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Should my child know all their letter sounds before learning to read simple words?

The short answer is, no.

While we do eventually want children to know all their letter sounds... we also do not want to delay giving children authentic developmentally appropriate opportunities to use and apply their phonemic awareness and phonics skills.

We discuss these two skills in isolation in two previous posts:

While research suggests that their is no one 'best' order for teaching letter sounds there are some generally accepted best practices... and teaching your child in ABC order is not one of them.

Here are 7 tips on teaching reading before your child knows all their letter sounds.

1. Keep it decodable

This drives me bonkers. SOOOO often I see products geared to early readers that are not decodable and absolutely NOT developmentally appropriate. When it comes to children who are starting to read focus on words that follow a VC or CVC pattern. A word that follows a VC pattern is a two letter word that starts with a vowel (and neither letter is making an irregular sound - i.e. do not use the word 'of' when first starting to read). Think words like: 'at' or 'it'. A CVC word is a word that is made up of a consonant, vowel, and then another consonant. Think words like: 'cat', 'mat', or 'sap'.

2. Focus on word-level reading

No need for your child to read a whole book or even a full sentence right away. Let's focus on just one well chosen word at a time. This is much more developmentally appropriate for a child who is just starting to read.

3. Consider letter frequency

The five most common letters written in CVC words are: 'a', 'i', 't', 'p', and 'c'.

Despite 'C''s frequency, I would recommend delaying this letter because it spells a different sound when their is an 'e' after it.

4. Delay teaching words that have the letter a followed by an 'n' or 'm'

Listen closely to the sound that the letter 'a' makes when you say the words: 'jam' or 'ant'. Now listen to the sound that the letter 'a' makes when you say the words: 'at' or 'cap'. There is a difference. The /a/ you hear in 'jam' is called a 'nasal a' sound. In order to read these words your child will need to do something called, 'set for variability'. As a result, when first starting we want to keep it simple. Initially avoiding <ag> is also helpful as the 'a' is making a long sound... and be careful with those <s>'s they like to steal their sister sound.

5. Consider common letter reversals

I work with so many children in upper grades who still struggle with distinguishing between b and d. When your little one is first learning to read, it is not developmentally appropriate for them to be able to distinguish between these very similar letters. As time progresses, we do expect children to learn this but not right away. Teaching these skills at separate times, being patient, and remembering that it is normal for your child to not be able to tell them apart yet are good things. Initially teaching these letters separately (p + q), (u + n), and (m + w) can make learning to read a little bit easier for your newly reading child.

6. Avoid teaching letters that spell similar sounds together

The Letters 'e' and 'i' can be difficult for children to auditorily discriminate. I always try to teach the sounds 'e' and 'i' at different times in my scope and sequence. They can be very difficult to auditorily discriminate for our little learners. Other letters with similar sounds are: 'p' and 'b' and 'f' and 'v'. Being aware of the similar sound can also make it easier for you to make sense of your child's errors and provide appropriate supports for them.

7. Consider the letters that your child already knows

When it comes to decoding words, do a quick check to see what your child knows regarding the sound that letters spell and vice versa (the letter that spells a sound). In order for your child to read a CVC word they will need to be able to recall the sound that the letter spells. That said, your child does not need to know every sound to read a CVC word. Stay in tune with what your child can do and focus on providing learning opportunities that meet your child where they are at.

Children love being successful at learning new skills. Learning to read is a marathon; let's keep it fun and positive. All the while providing authentic reading experiences in order to build up intrinsic motivation.

If you want support along the way, our Latch Onto Learning: Alpaca Literacy Program takes all this and more into consideration for our earliest readers! Reach out today to get your little one reading.

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