How to Teach Letter Sounds – Homeschooling Preschool
This is the fourth post in a series of posts covering teaching literacy skills to young children at home. To see the home page for this series, click on “Teach Your Child Early Reading Skills“
If you’re feeling scared and overwhelmed at the thought of teaching your child to read, you’re not alone! Teaching reading skills feels daunting. Reading is truly the foundation for all future learning. We don’t want to mess this up!
At the same time, however, I want you to know that you’ve got this! You learned to read and it’s a skill you use every day. You must know SOMETHING about it that you can share with your child! My guess is you’ve got a bank of knowledge that you are tapping into and are already teaching your child, whether you realize it or not.
This post will help build your confidence to teach early reading skills at home and provide you with helpful activities to help you believe in your ability to fill the role of teacher.
Just so you know a little bit about me and where I’m coming from, I am a teacher. That is to say, I taught preschool for ten years and will always be a teacher. I am currently a stay-at-home mom to two adorable children, ages four and one. I am currently homeschooling preschool for the pair of them but will officially start Kindergarten with my daughter in the Fall. (I’m super excited and so is my daughter!)
I received a college degree from the Ohio State University in Human Development and Family Sciences with the intent of teaching elementary school. However, life has a funny way of changing things and I came to realize I didn’t want to be locked into the public school system and really desired to stay home with my children.
I’ve always been interested in children’s literature and had a heart for teaching. I hope my strength in teaching children to read will help you and your family embark on an amazing journey of reading!
You’ve got this! Let’s dive in.
Where to Start Teaching Letter Sounds?
Did you know that there are 26 letters in our alphabet but something like 44 phonemes?hen you put letters together, they can make many different sounds. Two letters together are called digraphs. For example, S and H say shhhhh when you put them together. (I bet you already knew that!)
But before your child can learn all the fun and different ways letters can work together to make new sounds, they need to learn the letter names the individual letter sounds.
If you are following along in my series on Teaching Early Reading Skills, you know that all these skills can be taught simultaneously. Letter names, letter sounds, and site words are naturally linked.
When you label a sight word, focus on the first letter. Read the word. Point to the first letter, label it and say its sound.
If you’ve read my previous posts in this series, you also know that you don’t start with the letter ‘A’ when teaching new concepts, but rather with the letters that are most important to your child and your family. Your family’s “special letters,” as I call them, are the first letters that start each of your family member’s names.
Learning should have meaning for your child, otherwise what motivates them to learn?! Why would a 2-year-old care to pick up on early reading skills if they don’t see them in action and see that they are important for them personally?
Reading to your child often, pointing out print in their environment, and starting with elements of reading that have special significance for your child are keys to motivating your child to learn early reading skills.
So, you see, the first, most important, letter to teach your child is the first letter in their own name.
Two Important Tips to Remember Moving Forward:
- Focus on the first letter sounds initially. – Make sure you’re drawing your child’s attention to just the first sound in a word. Emphasize how two words start the same way and start with the same letter when you write them down.
- Make it fun! – Reading is supposed to be fun, not terrible and forced. Be gentle in your approach and follow your child’s lead and interest. You’ve got this! Have fun at the same time that you’re being intentional in your play and interactions with your child.
How to make learning letter sounds fun (and easy)
Play Games in the Car
Being in the car for a quick 15 minute ride is the perfect time to interject a little lesson into your day without your child even realizing it! Simply, pick a letter and think of as many words as you can that start with that letter.
For example: The letter R starts: red, rose, rhinoceros, rocks, roll, ramble… you get the gist.
If you’re just starting out, just do your special letters (the first letter in your child’s name and the first letters in the rest of your family’s names.)
As the game goes on, let your child pick any letter.
This is more of a “shout out random things” game, rather than a strictly turn taking game. If you, the adult, list 3 or 4 items that start with a certain letter, it will help your child to see the pattern so that they can contribute to the fun.
Play with both Alliteration and Rhyming
Alliteration is a literary term that references the use of repetition of identical consonant sounds at the beginning of adjacent or closely linked words. For example, “Sally sees a silly, sneaky, slimy, snake.” Notice all the S’s at the beginning of the words? That’s alliteration.
Advice from an Elementary school teacher: Focus on one phoneme at a time. “Sally sees a silly, sneaky, slimy, snake” for the letter ‘S.” Show the connection between letter, sound and word while you are reading and point out “Look! There’s that letter “s” in this word ‘snake’! Then have the child show you more examples in the book. This is why very simple picture books with few words on each page are so important!
Mrs. Swope, 3rd Grade Teacher
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A fantastic book that uses alliteration is Dr. Seuss’ ABCs. This book goes through each letter of the alphabet and creates silliness with the concept of alliteration. Dr. Seuss is a classic children’s author for a reason. This book is another example of why Dr. Seuss is so great!
Other ABC books to consider are ABC by Alphaprints, and A is for Apple.
A is for Apple is wonderfully interactive with flaps to manipulate and inset letters to trace. This is an ABC book I love with great teaching tools inside!
I love the pictures in ABC by Alphaprints as they incorporate both real pictures and graphics. They also have raised portions that look like fingerprints which are fun to feel. This book also includes rhyming lines of text to go along with the ABCs which are easy to read.
All three of these books are must-haves in our children’s library!
*** Make sure to point out your special letters when reading ABC books!***
Rhyming is a concept more commonly labeled for young children (and known by adults!) where words sound the same at the end. Is Your Mama a Llama? is a fantastic book to help you focus on this concept because it easily leads your child to guess the animal that’s coming next. You can say “Remember it sounds the same as this word at the end. What do you think it is?”
There are many, many children’s books that include rhyme. Rhyming is soothing and pleasing to read. We just need to take time to show our children that the word choice is intentional and to take the time to notice!
Make connections for your child, linking items that all start with a single letter.
“Breakfast Brought to you by the letter B” – As you serve your child breakfast, let them know that their breakfast is brought to them by the letter B: Bagel with Butter, Blueberries, and Bacon all start with the letter B!
Honestly, this always happened by accident for me, but we were always on the lookout for foods that started with the same letter. It was a sort of game to us. My daughter and I had fun noticing how words were connected.
More Examples: Soup and Strawberries, Beans, Beets and Broccoli
Brainstorm some examples for yourself!
Advice from an elementary school teacher: Create Letter Collections with objects that are around your house.
Simply, collect objects from around your house that all start with the same letter in one spot. You can create letter themed sensory bottles too.
Ms. Blough has taught toddlers, preschool, 1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd grade, She has ten years teaching experience.
Create Word Walls – A traditional word wall is a collection of words written out on paper. I like to take it a step further for young learners, cutting out the letters of the alphabet that you’re focusing on, rather than just using a rectangular piece of paper. This way includes an easy way to work on single letter names and shapes as well.
On each letter, I write out several words that start with that letter to point to and read throughout the day.
Engage your child in beginning to sound out words.
When you’re writing out a word, rather than giving them the answer all the time, engage your child in sounding out at least the first letter of the word. “What letter do you think monkey starts with? Mmmmmonkey.” Exaggerate the sound at the beginning of the word.
If your child is having trouble figuring out the letter that something starts with, link the word that you’re trying to sound out or spell to a word they might know. “Well, it sounds like Mama. Do you remember what letter starts Mama?
As your child’s sight word recognition and knowledge of letters and words grows, the number of connections you can make will grow as well!
Teaching your child to read doesn’t have to be intimidating and scary. It can be fun and easy. Learning to incorporate early reading skills practice into your every day is the key. Little habits create big change. Be intentional with how you read to your child and the print you introduce them to in their environment. All the small moments will add up to a child who loves reading and engaging with text!
I can’t wait for you to discover your own passion for teaching as you too teach your child to read!
You’ve got this!
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