Before learning to read, most children learn the alphabet and the sounds letters make. Parents and teachers can facilitate this process by teaching phonics -- the study of letter-sound or sound-symbol associations -- to young children. The U.S. Department of Education and National Institutes of Health recommend that phonics instruction be explicit and systematic. Parents can begin teaching phonics before their children start school and later supplement school instruction at home.
Assess your child's proficiency with phonics using alphabet flashcards. For children who have already begun reading simple words, include cards with blends like "sh" and "th." Shuffle the cards and show them to your child, asking her to name each letter and the sound or sounds it can make.
Teach your child each unknown letter and its name. Sing the alphabet slowly while holding up a flashcard for each new letter or play "Go Fish" with alphabet cards. Use picture books for learning the alphabet, such as "The Alphabet Book" by Philip Eastman or "Dr. Suess' ABC." Read these books with your child, pointing out each letter and saying its name.
Consult your child's list of unknown letter-sound associations and choose one association to teach at a time. For letters that make more than one sound, introduce one sound at a time. Teach new consonants that sound like their name and short vowels first. Next, teach consonants that do not sound like their name, such as h and w, and long vowels. Then teach consonant digraphs, such as th, ch and kn, and vowel combinations such as ea, ie and ow.
Practice letter-sound association with phonics flashcards. Gather up to 10 cards with short words that include the letter-sound association being practiced. Show them to your child, asking him to read each word. Shuffle the cards and repeat until he can accurately read all of the words.
Create words with your child using plastic letters or other letter manipulatives. Make simple words that focus on a target letter-sound association, like "sat" and "bat." Ask her to remove letters and add new ones to make new words. Have her read each word she creates.
Play "I Spy" with your child, using a letter-sound association as your clue. For example, tell your child that you spy something that begins with "sh." Take turns spying new objects.
Place a pile of about 10 pictures of everyday objects in front of your child. Ask him to sort the pictures into two groups: one pile with pictures whose names contain a target letter-sound association and another pile of pictures that do not.
Read a "decodable" book with your child that focuses on a chosen letter-sound association. A decodable book is one in which words are short, follow the basic rules of phonics and primarily contain only sounds your child has learned. Point out whatever association you are teaching and emphasize the sound it makes as you read.
Children may master new letter-sound associations within a hours, days or weeks. Let your child learn at his own pace.