The Family Phonics approach begins with discussion about phonemic awareness. This is the place to begin--to start talking with a child about our
language, the fact that we use words, and that words are made up of
sounds. From here, we move on to talking about the
alphabet--the way we write our language. Then we move to the correlation
between the sounds of the language and the alphabet. Once a child has
learned this alphabetic principle and the recognition of phonemes, they
have acquired the two most important skills on which to build their reading
Studies have shown that explicit instruction of this phonemic code is
the most effective way to start teaching beginning readers--hence the
popularity of buzz-word phonics. It makes sense to tell
early readers what sounds each letter stands for, and what different
letter combinations (digraphs, etc.) sound like.
Recognition and reinforcement through practice should be the focus for
the beginning reader.
Some instructional methods have
attempted to present students with
orderly material from which they are expected to derive phonemic rules on their own.
They are expected to derive the rules intuitively in their own heads
based on observing repeated patterns. But this adds an unnecessary
and overly complex problem-solving pre-task to the greater task of
learning to read. The discovery approach has unrealistic
expectations of beginning readers' innate abilities.
After all, learning to read and write is not the same as learning to
talk. Learning to talk happens simply by being immersed in the
language environment of one's family and culture. Reading and
writing are an artificial and highly developed extension of our natural
language ability. In our writing-system, spoken language is
reduced to a visual form from which a trained reader reconstructs the
words and sentences recorded by the writer, using knowledge of both the
spoken language and of the visual code. To put the unnaturalness
of the reading/writing process in perspective, consider the following
trans-millennium historical fact:
Some instructional methods have ignored the testimony of history as well
as the complex nature of our alphabet, and have insisted that children
should intuitively be able to acquire a reading ability simply because
they are verbal creatures, if only they are exposed to enough written
materials in a positive, conducive environment. This approach is
called whole language and lies at the opposite end of the
spectrum from phonics.
The basal reader approach popular in the United States especially from 1920 to 1965 (and still frequently used) sought to
ignore phonics instruction on the basis that it was supposed to be
irrelevant. Phonics, it was argued, was not actually used by
sophisticated readers, and supposedly (according to basal reader
advocates) required a higher intellectual maturity than most first graders possessed.
The irony is, of course, that deriving phonics rules intuitively is the
task that takes higher intellectual maturity. And, it has been
found that children even much younger
than first grade are capable of phonemic awareness. So children should
not be expected to derive phonemic rules on their own because there is a
Synthetic phonics methods have consistently been shown to have the
greatest success among reading methods. These methods teach how to
synthesize a word from the individual sounds that make it up. This is
the essence of "sounding out" a word. Yet such a "bottom-up" approach must be accompanied by
plenty of practice reading words in context, and it should also be
augmented by teaching how combinations of letters sound.
Our alphabetic system is complex, and the
best instructional methods incorporate an emphasis on patterns of letter
combinations, or word families. Two primary factors contribute to
the complexity of our current alphabetic system. First, our alphabet is
borrowed from Latin, but our English sound system is far more
complex than Latin. In particular, English has 14 or 15 distinct vowel
sounds (depending on the dialect), but the Latin alphabet affords us only 5
vowel letters. This mismatch between our vowel system and the Latin
alphabet is the greatest source of complication in our alphabetic
The second factor adding to the complexity of our alphabetic system is
language change. Our spelling patterns are standardized and have
been for hundreds of years. They stand frozen in time, while our
language continues to change, leaving the spellings behind, as it were.
Sometimes the changes are quite radical, such as
Great Vowel Shift that occurred in Early Modern English. This
particular change affected most of our long vowels, and accounts for the
mismatch between many spellings, such as /break/ (whose vowel did not
shift) vs. /beak/ (whose vowel did shift).
Our methodology here at Family Phonics incorporates these two critical
components: synthetic phonics and letter patterns/word
families. In addition, we provide ample practice for reading words
in the context of sentences and stories. The exercises practice specific phonics skills regarding the
manipulation of phonemes, distinguishing, recognizing, and blending them.
Constructing early readings is challenging for any program. Our goal is
to provide meaningful reading exercises with the bare minimum of "sight words." In addition,
our emphasis on learning to read in order to read the Bible is encouraged
along the way with Bible-based stories, moral teachings, and paraphrases
of Bible verses.
There are many other variables within a reading program, and these will be
discussed for the benefit of the parent along the way. The
rationale for each decision helps to identify the purpose of each exercise, and
will help you make adjustments to suit