Strategies to teach your child phonics at home

If you have a child in her first years of primary school, there is a good chance you will have come across the word “Phonics”.  Phonics is a method of learning to read words that is taught right from the first stage of reading. Here’s what you need to know about how your child will learn phonics — and how you can help teach phonics at home: 

Free phonics flashcards for parents

To support your early reader, Everest has created a set of alphabetical flashcards for you to practice with your child at home.  If you are new to teaching kids phonics, this would be a great way to kick it off. Instruction is inside, be sure to subscribe to get the full version.

So what is phonics?

Phonics means using letter sounds to help you read words – it’s that simple, and that complex. It is the link between what we say and what we can read and write.  Phonics offers your beginning reader the strategies she needs to sound out words. For example, she learns that the letter D has the sound of “d” as in “doll.” Then she learns how to blend letter sounds together to make words like a dog.

Why are phonics so important?

Phonics allows your child to be able to learn words she has never seen before.  When she learns to read a word by sight it means that she will be able to remember how to pronounce that word when she sees it again.  But if she sees a word she doesn’t recognize, she won’t have the skills needed to decode how to pronounce it. This is why phonics is important.

Teaching children to read with phonics means not only teaching them the decoding skills needed to look at a word and pronounce it correctly but also giving them the skills to know what to do when they discover a new word.

After a while, all of the phonics sounds will become automatic and your child will be able to read fluently.

Strategies for Teaching Phonics to Children

As parents, we may not be aware of the specific ways phonics is taught at school, or even be completely oblivious to the activities that can help teach phonics.  Nevertheless, there are certain strategies that can be employed to grant the same benefit as a phonics session might do.

#1. Introducing Letters and Sounds with Flashcards

  • Make, buy, or print off a set of alphabet cards.  Provide 26 cards, one for each letter; they can have capitals, lowercase letters, or both on them.  You’ll use them to practice letter recognition and sound recognition. You can make them yourself (perhaps with the kids’ help).  Choose colorful index cards and markers to make them more visually interesting. Write the letter clearly on one side, and the sound(s) on the other.
    (Or, you can download our fancy and free, printable alphabet cards below)

  • Shuffle the cards in random order.  Hold up one card at a time.  Ask your child to say the name of each letter.  Then, have your child produce the sound of each letter.
    (*) Tips: Do not forget to provide extra guidance as needed for letters that produce more than one sound.  For instance: “You’re right, “c” does make that sound in a word like cat. But what sound does it make in the word circle?”
  • Move on to letter combination cards.  As your child becomes more practiced, she will be ready to identify letter patterns — two letters combined to represent one sound.  Provide new flashcards that show common letter patterns, such as vowel pairs: /ea/, /ee/, /oa/, /ai/; and digraphs: /sh/, /ch/, /th/, and /wh/.

#2. Matching Letter Sounds with Picture Cards

  • Identify letter-sound matches.  To build letter-sound matches, have your child sort picture cards according to her beginning sounds.  Acquire or make a set of picture flashcards that includes at least one picture that starts with each letter of the alphabet.
    – Provide multiple picture cards for more common word-starting letters.
    – Make sure they are images that a child will easily recognize.  For instance, a turtle is a better choice than a trombone or toolbox.

  • Select a group of picture cards to begin the exercise.  Pick out a set with three initial consonant sounds that are very different, such as: /b/, /s/, and /t/.  Review the cards before you have your child sort them by starting sound.
    – For instance, the pictures could represent the following: bear, triangle, smile, spoon, sunflower, spinner, sign, train, tree.
    – If your child needs support, ask “What is the first sound you hear in the word bear? What letter makes the /b/ sound? Is it the letter b, s, or t?”
  • Have your child sort the pictures according to her ending sounds.  After ample practice sorting picture cards by starting sounds, you can increase the difficulty by turning to ending sounds.

For instance, produce the cards for bat, frog, run, bag, spot, and corn.
– Ask similar questions to those regarding starting sounds: “What is the last sound you hear in the word frog?

  • Increase the difficulty by focusing on vowels and combinations.  Eventually, you can move on to having the child sort pictures according to their medial sound represented by their vowel pattern — for instance: /e/: seal, peas, read, team, wheel; /o/: boat, coat, toad, road.  Likewise, you can have them sort according to the words’ beginning digraphs — such as: chair, cherries, shoe, sheep, thread, three, wheat, whiskers. Once again, ask guiding questions: “What sound do you hear in the middle of the word boat?”

#3. Creating new words by replacing letters

  • Introduce how changing letters changes words.  Begin by randomly displaying the magnetic letters (or letter cards on a tabletop) that are needed to build the chosen word — for instance, “c,” “a,” and “t” for “cat.”
  • Encourage your child to spell the chosen word.  Speak the word (e.g., cat) and have her listen to the sounds and place the corresponding letters in the correct order from left to right.  Guide her as needed: “Cat, car and cup all start with the same letter. Do you remember what letter “car” starts with?”

  • Ask her to choose a new first letter to change the word.  Provide a few more magnetic letters.  In the case of “cat,” ask your child to switch the letter “c” with the letter that makes the sound /h/ to build the word “hat.”  Have her read the new word aloud.
  • Continue to increase the complexity of the switches.  For example, have your child replace the “h” with the combination of letters that make the /ch/ sound.  Ask your child to read the new word – “chat.” Then, have her change the word “chat” to “chap.”
    – Include vowel sounds as well — turn “chap” into “chop.”
    – As her skills develop, increase the difficulty with longer words and more patterns.

#4. Reinforcing Phonics with Reading

  • Find children books that specifically support learning phonics.  To reinforce the skills you’ve been introducing, select books for your child that highlight the phonics patterns practiced in these activities.  This will help her to strategically apply the skills learned to reading words in books. Several children’s book publishers produce series marketed specifically towards phonics development.  That said, any kids’ book that is engaging and skill-level appropriate will be beneficial.
  • Read aloud to children often.  Make reading a reliable part of your daily routine together.  Allow your kid to pick the book she’d like to read — ideally, from a list of several phonics-focuses options — and read it to them enthusiastically.  Do different voices and make the experience fun. Read naturally, but perhaps more slowly and clearly than normal. Enunciate the different sounds in the words you read.
    Tips: You can also point to the word you’re reading.  Teach your child to use her finger and place it under each word as she attempts to read it loudly.  This helps her put together the sounds of the letters and attempt to read a word she doesn’t even know.
    (Plus, refer to an amazing video from Tony Ngo, our Chairman and Co-founder, in reading time with his little daughter.)
  • Re-read familiar books time and again.  Many kids have no problem with reading the same book over and over.  Even if you’re getting a bit bored with the book, summon up the same enthusiasm for reading it to them.  Repeating the same book over and again doesn’t necessarily advance a specific phonics goal, other than making the child more eager to hear you read regularly.
  • Ask lots of questions while reading.  Questions help keep your child actively engaged, and can help support learning phonics as well.  For instance, while reading, point to the word “dog.” Ask “Do you know what word this is?” If they need a bit of help, say “Well, let’s start reading the sentence — “Joe walked his …” — Now what do you think the word might be?”  Even if not directly connected to learning phonics, asking reading comprehension questions like “Now, why do you think she did that?” or “Hmm … What’s going to happen next?” will enhance concentration and enthusiasm.
  • Listen to them read.  As your child transitions to reading to you (instead of the other way around), be an active and engaged listener yourself.  Make it clear that you’re listening closely — saying things like “Wow!” or “That’s a surprise” or “That’s funny, isn’t it?” When she stumbles on a word, don’t rush to give it to her.  Help her try to sound it out first — “OK, now what sound does the letter “P” make?”  If she continues to have trouble with the word, though, provide her with it before they get too frustrated and don’t want to continue.

#5. Using apps to teach phonics
There are various apps to help children learn to read with phonics.  One example is Magic phonics, which is an interactive program that helps to teach kids to read using phonics.  Wooden blocks with letter sounds are used with your Ipad or Tablet to engage in fun activities in order to help kids learn to read.

Based on the UK curriculum, there are different levels for children to complete.  You are able to skip levels at any time depending on the level of your child. Not only is Magic Phonics a great educational tool, but kids will enjoy the activities without realising they are learning.

To conclude, if you are teaching kids to read, or searching for different methods, using phonics is the most effective.  Phonics allows your child to develop her decoding skills in order to learn new words more easily and become fluent readers.  At an early stage, you can make use of games and fun activities to provide support to that learning, as well as establish a wonderful bond with your child.


For more information about supporting your child’s English at home, look through our English teaching articles, including Overcome the 4 Common Problems in Learning to Read in EnglishBest English learning podcasts for your kidsSelecting books for your child and more!  Any questions relating to teaching your child English, feel free to comment below, our teachers will always be there for help 



Register For A Free Trial Class