What if Phonics Doesn’t Work for my Four-Year-old?

Edward Wong The Educational Parenting Blog Leave a Comment

If your child is struggling, it could be an indication that you need to take a step back and focus on a more foundational skill

So your child has just turned four, and you want to start teaching them to read. You’ve started teaching them phonics, but they don’t seem to get it. They have a hard time decoding words, either because they don’t know what sound they are supposed to make, or they don’t recognize a word once they’ve sounded it out. Even for words that seem simple! What gives? Does this mean your child can’t learn using phonics?

The answer is no, any child can learn to read using phonics, and phonics is essential for all strong readers. Here are three reasons why your child might be struggling with their phonics instruction:

1. They haven’t mastered the phonemic awareness yet.

The skills required for reading are like building blocks. All kids learn at their own pace, but no kids can move upwards if the foundation isn’t there. The foundation of reading and spelling is phonemic awareness, including knowing the individual sounds of words and being able to blend them together.

You can help your child develop basic skills by reading to them or following these tips for pre-reading prep.

2. The material is too hard for them

Maybe your child is very precocious and has mastered the alphabet backwards and forwards. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are ready to decode everything. There are many more sounds to know than there are letters in the alphabet: knowing the sound that the letter “T” makes and the sound that the letter “H” makes does not tell you what the sound the letters “TH” make together, for example.

Try to find easier material with simpler words. The easiest are two letter words—cover these before moving on to three-letter CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant combination) words next. Check out this post for tips on how to judge the reading level of books for your child.

3. They know how to do it, but they just don’t want to

Sometimes kids say “I don’t know” when they know the answer to a question but they want you to say it for them. Remember to keep it fun! Turn phonics into a game: give your child a reward—a healthy snack, or even just a high-five—for identifying the sound a letter makes or correctly sounding out a word. Use fun word games to help your child build phonemic awareness.

Kids learn faster when they’re having a good time. Always teach them that reading is joyful. Show them this by reading them stories in an animated way, playing word games, and offering positive encouragement, and eventually they will be expert readers themselves.

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About the Author

Edward Wong

Edward Wong is a primary tutor and the Senior Designer at English Cosmos. He teaches children how to read, coaches parents on education in the home, and has been passionate about reading education since 2019. He graduated from the University of British Columbia with a Juris Doctor degree and qualified as a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA).

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