What is “Phonics”, Anyway?

Edward Wong The Educational Parenting Blog Leave a Comment

What makes phonics different from other ways of teaching reading, and why it is so effective

I want to make it easier for busy parents to teach their kids to read.

But sometimes, even on this blog, I forget to use simple language to explain the terms that experts use.

That’s why, in this post, I want to clear up any confusion about a very important term. I use this term in most of my blog posts, and you’ll see it everywhere as you teach your child to read.

That’s right, it’s the big one: phonics.

What exactly is phonics?

Phonics is simply a method of teaching children to read by teaching the sounds that correspond to the letters used to write any given language. Study after study (and a comprehensive review by the National Reading Panel in the United States) has shown that phonics instruction is essential and necessary to create strong readers.

“That’s obvious!” you might be thinking, “of course teaching kids what sounds letters make is the basis of reading.”

But people did not always agree on this. Teachers used to use methods like the “whole language” approach instead of phonics in primary school classrooms.

The whole language approach is a now discredited method which assumed that reading was all about guessing the meaning of words. All the tools that whole-language proponents used for helping children learn new words were focused around making children read more books and hoping they would pick up new vocabulary on their own.

Studies have since shown that not all kids can become proficient readers this way.

We now know that giving your child lots of books is great for their future academic performance, but for many kids, it doesn’t help unless they are also taught how to sound out words.

Phonics works because it allows the reader to decipher any word, even those that are unfamiliar.

What’s more, phonics unlocks all those higher-level reading skills that revolve around understanding meaning. As you can imagine, it’s easier for a child to figure out the meaning of the words on a page if they can read all of the words on a page.

That’s why, whether you are getting your child ready to do well at school, or whether you are teaching them to read at home, it’s crucial to include phonics-based materials in your educational parenting.

If you want to learn about more technical terms related to reading instruction, or you want to know what else you can do to ensure academic success for your children, you can read my posts about phonemic awareness.

Phonemic awareness is a set of skills that prepares a child to be able to understand phonics, and eventually to be able to read. Check out my earlier post on phonemic awareness for a full explanation of this concept, or this post for some tips on how to help your child improve their phonemic awareness.

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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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