetically" but we say  it this way--and then pronounce it correctly. My DD understand the idea of site words. 

 

3 is probably too young for this, but Explode the Code books may work for him a little later. I got Happy Phonics for my DD--which is a collection of games which teach the phonics rules sequentially and she also likes to read Bob books. 

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#5 of 15 Old 04-23-2012, 08:00 AM
 
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Disclaimer: I'm not a huge fan of explicit phonics instruction.  I think most kids understand phonics better (as an external affirmation of what they've already intuited) once they've reached a certain level of fluency.  With my kids, I focus on lots of free reading of interesting texts (as defined by you and the child--while learning to read my eldest was fascinated by the driving manual put out by the state dept. of motor vehicles!), letter play (magnetic letters or moveable alphabets or whatever), and also audio books, if your child likes them. 

 

If asked, I would continue to do what you're doing: explaining the general rules while emphasizing that English is a funny (irregular) language with lots of exceptions.

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#6 of 15 Old 04-23-2012, 08:49 AM
 
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If you do go with Explode the Code, the rules start in book 3.  The other 2 are just sounding out letters and blends.

 

I have personally found the rules in ETC helpful because I was in a similar spot.  I didn't know how to group all the different things we were running into.  I am sure there are lists of rules out there that would be cheaper than buying workbooks to get them, but anyway.

 

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#7 of 15 Old 04-23-2012, 10:48 AM
 
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Hi Erin!

As you know, E is at a similar place to K right now.  Her favourite books to read are Candlewick Press "Brand New Reader" series.  We get them by the dozen from the library.

They don't focus on phonics per se, but on making sense of a story as a whole, so that the kids can 'predict' likely words, almost guessing them by checking the picture and starting to sound out the words.  (For example: "Kazam waves her wand." with a corresponding picture that helps E figure out that it's WAVES not WAHVESS.)

She does this with other Early Reader books too, but the Candlewick ones are by far her favourites.  Don't go ordering BOB book before you see them.  I was excited to find a few at the library, but E cannot stand the illustrations and won't touch them. 

As for the rules, we're not bothering with them right now. 

She plays on Starfall, so is learning exceptions and rules there on her own, but other than that, we read all the time, and she reads on her own, and we read together, so she's gaining  exposure to how the language works all the time.  I agree with a pp who mentioned fluency ... the more exposure she gets to the rules, the more she'll work them into her knowledge base.  Until then, she asks for help. 

So cool that K is into words and reading! 


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#8 of 15 Old 04-23-2012, 02:18 PM
 
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I'm a big fan of explicit phonics instruction, but you can't expect to find phonics rules that will explain everything you and your son find puzzling.  Why is the o in "no" pronounced differently than the o in "to?"  There's no phonics rule that explains that.  The best you can come up with is that sometimes o says its name and sometimes it goes "oo."  The different pronunciations of y are a little more predictable.  It always makes the same sound at the beginning of a word, so that's easy.  At the end of a word, it usually goes "ee," but if it's at the end of a one-syllable word it will sound like long i.  But that's pretty complicated for a 3 year old.  A lot of the time it's good enough just to say "sometimes it sounds like this and sometimes it sounds like that," or "in this word, the o goes "oo," without trying to come up with a rule to explain it.  (I personally like to connect the letters of a word to the sounds they make even when the sounds are unusual ones.  So for a word like "was," instead of saying, "Oh, that's a strange word; you just have to remember what it looks like," I'd say, "That's a strange word. The a goes 'uh' and the s sounds like 'z.'") 

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#9 of 15 Old 04-23-2012, 06:47 PM
 
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Originally Posted by Daffodil View Post

I'm a big fan of explicit phonics instruction, but you can't expect to find phonics rules that will explain everything you and your son find puzzling.  Why is the o in "no" pronounced differently than the o in "to?"  There's no phonics rule that explains that.  The best you can come up with is that sometimes o says its name and sometimes it goes "oo."  The different pronunciations of y are a little more predictable.  It always makes the same sound at the beginning of a word, so that's easy.  At the end of a word, it usually goes "ee," but if it's at the end of a one-syllable word it will sound like long i.  But that's pretty complicated for a 3 year old.  A lot of the time it's good enough just to say "sometimes it sounds like this and sometimes it sounds like that," or "in this word, the o goes "oo," without trying to come up with a rule to explain it.  (I personally like to connect the letters of a word to the sounds they make even when the sounds are unusual ones.  So for a word like "was," instead of saying, "Oh, that's a strange word; you just have to remember what it looks like," I'd say, "That's a strange word. The a goes 'uh' and the s sounds like 'z.'") 

 

This.

 

I've begun telling my girls that behind every funny spelling/pronunciation is a story.  They are quite a bit older--5 and 7.  I like to tell them that speaking English came long before writing English, and that is a reason why the spellings are funny, let alone all the dialects in England that contributed to the common language.  As a language history lover I delight in retelling some of the stories I know about the evolution of English/American English.

 

That's a lot for little kids, but the idea shows itself easily in the words "who" and "where" and "why" and "whole".  Once upon a time all these were aspirated, but modern English now has dropped (or mostly dropped, depending on where you live) the "H" sound in some of those words, but not the others.  So, when (or "hwen") you think your child is ready, you can point this out and perhaps it can start making sense.


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#10 of 15 Old 04-23-2012, 06:54 PM
 
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I came across this book at a yard sale or something, and really found it helpful:

http://www.amazon.com/Children-Cant-Read-What-About/dp/0684831619

 

How can I explain this totally different approach....perhaps by sharing a quote found in one of the Amazon reviews:

 

"`If you teach a child that abstract squiggles on the page (letters) are 'real', and that these squiggles 'have' arbitrary noises (sounds), she won't understand what you're talking about. By contrast, if you tell her that letters on the page stand for specific sounds in her own speech, the process of matching letters to sounds will make sense.'

 

In other words, rather than telling the child that a certain letter sounds a certain way (and leaving the child baffled when she sees the letter sounding differently in different words, or when paired up with other letters), you instead say "here is how we make the sound __" 

and then teach the various ways that we write that SOUND. In other words instead of teaching from the letter to the sound, we teach from the sound to the letter.

 

I, too, started out teaching phonics and was at a loss when all the "exceptions" came along. Our language is full of so-called "exceptions."  Reading this book really helped me to help my son.

 

 

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#11 of 15 Old 04-23-2012, 09:35 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks for the suggestions, I'll definitely check some of those resources out. SweetSilver, your way of thinking about it is cool - I think my son will definitely appreciate it when he's a bit older. For now, he's just trying to figure out what things sound like. I don't really have an opinion about the value of explicit phonics instruction, but it's irrelevant anyway. HE wants it.

 

I had always assumed that learning to read springs out of a love of stories, and a desire to figure them out for yourself.  For this kid, that's nowhere close. He likes listening to stories, but doesn't usually care to try to read them.  Which is totally fine.  The reason I started this thread is that he loves WORDS and letters, totally separately from stories. Some of his favorite games involve me writing a word, him reading it, and then running to find the appropriate object. Or reading words from cardboard boxes and traffic signs. Or sitting at the computer, trying to type words like "pig", "sheep", and "turtle".  Or typing nonsense words, then trying to figure out what they say. 

 

I need the phonics for the nonsense words the most! He'll type something like "eelko" and then want to know why the "o" in it sounds different if he turns it into "eelkog" or some such. Nellie - that's interesting about the sound/letter connection.  He understands some of that already with the really simple ones (c vs k and c vs s), but I could try being more explicit about it.

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#12 of 15 Old 04-24-2012, 06:50 AM
 
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The only phonics I remember were the fun exercises on Electric Company.   The new version isn't the same, but the old one is available on DVD and can be rented (and maybe streamed?)   And the newer PBS  show "between the lions" has a lot of phonics made fun adn reading tips and tricks.


savithny, 42 year old moderate mom to DS Primo (age 12) and DD Secunda (age 9).

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#13 of 15 Old 04-24-2012, 07:21 AM
 
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Originally Posted by mckittre View Post

I had always assumed that learning to read springs out of a love of stories, and a desire to figure them out for yourself.  For this kid, that's nowhere close. He likes listening to stories, but doesn't usually care to try to read them.  Which is totally fine.  The reason I started this thread is that he loves WORDS and letters, totally separately from stories. Some of his favorite games involve me writing a word, him reading it, and then running to find the appropriate object. Or reading words from cardboard boxes and traffic signs. Or sitting at the computer, trying to type words like "pig", "sheep", and "turtle".  Or typing nonsense words, then trying to figure out what they say. 

 

I need the phonics for the nonsense words the most! He'll type something like "eelko" and then want to know why the "o" in it sounds different if he turns it into "eelkog" or some such. Nellie - that's interesting about the sound/letter connection.  He understands some of that already with the really simple ones (c vs k and c vs s), but I could try being more explicit about it.

My 5yo comes up with some interesting games with just the words as well.  She used to love stumping me by stringing her alphabet letters out and asking me (in increasingly silly giggles) how to say it.  The she'd add on another letter until eventually I had to attempt to pronounce "polikmnjuyhbvgtrfcxdewsqaz".  And I would give it a go!

 

When she was about 5yo, dd1 wanted to learn Spanish.  She enjoyed reading simple books with me, and she loved the predictability of the pronunciation and that gave her confidence to tackle sounding out English words, oddly enough.  I guess she realized finally that, despite my telling her how tricky English is to learn to read, it wasn't her lack of skill that was causing the trouble but the language itself.

 

Now the word games revolve around our various "Usbourne's First Thousand Words in...." books.  They read a word, then go act it out together, or when dd2 plays alone she draws a picture of it.

 

Anyway, just relating our own experiences with words for words' sake.  We love them immensely.

 

Personally, I find teaching them pronunciation is a bit random.  First, there is the fact that very rarely does an English pronunciation have no exceptions, and usually there are many.  Try as they might, phonics instructions just can't get around this entirely.  Then there is the fact that the best instructions seem to come at odd times, like your son's game with the typewriter.  So, it seems a bit random, but slowly over the months and years it starts to sink in and become second nature.

 


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#14 of 15 Old 04-24-2012, 07:42 AM
 
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I think that in the end, it has to just be a blend of approaches. Being sort of militant phonics wouldn't be good, but knowing phonics is good for getting a start in sounding out words you've never seen before. And you add to that your knowledge of the context or the surrounding pictures. Also there are going to be sight words that never sound-out phonetically. Which is totally fine. Plus there's the knowledge I mentioned of how there are many ways to make a single sound in our language. I think it's important to admit that WE as adults all use a blend of these things and there's no reason to think our kids shouldn't too.

 

My upbringing was rather authoritarian and traditional, and I have a feeling that I must have been taught in phonics because for the longest time I used to struggle with pronouncing things literally, like this one:  "Yosemite". For the longest time I thought it was "Yose-might"   It's those silent e's at the end of Yose and Mite. Another one was when I encountered the name "Chloe." That one was murder to pronounce, because I had been taught that "Ch" sounds like the beginning sound of "chew".   Just try saying Chloe that way!  And on & on it goes.

 

And nowadays when I see the name "Maty" and the person pronounces it "Matty" it's like fingers on a chalkboard to me, because I had been taught that to keep the soft "a" sound, I would need TWO letter T's. Not one.   (And yet, "city" doesn't give me the same agita, probably because names are chosen and I would wonder why anyone would "choose" a wrong spelling...... oh heck you can see where this is going.) The point is, rules are only good up to a point. Too much of an emphasis on them, too much rigidity, just leads to silliness of the kind I've just described.  :-)

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#15 of 15 Old 04-24-2012, 09:57 AM
 
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 Too much of an emphasis on them, too much rigidity, just leads to silliness of the kind I've just described.  :-)

 

When old poems try to rhyme "food" with "good" or something like that, I like to be a little silly when reading it, trying different ways to get the words to rhyme properly.  They find it infinitely funny.


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