Support for PBS Parents provided by:


  • Arthur
  • Cat in the Hat
  • Curious George
  • Daniel Tiger
  • Dinosaur Train
  • Nature Cat
  • Odd Squad
  • Peg + Cat
  • Pinkalicous and Peterriffic
  • Ready Jet Go
  • Splash and Bubbles
  • Sesame Street
  • Super Why!
  • Wild Kratts
  • Sid the Science Kid
  • Bob the Builder
  • Martha Speaks
  • Ruff Ruffman Show
  • Mister Rogers
  • Cyberchase
  • SciGirls
  • The Electric Company
  • WordGirl
  • Caillou
  • Oh Noah
  • Fizzy's Lunch Lab
  • Maya & Miguel
  • Postcards from Buster
  • Clifford
  • 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.

What's this?

Sign up for free newsletters.

Connect with Us


PBS Parents Picks

  1. Wild Kratts image

    Wild Kratts App Teaches Young Children How to Care for Animals

    In this app, kids are charge of feeding, washing, and playing with baby animals.


  2. Curious Kids image

    How (And Why) To Encourage Curiosity

    "...when people are curious about something, they learn more, and better."


  3. Gardening Benefits image

    The Benefits of Gardening With Kids

    Don’t let the idea overwhelm you. A few containers and soil in a sunny spot will do.