1. Phonics is one of the three cueing systems used by successful readers, Readers also make sense of text through two other cuing systems — semantic (meaning) and syntactic (grammar). Phonics is most useful as a tool when used in conjunction with these other two systems, rather than as an isolated drill.
2. Phonemic awareness — the ability to isolate discrete sounds in language — is necessary before phonics can make sense. When children listen to and sing nursery rhymes, poems, jingles, and songs, they are playing with and exploring the sounds of language. As they isolate phonemes and graphemes, children unconsciously notice sound similarities and differences. Young children need many informal experiences before they are ready to tackle phonics.
3. Most children enjoy discovering and learning about letters in ways that are meaningful to them. Children are naturally curious about printed symbols and will proudly identify letters in their names or on signs. They also love to try creating new letters from ones they already know and playing games associated with their letter discoveries.
4. The best phonics lessons aren't found in workbooks. In recent years many beautifully illustrated alphabet books have been published — books that appeal to children's imaginations while they introduce initial sounds. Look for ABC books based on special and interesting themes (such as unusual animals). Pattern books and repetitive rhyming books also reinforce phonemic awareness.
5. Children need guided instruction and modeling to help them understand sound symbol relationships. You can be a great example of how a successful reader uses the three cuing systems to make sense of print. When you share Big Books over and over again, for instance, you can model strategies for recognizing letters and words in con text: "I see a big brown bear in the picture and a b at the beginning of this word. It must say 'bear'"
6. Children's own writing offers the best insight into their understanding of phonetic principles. We never doubt that our toddlers will learn how to "really" talk, no matter how much they babble and coo. In the same way, we believe that our preschoolers and kindergarteners will really write, no matter how much scribbling or invented writing they do now. Keep samples of children's work over time to document for yourself, parents, other teachers, and the children themselves — how verbal skills are strengthened as children experience a variety of opportunities to play with language.
7. Children have an innate ability and desire to seek out patterns (and exceptions) in language; but they need repeated exposure to the same print to internalize learning. Your support and encouragement when children ask questions, listen to favorite stories, play word games, and make books will help their enthusiasm for reading and writing to flourish.
8. Help children recognize how aspects of the reading process contribute to the overall goal of making meaning from print. Phonics is one powerful tool to help children interpret and use written language. However, it is just part of what reading and writing are all about. You may want to introduce initial consonants, but if children don't yet understand that letters represent different sounds or what all of this has to do with reading, they will not store this knowledge as useful. The more we can help children integrate all the cuing systems — semantic, syntactic, and phonetic — the more successful they will become.