English Reading

Parent Guide to Teaching English Phonics

Teaching a child to read does not have to be a painful, difficult, expensive, or time-consuming process. If you know me then you know I like to do things FAST and only spend money when I have to. Like seriously why pay hundreds or thousands when you can do it for (almost) free. I routinely receive catalogs at work for reading programs that cost thousands of dollars, which is utterly ridiculous.

This post is a prequel to my post English Reading: Road to Fluency. Sorry for posting them backwards. These phonics (or phonological awareness) skills can be introduced from a young age, around 1.5 years old.

A few things to note:

  • Follow your child’s pace. Step 1 took us several months to master, but Step 4 a single day!
  • Make use of down time, such as car rides, bath time, waiting time, etc. to review these skills. Most of these don’t require any materials and can be done anytime, anywhere. 🙂
  • Five minutes of practice 3-5x a week is far better than drilling for an hour 1x a week.
  • Steps 1-5 are commonly referred to as phonics or phonological awareness. These skills will not only help your child read English but are also transferable to reading pinyin, zhuyin and indeed any phonetic language.

The best age to start teaching is highly subjective – I will leave it to your parental judgment! I introduced the first few steps to my son when he was around 1.5-2.5 y.o. The concept of rhyming did not “click” with him until 3 y.o.

Step 1. Teach the letter names. Use refrigerator magnets or alphabet puzzles or flash cards and present 1-2 uppercase letters at a time. If your child is older, you can teach 4 or more letters at a time. Point them out in different places such as books, toys, and road signs, and repeat them over and over until your child remembers them. Gradually add a few more until the whole alphabet is learned. Repeat with lowercase letters.

alphabet puzzle
Alphabet Puzzle

Step 2. Teach the letter sounds. The easiest way to do this is to buy this Leapfrog: Letter Factory DVD for $7 at Amazon/Target, or watch it for free on Netflix. Sing the songs e.g. “M says mmm, M says mmm, every letter makes a sound, M says mmm” on repeat and be silly and dramatic when you do the actions. Since letter sounds are inherent in the letter names, it should not present much difficulty for the child to learn them.


The most important thing to note is to pronounce the sounds correctly! Many people make the mistake of saying B makes the “bah” sound. I have even seen YouTube videos of this! (Also note that pinyin/zhuyin is NOT pronounced bo po mo fo!) This is absolutely incorrect and will make your child unable to blend sounds later.

Step 3. Identify the first sound in words. Teach your child to listen for the first sound (not letter) in a given word. Use an exaggerated voice by really strreetching out or emphasizing the first sound to make it more obvious to the child. “What sound does dog start with? /d/, /d/, dog!”, “What sound does snake start with? /ssssss/, snake! Snake starts with the /s/ sound.” Do this with your child’s favorite toys and people’s names to increase interest and motivation

Step 4. Blending words and syllables. Play a guessing game with your child by saying “Did you know that you can join 2 words together to make a longer word? Hot and dog make… hotdog! Butter and fly make… butterfly!” You can use a printable to make it more visual, but I prefer to just do it verbally. Not only does it save you time and paper, but more importantly it trains your child’s ears 👂 to listen carefully and develop keen sound awareness.

After your child is able to blend compound words, the next task is to blend syllables, starting with 2-syllable words. Choose motivating words such as family members’ names or your child’s favorite characters, e.g. “Guess what this word is… Mic… KeyMic and key make… Mickey!”. Repeat this with 3-syllable words. “Guess this word… Trans… for… mer. That’s right, Transformer!

Step 5. Rhyming. Read lots of nursery rhymes and books such as The Cat in the Hat. Young kids love Dr. Seuss and they are a great way to introduce some rhyming fun! Point out the rhyming words e.g. “Cat… hat. That rhymes! They both end with at.” My favorite Dr. Seuss book to teach rhyming is There’s a Wocket in my Pocket. After reading the book a few times and the child is familiar with it, leave out the last word and let the child fill-in-the-blank. “There’s a Zlock behind the… (Clock). That’s right, Zlock rhymes with clock!”

Source: Pre-K Pages

Make up silly rhymes for everything. Your child’s name, your dog’s name, the teddy bear… Teddy Meddy Weddy Zeddy. The sillier the better. 😉 Also point out non-examples “Cat… hat… mat… jump. Wait a minute, jump doesn’t rhyme. It doesn’t sound the same at the end.”

After Steps 1-5, give your child and yourself a big thumbs up 👍 for completing all the necessary pre-literacy skills. Now you’re ready for the serious stuff.

Step 6. Reading lessons. Head over to Amazon and purchase the book The Reading Lesson: Teach Your Child to Read in 20 Lessons. You can also download the first two lessons for free on the authors’ website. It is parent-friendly, child-friendly, extremely affordable at around $20 (price fluctuates a bit), and really well designed.

The authors recommend doing one page a day for kids age 5 and under, but being a little impatient and a tad bit overzealous, I chose to cover two pages a day. At that rate we finished the book in four months. That’s right, from reading ZERO words to reading 1st grade level in four months!

$20 book that taught my child to read

Step 7. Celebrate! 🎉 Congratulations, you now have a reader! The satisfaction of teaching your own child to read is pretty darn amazing. You have given him or her a gift that keeps on giving for a whole lifetime. 🙂

HAHAHA! I miss his baby face!

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