Learning to read begins with letter and sound identification.

Ways to Teach Phonics to 3 and 4 Year Olds

by Pamela Harvey Bates

Letters, sounds, action. Face it, 3 and 4 year olds have the attention spans of gnats. That's why, when it comes to teaching pre-reading skills, including the introduction of phonics, which focuses on letter and sound recognition, it is necessary to jazz things up. Energetic games, songs and rhymes that provide repetition are the most likely ways to keep your preschooler involved and excited about learning to read.

1. Name Games

Your child's name is the word that he is the most familiar with, so why not start his adventure into the world of reading with it? Phonics focuses on letter and sound recognition, so begin with the initial letter of your youngster's first name. Teach him to identify the letter by using brightly colored alphabet magnets on the refrigerator, and then be sure to repeat the sound it makes so that he relates the two. Once he has this concept down, move on to other objects around the house that begin with "his" letter. After a day or two of focusing on the initial letter of your child's name, shake things up by introducing the remaining letters and sounds of his name. Continuing to use the alphabet magnets or even adding the use of flashcards will help your preschooler manipulate the letters and play with the construction of his name when the letters have been mixed up.

2. One Letter at a Time

"Letter of the Week" curriculum is a favorite among preschool teachers, and phonics is a program that follows this same train of thought. Youngsters will relate letters and sounds to people, places and things that are the most familiar to them, so use that to your advantage around the house or on a trip to your family's favorite restaurant. Point out the fact that the letter "M" makes the sound "mmmmmmm" just like in Mommy or marshmallow. .

3. Break It Down

Breaking words down into syllables and word parts is an important step toward learning to read. Playing around with word families strengthens your 3 or 4 year olds' phonemic awareness by using rhyming words to help him identify several words that end in the same sound, and this will build his reading vocabulary quickly. Changing the first letter or phoneme of words, like bat, cat, mat, fat and hat teaches youngsters to recognize the sound "at" and opens the door for learning to read several words in that "family."

4. Put it to Music

Get your toes tapping and your hands clapping while teaching your preschooler to read. Teaching your child songs like, "Hands Up for Letter Sounds" and "Act Out the Alphabet" by Jack Hartmann will provide an interactive way for your youngster to learn the relationship between letters and the sounds they make. Write the lyrics on chart paper and have your child point to the letters as you sing along. He will be rocking, rolling and reading with a smile on his face.

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