Reading Tips For Parents & Educators

Find expert reading strategies and useful tips to help introduce children to the wonderful world of reading on their own with I Can Read!

6 Simple Steps to Start Teaching Kids Phonics

If you grew up in the ’80s, ’90s, or early 2000s, you’ll likely remember the catchy TV and radio advertisements touting the benefits of teaching kids phonics. Even today, phonics remains an effective method for teaching beginning readers how to recognize the relationship between letters and sounds, usually in fun and interactive ways. 

As a parent, you may be wondering if teaching phonics at home is right for your child — and, if so, when it’s time to start.

What Is Phonics, Exactly?

Simply put, phonics is the connection between what we say and what we read and write. For example, if a child knows that the letter “c” makes a cah sound, the letter “a” makes an ah or ay sound, and the letter “t” makes a t sound, then they can probably sound out the word “cat” on their own the first time they see it.

Children must be able to process what they read quickly and automatically to become fluent readers. Phonics facilitates this process, linking sounds to letters and letter groupings so young readers don’t stumble over words.

Why Is Phonics Important?

While there have been debates about whether phonics versus whole-language instruction is best for early readers, studies continue to prove phonics’ value. It’s a beneficial method for teaching young children how an alphabetic writing system works and can help them become readers before entering kindergarten.

With phonics, children can independently decode each letter into its respective sounds, which is an essential skill that they’ll use throughout their lives. Even as an adult, you probably use phonics without realizing it! Think about the last time you saw an unfamiliar word, like the name of a prescription drug, and tried to sound it out. You applied the sounds you already know to the letters to make your best guess, and you probably weren’t far off in your pronunciation.

Teaching kids phonics is much more straightforward since most of the unfamiliar words they attempt to read on the page are already familiar to them from everyday life.

When Should You Start Teaching Kids Phonics?

Children are ready to begin phonics instruction when they can identify letters, usually between ages 3 and 4. Your child should also have phonological awareness, or the ability to separate words into their respective sounds. You can boost your child’s phonological awareness through rhyming, singing, and games.

Once a child gains this awareness, they can understand how reading works. However, keep in mind that you don’t have to wait until your child starts school to start this process; the earlier you introduce your child to phonics, the better.

Tips for Teaching Kids Phonics at Home

1. Read Aloud

Reading aloud to your child gets them excited for stories and should make them look forward to reading themselves. Try to make this time as fun as possible, using different character voices and reading with enthusiasm. Books that use creative, made-up words like Pinkalicious and the Pinkadorable Pony are also great for generating excitement and providing opportunities to break down letter sounds.

Always let the child pick the book so they feel involved in the reading process. It’s okay if they choose a short one, especially when they’re younger because text-heavy reads likely won’t keep their attention. As they get older, you can introduce longer books. Angle the book so both of you are viewing the page together. You might even point to each word as you read it aloud so they can follow along and make that connection between what they see and what they hear.

2. Revisit Favorite Books

Most kids can re-read their favorite book over and over again, but that’s okay! Re-reading is very beneficial for budding readers. You may even want to introduce some favorite characters and stories from your own childhood, such as the Berenstain Bears, and read the same book to your little one until they start to recognize certain words on their own.

If you’re tired of reading the same book repeatedly, make a game of reading it in different voices. You can also stop reading at key words to see if your child can tell you what comes next.

3. Listen to Your Child Read

Besides reading aloud yourself, you should also listen to your child read every day, even if they struggle. Whenever they stumble over a word, gently encourage them to sound it out. If they’re still stuck, note which letters and sounds they’re not connecting and focus on teaching those in another phonics session. Pete the Cat is a popular character friend to help your little one stay motivated.

4. Go Slow and Out of Order

It may seem counterintuitive, but introducing letters and sounds in A to Z order isn’t the best strategy. Although experts differ on where to start, most suggest introducing /f/, /m/, and /s/ by themselves quickly followed by /a/ (short a), /t/, and /p/.

You may find that you can introduce one or two phonemes per week until your child has a good enough grasp to form basic words they can recognize and learn to spell. Don’t move on too quickly, but don’t let your child feel bored either.

5. Make the Sounds Meaningful

Connect each phoneme to your things your child recognizes. For instance, emphasize that /z/ makes a sound like a buzzing bee, or the /ch/ sound is like a choo-choo train. Making meaningful connections between your child’s interests, identifiable sounds, and letters will help them improve their reading abilities that much quicker.

6. Use Multisensory Techniques

The most effective instruction is the type that incorporates multiple senses. For example, you might smear shaving cream on a table and have your child trace a letter in the foam while simultaneously saying its sound. Creating letters out of clay or kinetic sand works nicely too.

If you’d rather not clean up a mess, tracing letters or words in the air can be just as effective. You can even use magnetic letters and spell simple words on the refrigerator.

When searching for phonics activities to do at home, incorporate a good mix of kinesthetic, auditory, and visual exercises.

Phonics is a tried-and-true method for improving a child’s understanding of how written language works and helping them become independent readers from a younger age. Have you taught phonics to your children at home? Which tips and tricks would you suggest?

Reading Tips For Parents & Educators

Find expert reading strategies and useful tips to help introduce children to the wonderful world of reading on their own with I Can Read!

Summer Reading Tips for Parents

Summertime provides a wonderful opportunity to foster a love of reading with your children. No one’s worried about homework, strict schedules, or report cards. The days are longer, and books can be read with the simple task of enjoying a good story. When school is out and responsibilities are low, take advantage by scoping out books based on your youngster’s hobbies and interests. Here are a few summer reading tips for parents to help school-age children fall in love with reading:

Mix it up.

Aim to strike a balance between discovering new stories and relaxing with some cherished favorites. “Summer is a great time to take some risks and try new books. But never underestimate the power of a good re-read,” says children’s librarian, Laura Lintz, of the Henrietta Public Library in New York. “Emerging readers can gain a lot from revisiting their favorite picture books, beginning readers, and early chapter books. As they gain more reading proficiency, their understanding of these stories may deepen and provide them with feelings of mastery, success, and independence, too!” 

Have a book-themed day.

When your child connects with a story, consider modeling a day or activity after what you’ve read. Hit the beach for a sand-filled adventure after reading “Ty’s Travels: Beach Day!” or plan a day at the aquarium after reading “Little Critter: Going to the Sea Park”. For a more high-brow afternoon, follow up a Fancy Nancy story with high tea. You could even play make believe and let your child pretend to be Biscuit for the day, though we recommend placing a limit on the “Woofs!”

Make reading a delight.

Learning to read is hard work, but it’s relatively easy to turn reading into a reward. We so often let children stay up late for movie nights or family time, so why not add reading to the mix? Allow for an extra 10 to 20 minutes of read-aloud time before bed. Or, let them choose a story to thumb through on their own after their usual “lights out” time. Placing reading into the “treat” category will help them see the practice in a new light. By empowering them read on their own time, they’ll gain confidence and experience a sense of accomplishment.

Talk about books.

Don’t hesitate to pause when you read to your child to discuss an element of the story and ask them how they feel about it. Challenge them to guess what might happen next, or imagine how the characters might be feeling. If you are a reader, tell them something interesting that happened in a book or article you recently read. Hint: Most adult stories have at least one theme to which kids can relate! Hearing about it will help spark their curiosity, and they’ll feel like they’re getting a sneak peek into your life.

Most importantly, summer should be low-pressure. Read lots of books that they are excited about, let them see you reading, and most importantly, enjoy the break. For more summer reading tips for parents, check out this post, 10 Tips to Avoid the Summer Reading Slide.

Reading Tips For Parents & Educators

Find expert reading strategies and useful tips to help introduce children to the wonderful world of reading on their own with I Can Read!

10 Tips to Avoid the Summer Reading Slide

For kids, summer vacation is one of the most highly anticipated times of the year. It comes with longer days, less structure, and plenty of excuses for cold treats. After a school year of remote learning and inevitable challenges, they (and you!) deserve a break. But, the summer reading slide is real. That’s why we gathered 10 tips to help your kids stay on track this off-season and avoid the summer reading slide:

1. Read aloud to them

Set aside 15 to 30 minutes a day to read together with your little one. This can be built into their bedtime routine or happen at any other point throughout the day.

2. Visit the library

Carve out time to visit your local library, or if you’re traveling, a new library! Find the early reader section and let your child choose their own books to check out. Most libraries offer scheduled storytimes and events, too.

3. Have them read aloud to you

Grab your early reader and have them read aloud to you. If they aren’t reading on their own yet, pause when you are reading a story to let them read sight words or identify certain letters.

4. Play word games

Rhyming can help build phonemic awareness and fluency at any age. Choose a word and see how many words you can rhyme with it. If you’re playing with older kids, take turns crafting a story with rhyming words at the end of each sentence and see how long you can go!

5. Be selective about screen time

Screen time choices can feel overwhelming and are still relatively new. Narrow them down by choosing a show that helps teach early literacy skills. For younger viewers, “Sesame Street” continues to be a great choice. Other popular options are “Super Why,” “The Electric Company,” and “Word Girl.”

6. Schedule virtual storytimes with relatives

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s the power of keeping in touch with friends and family who may not live nearby. Encourage relatives to choose a story to read aloud to your kids over FaceTime or Zoom, grab some ice cream, and make a night out of it!

7. Start a book club with a friend

Find a fellow book lover and choose an early literacy book to read aloud with your kids. The next time your child meets up with that friend, ask them both a few questions about the story and start a conversation around it.

8. Give them paper and a pencil

Leave out lined paper or a blank comic book with some colored pencils and see what your kids create. You can also ask for help writing out your grocery or to-do list to encourage them to practice their penmanship.

9. Let them read to themselves

Place exciting, easy-to-follow books around the house for your kids to pick up. These can be wordless picture walks or leveled readers –– whichever you think will spark their interest the most!

10. Model reading

Let them see you reading and relaxing on your own. When you can, put down your phone and pick up a good book. After all, you’re their #1 role model.

Looking for more ways to avoid the summer reading slide? Check out our monthly book club for kids and get awesome children’s books delivered to your door.