When teaching a young child how to read, there are two ways you can go about it. You can teach them to read using “whole words” or you can teach them to read using “phonics”. Which is better? Well, this is what I’ve learned about both methods, so you decide for yourself.
The “whole word” method of teaching a child to read usually involves the use of flashcards. Children are taught to recognise the whole word and associated it with an object. For instance, “shoes” are:
Reading programs that teach children to read using “whole words”:
Benefits of teaching children to read using “whole words”:
- children learn to read more quickly
- children can understand what they read
- children can start reading their first books within a few months
The disadvantage of teaching children to read using “whole words”:
- children cannot read words they have never seen before
Although Glenn Doman believes that if you teach a baby to read enough words, the baby will eventually be able to extrapolate and apply what he has learned to new words he has never seen before.
The “phonics” method of teaching a child how to read involves breaking up the words into alphabet sounds. In the example above, “shoes” will be taught as “sh” and “oos”. A classic example of a program that taught children to read words using phonics was Sesame Street.
The advantages of teaching a child how to read using “phonics”:
- children learn the rules of letter pronunciations
- children can read words they have never seen before by applying the rules they have learned
The disadvantages of teaching a child how to read using “phonics”:
- takes longer for a child to learn how to read
- children usually take about 1-2 years before they can read their first book
Gavin has been learning the “phonics” method at school. I think it will be a while before he can read a word based on the rules he’s learned through “phonics” but the program the school is using is quite interesting. They teach kids to remember the sounds of the letters using little songs which works really well for Gavin who enjoys singing. For example:
“Cuddly cats are calling – ‘kuh’, ‘kuh’, ‘kuh'”
“Dirty dogs are digging – ‘duh’, ‘duh’, ‘duh'”
These are just the examples that the school has used but I’m sure you get the idea and can create your own little songs.
There are some early reading programs that teach children to read using both methods – “whole words” and “phonics”. These are:
Personally, I think both have their merits and a combination approach works best. Rather than looking at both methods as either/or, I think it is preferable to consider the “phonics” program as a logical continuation of the early “whole words” method of learning how to read. “Whole words” give children the opportunity to have fun with words early. They can learn new words quickly and apply what they have learned immediately. It has more meaning to a child to learn a word that is associated with an object than it is to learn a letter and a sound.
Once the child has a basic understanding of reading, the phonics program can be introduced to help a child learn to read independently. Having an understanding of the relevance of words and their appearance in books through the “whole word” method, I think the child will be more willing to learn the abstract rules of phonics.