Reading 101: A Guide for Parents
Phonics and Decoding: Activities for Your Kindergartener
The goal of phonics instruction is to help children learn the alphabetic principle — the idea that letters represent the sounds of spoken language — and that there is an organized, logical, and predictable relationship between written letters and spoken sounds.
This project was developed in partnership with the National Education Association and Colorín Colorado.
Once children have a solid grounding in the sounds of speech (phonemic awareness) they are ready to learn how these speech sounds are connected with the letters of the alphabet. And they begin to learn that there are predicable patterns in sound–letter relationships. They will take their first steps into "decoding" — sounding out simple words.
In kindergarten, your child will start with basic CVC words (consonant-vowel-consonant words) such as c-a-p, say each sound individually, and then begin blending the sounds into a word. Decoding takes a lot of practice! You can help your child build phonics skills with some of the activities described here — and by offering lots of encouragement as your child gains confidence with this big step into becoming a reader.
Here are some basic tips on how to help your child build phonics skills:
Talk about letters and sounds
Help your child learn the names of the letters and the sounds the letters make. Turn it into a game! "I'm thinking of a letter and it makes the sound mmmmmm."
Model finger-point reading
That means to follow the words with your finger from left to right as you read them. Your beginning reader will do the same thing for awhile.
Beginning readers may read slowly. Give your child time to decode the words, and avoid jumping in too quickly.
Encourage attention to letters and sounds
If your child is stuck on a word, prompt them to look at the first letter of the word and make the letter's sound. Of course, only do this for words that can be sounded out! If the word can't be sounded out, just supply the word for them.
What strong decoding looks like in kindergarten
Try these phonics activities at home
Alphabet scavenger hunt
Be sure your kindergartner knows all of her uppercase and lowercase letters. One fun and easy way to practice is to pick up a favorite read aloud book and have your child find each letter in the print, in alphabetical order. Ask your child if some letters are harder to spot in every book, and guess why that might be.
Grocery store literacy
Choose a letter as you're walking into the store. Make a game of finding things in the store that start with that letter. For example, for the letter "p" you could find peanuts, popcorn, pineapple, paper and pizza. Emphasize the letter "p" and the sound it makes with each of your "p" words.
Trace and say
Have your child use a finger to trace a letter while saying the letter's sound. Your child can trace on paper, in sand, or on a plate of sugar. Next, see if your child can trace a simple two- or three-letter word (it, at, sat) and sound it out.
Try this activity from the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR). The FCRR "At Home" series was developed especially for families! Watch the video and then download the activity: Letter Names. See all FCRR phonics activities here.
Try this activity from the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR). The FCRR "At Home" series was developed especially for families! Watch the video and then download the activity: Letter-Sound Dominoes. See all FCRR phonics activities here.
The "H Brothers"
Explain to your child that sometimes two letters will stand together to create one new sound. The “H Brothers” join with other letters to make the sounds: sh, ch, th, wh and ph. Write down some example words and use multisensory props and gestures to help your child remember the new letter combination. Here's a fun idea for telling the story of the H Brothers to reinforce the concept.
Magnetic letters can provide lots of easy phonics practice right in your kitchen. For an alphabet refresher, ask your child to arrange the letters in alphabetical order. Next, ask her to pick out a letter, think of a simple three- or four-letter word that starts with that letter, and spell it out on the refrigerator. Can your child think of more words to spell with that first letter? Finally, see if she can change one letter in the word to make a new word.
Draw three boxes side by side on a piece of paper. Using magnetic letters or letters written on paper, scramble the letters of a simple three-letter word (big, bug, top, ran) under the boxes. Have your child unscramble the letters and place them into the correct box.
Ask your child to find and cut out all the words in a newspaper or magazine that she can read. Glue or tape them onto a piece of paper and practice reading them together.
Dig into decodable books
Through read alouds, kindergarteners should be exposed to a wide range of books that introduce them to rich vocabulary and story structure. But there is also a role for decodable books to help your child practice beginning phonics skills. Decodable books contain a high percentage of words with predictable letter-sound relationships. You'll find a comprehensive list of K-2 books here: Decodable Text Sources.
Show your child how to read short words
This video is from Home Reading Helper, a resource for parents to elevate children’s reading at home provided by Read Charlotte. Find more video, parent activities, printables, and other resources at Home Reading Helper.
Sight words are common words kids have to recognize instantly without sounding them out. Many sight words are tricky to read — they aren’t spelled the way they sound so they are difficult to decode. Children need to memorize them as early as kindergarten. Here's a list of common sight words for kindergarten.
Sight word spy
Tell your child that sight words are "hiding in plain sight" everywhere around us. Your child's "mission" is to spot the sight words out in the world (in the grocery store, on a sign, cereal box, or movie poster) and announce "aha, I found you! This silly game can get your child excited about recognizing words — as well as a boost of confidence from knowing how to read them.
Getting stuck on sight words
Many striving readers struggle with sight words. Reading expert Linda Farrell suggests this teaching sequence: first, be sure your child knows all the letter names, then all the letter sounds — and then you can introduce a few short high-frequency words such as was. Choose words that don't have regular phonetic spelling. (From our video series Reading SOS: Expert Answers to Family Questions About Reading.)
More phonics and decoding resources
- Do I Know the Letter Sounds? Teaching Letter Knowledge to Your Child (VIDEO: Read Charlotte, Home Reading Helper)
- Make a Game Out of Sight Words (VIDEO: Read Charlotte, Home Reading Helper)
- Sounds and Symbols (PBS Launching Young Readers series)
- Helping Students Keep Their Eyes on the Words
- The basics of beginning reading: sounds and words (Great Schools)
- Reading tips for parents of kindergartners in English and 12 other languages