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Why the A B C's Won't Help Your Child Read

From the time babies are born, us parents, are singing the ABC's to them. I know I did! I sang it when I changed my baby, while putting her to sleep, while bathing name it. Of course there were other songs in my repertoire, but the ABC's were a staple that I sang at least once a day. After some time, once my baby girl was able to speak, she started developing a little singing voice and was able to sing along to the song as well.

The next step was to teach her how to read, but..."How the heck do I do that?", I wondered. I enrolled in a training programme that showed me how to use the phonics method and I began to teach my child to learn to read. Only then did I realise how antiquated the ABC's were!

Basically what we are doing when we sing the ABC's to our children is regaling them with the names of each alphabet. But here's the thing. The names themselves will get you nowhere in being able to help your child read. Of course your child needs to be familiar with what each letter name looks like, but you may encounter the following example if all your child learns is the letter name for each alphabet:

Letter 'a' is pronounced 'ai' or 'ay'. When your child sees the letter 'a' in words such as 'apple', they may start by saying 'ai'. Your child might start saying the word 'apple' with 'ai', in which case the word will end up being pronounced completely wrong. Learning the alphabet alone is not an intuitive or user friendly way of learning how to read. Yes, it helps us recognise the letters and their names, but it goes no further than that. This is why singing and reciting the ABC's alone won't help your child read.

You're of course a fluent reader now and maybe you don't remember the process you went through in order to be able to read. I vaguely remember mine, but phonics was definitely not part of any curriculum that I went through. I learnt by recognising the whole word, rather than the individual parts of the word. While it may have seemed that I got to reading quicker, unless I encountered a word regularly, I would not have been able to know what that word was or how to read it.

This is where phonics comes in. By teaching your child to read using the phonics method, your child will begin to learn to use the sounds the letter makes rather than their names. When I am teaching children to read this way, I eve

n encourage parents not to call the ABC's by their names anymore outside of class times, but by their sounds alone, so as not to confuse the child further. Some children who have been ingrained with the ABC's find it difficult initiall

y to say the letter sounds to me and instead, shout out the letter names instead. I have to repeat this lesson many times to before they begin to drop the names and use the sounds of those letters instead.

There are combinations of sounds (called digraphs, trigraphs etc) which are two and three letter sounds as well that commonly occur in the English language that phonics teaches as well, so that children are able to chunk the letters into sounds that appear together frequently. Examples of these are the sounds that digraphs such as ai, ie and ou produce. Therefore, in the phonics method, there aren't just the standard 26 alphabet names to learn, but over 40 sounds to familiarise themselves with.

Why learn it this way? Isn't it quicker to rote-learn words so children can get to reading quicker and read more fluently? Not generally. If taught in the right order (and not the ABC order in the alphabet), children will get to reading short words by the fourth lesson. What's more, as they know the sounds those letters make, they will be able to independently decode words on their own using the sounds they have learnt with the phonics method. This is what makes phonics so intuitive. The child is able to decode words on their own, without needing further help from an adult to read the word out to them. They will be able to say the letter sounds out themselves and figure out the word on their own.

That's what I love about the phonics method. Once children learn the sounds and know how to put them together, the world becomes their oyster!

Don't stop singing the ABC's to your children! Singing and learning the letter names are important too, but phonics is the key to help your child to unlock the skill of reading.


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