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Teaching Letters and Sounds

By Akimi Gibson
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Q: What does the research say about teaching letters and sounds? Is there a particular order that is best?

A: From birth to age 5 or 6, children show tremendous language growth. During this time, children learn over 6,000 words! They also learn a lot about books and how print works. Many children also learn to recognize, name, and write some letters and read some words — especially letters in their names and words on signs (such as the "Stop" sign) and other environmental print.

Phonics helps children understand the names of the letters of the alphabet and the sounds they represent. Understanding how to relate sounds to spellings helps children "decode" words.

While there isn't agreement on which letters and sounds to teach first, it is common for children to want to learn those letters that are important to them. Children will want to learn to write their names and words like mommy, daddy, and even the name of your new puppy. This desire to learn words that are personal to each child helps explain why we see many children write the sentence, I luv u.

As you play with magnetic letters, sponge letters, letter charts, and so on, think about talking about letters in the following way:

  1. Say the letter names first. You may want to begin with all capital letters and then move on to lowercase letters.

  2. Sing the ABC song while pointing to each letter. Sing the song in a variety of ways such as to the tune of "Happy Birthday."

  3. Focus on the shape of each letter. Talk about how some letters have lines, such as A; others have curves and circles, such as C and O; and some have both, such as B, D, and P.

  4. When your child knows the names of the letters and is otherwise interested in learning the sounds, start with the consonants that have continuous sounds. These include F, L, M, N, R, and S.
Important tip: Be sure to keep learning about the letters playful and fun. Working with individual letters is wonderful, but keep in mind that reading good books often is still the best predictor of later reading success!

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