In the last few months, we were thrown into the role of homeschoolers and have helped our early readers recognize words, vowels, and consonants. Together, we tried to identify that first sound of a word, the last one, and all in between. We have built our phonological awareness – the understanding of how our language is formed. These are all basic skills that help us encode (write) our speech or decode (read) a written word.
Letter names vs phoneme segmentation
When naming letters, we are not telling what sound they represent when reading. For example we say /em/ is the name of the letter “m”, but the letter “m” makes the sound /m/ when used in words. When we are trying to stretch out sounds that a letter makes, we are actually deconstructing words into phonemes and sounding them out. So /mmmmmmmmm/ for “m”.
Why is this important? When we are sounding out phonemes, the child shouldn’t think about letter names and focus on sounds instead. This helps them understand the principles of speech as letter names play no part in pronunciation. “Mum” is pronounced /mʌm/ and not /emjuem/.
Sounding out phonemes and focusing on sounds early helps children with blending later – which is where vowel-consonant (VC & CV) exercises come in.
Segmenting long words
It’s important for a kid to build their phonemic awareness as this will lead to improved segmentation & later spelling. Longer words suddenly become less problematic when the kid has mastered their ability to play with letters & sounds.
Basically, building a house, you need a solid foundation first.
Learning the alphabet – with a twist
Kids don’t learn the alphabet in order from A to Z. Want to know why? Because along with learning what sounds specific letters represent, they are also learning perhaps the most important skill of them all – blending two letters into one unit. Two letters, combined into a single unit, will later represent a syllable or even a whole word!
Blending is easier to learn with consonants we can stretch – like /n/, /m/, /s/ and the vowels because the child can take his time to blend – /oooooooooooonnnnnnnnn/. With stop sounds such as /p/, /b/, /t/, /k/ we need to be very quick and this requires additional practice.
Based on this logic, teachers introduce letters and sounds in a specific sequence, so a child gradually learns to blend and read first short words.
Download vowel consonant exercises here
Usually, the kid has a bit more problems when trying to learn the first few short words made up of a vowel and a consonant. After they have learned the first few words though, the next ones become a piece of cake.
Interested in additional vowel-consonant exercises?
The first step is to read short words, words made up of one vowel and one consonant (VC words) or words with two consonants with one vowel in-between (CVC words). It is usually best if these words are nonsense words without meaning.
If the words don’t mean anything, your kid won’t try to figure out the story behind them and will focus on the sounds alone. Giving them non-existing simple words also prevents them from trying to guess the spelling of the word.
A kid can go from simple vowel-consonant words to more complex CVC words only once they have mastered the blending of two-letter words. It is crucial that your child builds automaticity of this foundational skill. That way, it will be easier to read longer words and look for different spelling patterns.
Practicing short vowel consonant words makes perfect
Early readers should focus on two things. 1. Learn in small chunks, but learn every day, and 2. they need to over-learn the basic skills, such as blending.
“Overlearning” is the process of rehearsing a skill even after you no longer improve. Even though you seem to have already learned the skill, you continue to practice at that same level of difficulty. A recent study suggests that this extra practice could be a handy way to lock in your hard-earned skills.
The end goal should be complete automation. We can achieve that by practicing these exercises until the kid is completely fluent in these skills. Imagine that the kid is trying to learn to walk. In the learning process, every step counts.
Interested in an app that helps you with blending?
Kobi GO! brings fast & fun blending exercises to practice a foundational skill of reading – decoding.
Stay Alert! If your kid is trying to fight these daily exercises this should be a big red flag for you! You are only in the beginning of a marathon, so if your kid won’t do the simple vowel-consonant exercises now, you are in for a long fight. The resources you are using should be simple enough for your kid to do. Don’t try to make your kid practice something that is obviously too difficult for them. Take a step back, try the easiest vowel-consonant exercises and continue from there.
Dyslexia and other spooks
Only 10-20% of kids learn to read with minimal help from their parents. This has nothing to do with a kid’s intelligence, so don’t stress about that. Most kids need significant help from their teachers and parents as well as a lot of practice to learn to read fluently.
Everything mentioned above is especially important for kids with reading difficulties. Dyslexia is hereditary, so try to find out if somebody in your immediate family had a history of difficulties when learning to read.
It’s entirely possible the family member was not diagnosed but was under severe stress when it came to reading in school, and that left consequences. The good news is that with the right support, kids with dyslexia can learn to read well. And with their natural creativity, innovativeness, and imagination they are bound to become sparking little stars!