It’s a common problem in the US. Children in the second grade, even the third and fourth grades, are struggling readers. They guess; they skip ahead. They are miserable children.
The school may think this slow progress is fine. But perhaps you as a parent know younger children who’ve already learned to read. You worry that your child Is falling behind.
The first thing to confront is that teachers and school officials will mislead you. They’ll say, “Your child is getting plenty of phonics.” But then your child comes home with a list of sight-words to memorize. You know phonics is being slighted. But what can you do?
Here’s a second problem: finding help isn’t easy. The media are basically a dead zone. You’re not going to find advice on reading in your local newspaper.
Bottom line, sight-words are the cause of most reading problems. Ideally, schools stop using them. The good news is that a list of sight-words can be a valuable wake-up call. They tell you that the school has stuck with the bad ideas that have been around for the past 75 years.
What parents should hope to see is systematic phonics with a focus on learning the letters, then the sounds represented by the letters, then the blends of those sounds. (This process should be finished in first grade.)
But let’s say your child is having reading problems; and simultaneously your child brings home lists of sight-words to memorize. Then the remedy is obvious. Get involved immediately and teach your child the basics of phonics. Namely, letters represent sounds.
To start, parents can read “Preemptive Reading,” a three-page quick guide to phonics. (It includes a list of complete phonics courses.)
YouTube has many helpful videos. A. J. Jenkins in Australia has made some wonderful phonics videos that have attracted almost 200 million views in one case. So you know many people are turning to these videos instead of their local schools. Encourage your child to listen to the video until he can sing along. At that point he has the phonics idea in his head and should be safe.
The main thing is that children get the concept that letters and words basically tell you what to say. When looking at b-words like beach, branch, ball, block, the child knows that all of them start with the same sound. At that point language becomes logical and predictable.
Sight-words of course are always arbitrary, like a phone number you just committed to memory. (Wait a minute, was that 5271 or 5721?)
Despite all the propaganda we hear, the English language is 100% phonetic. There is no such thing as a non-phonetic word in an English dictionary. Indeed all the words are arranged alphabetically, which is to say that all the words listed under B start with the same b-sound.
English is an old language that has borrowed many foreign words. So our vowels can be inconsistent. But old tennis shoes are still tennis shoes. Whole Word promoters try to pretend that a small difference means that something is “non-phonetic.” No, merely non-consistent. For a word to be truly non-phonetic, it would have to be something like XXdFG which you’re told to pronounce “shuffleboard.” Fortunately, English has no such words.
Some children learn to read almost without instruction. The brain figures out the easy way to read, which is to identify the phonics clues. Less verbal children seem to need more rules. But keep in mind that phonics rules are stepping stones to reading, not goals in themselves. Don’t hesitate to teach something over and over; on the other hand don’t hesitate to move along. It’s good to make the learning process as fun as possible. Mix in singing, poetry, and football cheers.
The most important thing of all is helping children find things that they want to read. Once reading is easy for children, they’ll read everything in sight. The problem in our schools now is that many children never reach that point.
FIVE “BOUNCING BALL” VIDEOS (use these to introduce syllables, rhyme, literary values, etc. to kids)
SHORT VIDEO: “Reading is Easy” (what phonics can accomplish)
SHORT VIDEO: “Phonics versus Whole Word -- Take 2” (quickly explains the fundamental difference)
ARTICLE: “42: Reading Resources” (why we had the Reading Wars and other background information)