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This statement may come as a surprise to you, but you have been teaching your child to read since shortly after birth! The very first time you read your baby Goodnight Moon, pointed to a stop sign while out walking with your toddler, or hugged your preschooler who just presented you with a loving note that only he could decipher, you were setting the stage for later formal instruction. Phonics, the connection between sounds and written letters, is not the starting point; it is part of the natural progression toward becoming a reader and writer.

So how do you know whether your child is ready to take the step into phonics instruction? Following is a checklist of skills that build the foundation. Even if your child hasn’t mastered every early step, she may still be ready for that phonics program sitting on your shelf. Keep these preliminary skills in mind as you go, filling in gaps and staying in tune to your child’s successes and signs of frustration. Know when to slow down to strengthen the foundation.

Print Awareness

  • Holds a book right-side up while looking at it
  • Follows pictures or print from left to right, top to bottom
  • Turns pages from front to back of book
  • Identifies a book’s title on the front cover
  • Brings a book to you and asks you to read it
  • Points to text or symbols and asks what it says
  • “Reads” a familiar book from memory while flipping through the pages
  • Understands that recipes, maps, notes, lists, menus, etc., provide instructions or needed information
  • Pretends to write by scribbling or making marks on paper

Phonological Awareness

  • Identifies two words in a compound word
  • Counts or claps syllables
  • Recognizes rhyme
  • Produces rhyme
  • Identifies initial and final phonemes in words (e.g., “What sound do you hear at the end of dog?”)
  • Creates a new word by changing the first or last phoneme (e.g., “Change the first sound in tap to ‘mmm.'”)
  • Blends phonemes to create words (e.g., combines sounds c-a-t to form cat)
  • Breaks simple words into separate phonemes (e.g., divides top into the sounds t-o-p)

Alphabet Knowledge

  • Knows the order of the alphabet (e.g., the ABC song)
  • Identifies letters when named
  • Recognizes upper and lower case letters
  • Names letters
  • Understands that letters are combined to form words
  • Associates at least a few letters with their sounds

Many of these steps can be modeled while reading your young child’s favorite books to him. Besides providing wonderful snuggle time, shared reading is perhaps the most significant activity a parent can do to foster literacy and language development. Researchers at The Ohio State University Crane Center for Early Childhood Research and Policy estimate that children who were read one book daily have heard 290,000 more words by age 5 than children who were never read to. For those youngsters who hear five books a day, the gap increases to more than one million words.

Many books for young children are developed around rhyme, word play, or connections between letters and words. Both fiction and nonfiction books present more complex and varied vocabulary than typical conversation in the home. In addition, adults often add comments about the illustrations or text that can expand the interaction. And reading together provides a focused time of attention and emotional bonding with your children. All of these factors contribute to a child’s readiness for reading and academic success.

Is your child ready to read? Building a literacy-rich environment and preparing the foundation will help your child succeed in phonics instruction.

Copyright 2022, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.

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Leigh Ann Morrison is a licensed speech-language pathologist in Ohio. She also completes homeschool portfolio assessments and mentors homeschool parents. Leigh and her husband, Chris, have three children, homeschooled since birth.