By Richard Colombini, MA
Teaching letter symbols before their phonetic sounds creates confused learning and contradicts the ways our brain acquires language.
The best way for children to learn reading is by following this successful learning principle: Start with concrete concepts and, only after mastering those, introduce their complimentary abstract concepts.
Examples of Concrete and Abstract Concepts
Printed letters and numerals are abstract concepts but they are representations of real concrete concepts. For example, the numeral "3" is an abstract representation for the quantity of three objects. In the case of letters, the sound of a letter is a concrete concept and a printed letter is an abstract concept.
It's essential for children to learn the phonetic alphabet, which demonstrates the isolated sounds that make up words and speech.
One of the best examples showing the effectiveness of moving from concrete to abstract concepts is language acquisition. It's universally known that children learn to speak with without any instruction. Children naturally absorb the ability to speak (a concrete concept). This requires absolutely no knowledge of the written word and proves language is most easily learned through the ear rather than through sight. Successfully learning to read and write a language (abstract concepts) does not come naturally and takes much instruction and practice.
The Process of Teaching Children How to Read
First, teach them the sounds of letters before their letter symbols. This is best accomplished by using a phonetic alphabet, where only the sounds of the letters are taught.
It's essential for children to begin learning this way and there are products available to assist in the process. One effective and fun way to teach the sounds of letters is through movement and rhythm, which further helps anchor the information into the brain. In fact, studies show there is over a 98% retention rate when including movement and rhythm in lessons.
Secondly, pair each of the 26 phonetic letter sounds with a common object to emphasize the beginning sound of that word. For example: Say, "a" "a" "apple" or "b" "b" "ball". Always start with the beginning letter sound and repeat the sound before saying the pairing word associated with it. Follow this method with all 26-letter sounds. We suggest starting with 10 phonetic letter sounds a day and introducing new phonetic sounds as your children master previous ones.