Support for PBS Parents provided by:


  • Cat in the Hat
  • Curious George
  • Daniel Tiger
  • Dinosaur Train
  • Odd Squad
  • Peg + Cat
  • Sid the Science Kid
  • Super Why!
  • Wild Kratts
  • Martha Speaks
  • WordGirl
  • Thomas & Friends
  • Arthur
  • Sesame Street
  • The Electric Company
  • Cyberchase
  • Between the Lions
  • Mama Mirabelle
  • Caillou
  • Chuck Vanderchuck
  • Oh Noah
  • Fetch!
  • Fizzy's Lunch Lab
  • Maya & Miguel
  • Mister Rogers
  • Postcards from Buster
  • Clifford
  • SciGirls
  • Wilson & Ditch
  • WordWorld
  • DragonFly TV
  • ZOOM

Education

Reading & Language

Phonics Basics

Girl writing on blackboardMany parents of beginning readers have heard about phonics and many have questions: What does my child’s teacher really mean when she talks about phonics? Does my child need to learn phonics to learn to read? Is phonics most effective if taught at a certain age? You’ll get answers to these questions and more below.

What is phonics?
Phonics is simply the system of relationships between letters and sounds in a language. When your kindergartener learns that the letter B has the sound of /b/ and your second-grader learns that “tion” sounds like /shun/, they are learning phonics.

Why is phonics important?
Learning phonics will help your children learn to read and spell. Written language can be compared to a code, so knowing the sounds of letters and letter combinations will help your child decode words as he reads. Knowing phonics will also help your child know which letters to use as he writes words.

When is phonics usually taught?
Your child will probably learn phonics in kindergarten through second grade. In kindergarten, children usually learn the sounds of the consonant letters (all letters except the vowels a, e, i, o, and u). First- and second-graders typically learn all the sounds of letters, letter combinations, and word parts (such as “ing” and “ed”). They practice reading and spelling words containing those letters and patterns. Second-graders typically review and practice the phonics skills they have learned to make spelling and reading smooth and automatic.

Children vary in the amount of phonics instruction they need and when they need it. Some children need very little phonics instruction, while others still benefit from phonics instruction in third grade. Many children with dyslexia benefit from phonics instruction even beyond third grade.

What the Research Says

Recently, the National Reading Panel, composed of experts in the field of literacy, was asked by the United States Congress to examine the research on the teaching of reading. A subgroup of the National Reading Panel reviewed 38 studies to determine what the research says about the teaching of phonics. To ensure the soundness of its findings, the National Reading Panel chose to review only studies that met rigorous criteria for research studies.

The National Reading Panel determined that the research indicates that phonics is an essential ingredient in beginning reading instruction and found that:

  • Systematic and explicit phonics instruction–phonics instruction that is direct and follows a particular sequence–is more effective than phonics instruction that is not systematic or no phonics instruction at all.
  • Systematic, explicit phonics instruction is most effective when it begins in kindergarten or first grade.
  • Systematic, explicit phonics instruction improves children’s word recognition, spelling, and reading comprehension skills.
  • Systematic, explicit phonics instruction benefits all children, regardless of their socioeconomic status.
  • Systematic, explicit phonics instruction most benefits children who are having difficulty learning to read.
  • Phonics instruction is only one part of a complete reading program for beginning readers. Effective beginning reading programs should also emphasize reading fluency, vocabulary development, and text comprehension.
  • Charles

    This summary of the research is somewhat disingenuous…. There is no other way to teach competent reading of English other than phonics! The so-called “whole language” approach is a fraud!

    On the other hand, phonics is NOT a good way of teaching spelling in English! English deviates from pure phonetics sufficiently to assure that students who are taught to spell phonetically become mediocre spellers at best. The best approaches to teaching spelling of English involve teaching the student to “picture” the word – or several possible versions of the word and then check out how the student FEELS while looking at each possibility. The only other practice needed to become an excellent speller is to read a lot!

    • KatieJ

      try a spelling-based phonics approach like the “Alphabet Island” method from Eagles Wings Publishers.

  • alana

    very informative. Who was the author of this article and when was it posted?

  • Jessica Jacquet

    I watched “Barney and Friends” when I was a girl. I like phonics. Phonics is one of my favorite subjects. I am teaching my wolf cut-out phonics. I have a “Spectrum Phonics grade 1″ workbook at home. I am going to be a phonics teacher. I am teaching my zebra cut-out phonics. My zebra cut-out is seven months old. Spanish is one of my favorite subjects. I was born in 1987. My older sister was born in 1985. “Barney and Friends” was on TV when I was a girl. I am a twenty-six-year-old woman. My older sister doesn’t like “Barney and Friends” very much.

What's this?

Sign up for free newsletters.

Connect with Us


PBS Parents Picks

  1. They're Back image

    They're Back

    Cuties are back in season. Stock up today and unwrap sweetness.


  2. Thanksgiving Crafts image

    Thanksgiving Crafts

    Find fun and festive Thanksgiving crafts including this DIY Gobbler Glove!


  3. Really Useful Cargo image

    Really Useful Cargo

    Inspire your preschooler to be generous by collecting Really Useful Cargo!


Eat Smart for a Great Start Newsletter

×

PBS Parents Newsletter

Find activities, parenting tips, games from your child's favorite PBS KIDS programs and more.

×