Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Learning Letter Sounds

While Ryan was learning the letter names, we would mention the letter sounds here and there, but he ignored us; he loved his letters so much. We let him take things at his own pace and, after a while, he started showing some interest when we mentioned the letter sounds. He then got into letter sounds very quickly and smoothly. Here, I’ll share some of the materials we have at home on letter sounds.

I should first say that I was able to teach Ryan letter sounds because I know them. I read both phonetically and by sight when I was a child, and in fact, mostly phonetically as I was phonetically taught more than one alphabetic language. If you want to teach letter sounds but are not familiar with them, do find out from a reliable source what the letter sounds are beforehand and make sure you have the correct sound for each letter, it may not be what you think it is. For instance, I hear many people say that the letter sound “M” is “muh”, which is wrong. The correct letter sound for “M” is “mmm” as in “This is delicious, mmm…!” The sound for “F” is not “fuh”, the sound for “V” is not “vuh” and the sound for “L” may surprise you!

At the moment, Ryan knows 26 letter sounds, one for each letter of the alphabet. However, some letters have more than one sound. For example, “C” has a hard sound, as in “cat” and a soft sound, as in “city”. You can teach more than one sound for each letter at one go of course, but we chose to do only one for now. We also did not teach sounds like “wh” and “ck”. We'll get around to all that in good time, no hurry. In the English language, there are approximately 36-46 sounds altogether (depending on which source you refer to). I would add that some sounds can have more than one representation, for example, the sound /k/ can be represented by c, k, ck, ch, or q.  

Learning the letter sounds is not learning phonics. Instead, it is part of phonemic awareness, which is pre-phonics, it is the basis for moving on to learn phonics. I've put up a post to explain phonemic awareness. Put simply, all the letter sounds and sounds like "wh" and "ck" are known as phonemes and phonemic awareness is the ability to discern these sounds in words and to manipulate them. (Note that a phoneme is not the same thing as a syllable.)

Ok, let's get into the materials that we used with Ryan. I didn't take any photos, but have provided the links where I can find them. 

Let me start with what we do in Shichida class. When Ryan was in the class for 1-year olds, we would sing a song called "The Phonics Song" (we still do it from time to time now in the class for 2 year olds). The lyrics go like this, "A says /æ/, /æ/, Apple; B says /b/, /b/, Bear; C says /k/, /k/, Cow; D says /d/, /d/, Dog" and so on. As the song plays, the sensei shows a picture of each letter and a picture of each object. The cards are not flashed; they are shown in tandem with the lyrics of the song (much slower than flashing speed). Ryan enjoyed this although we noted that there were some errors - for example, the sound for "M" is "muh" (which is wrong). I should add that the children are never tested on their knowledge of letter sounds in Shichida class. They just listen to and enjoy the song (of course they can sing along if they know it).

At home, I would definitely say that the best things we did were to read (a lot) to Ryan and to play a lot of games with letters and words. You've seen one of our games in this post. We use a few different sets of these alphabet/word/picture cards, which helps to keep things fresh and interesting.

I've also shown you the items we bought for letter names (see this post and this post). We use these items to play games with letter sounds, they work just as well.

The very first item we bought that was dedicated to phonics was actually this Phonics Desk from ELC. Actually we bought this much too early, even before Ryan learned the alphabet. We grabbed it because we needed to make up 7 items to qualify for a discount. Ryan was less than a year old then and he didn't appreciate it at all. We have not re-introduced it though, we've put it aside in favour of other games.

Learning letter sounds is an auditory process so, in addition to playing games with Ryan and talking/reading to him, we do use things like CDs, DVDs and yes, the iPhone/iPad, to deliver the letter sounds. He usually  plays with these when we are unable to give him our full attention, like when I am driving or when I am busy with something. I am not fond of them. Nevertheless I have to give credit where credit is due.

One iPhone app which played a big part in introducing the letter sounds was the Starfall ABCs app. It wasn't available on the Ipad when we bought it but it is now. Ryan loved this app from the very first time he played it, and still does, and I do believe that he learned a lot from this app.

Another app which we bought for the iPhone was AlphaTots, which Ryan enjoys very much. We bought this many months after the Starfall ABCs app, by which time Ryan was very familiar with letter sounds and it was good reinforcement. The good thing is that it includes a lot of verbs. For example, for the letter "L", you get "launch" and for the letter "R" you get "recycle". There are also a lot of fun things for the child to do for each letter. For "K", he has to try to kick a goal! The app also has the famous alphabet song. It is now available on the iPad as well.

On the iPad, we actually didn't have anything until very recently when we bought Elmo loves ABCs, which has songs and videos for letters. Ryan loves this very much.

A very good DVD for introducing letter sounds is the Leapfrog Letter Factory DVD. After seeing the wonderful response to Leapfrog's Amazing Alphabet Amusement Park (which I mentioned last week), we snapped up all the Leapfrog DVDs we could find, including this one. Ryan watched this over and over again and still does.

For CDs, I played a Letterland CD in my car for a few weeks. Let me clarify that we do not depend on Letterland (or any other system of phonics) to teach Ryan. We do, nevertheless, have that CD and a few Letterland books (Ryan just picks out the letters, he doesn't bother about the characters). The CD was fun and Ryan even sang along to some of the songs, but on its own, it was not instructive in terms of relating to letter sounds. We were just listening "blindly" in the car. I mean, the "A" song goes "Annie Apple, she says /æ/, she says /æ/, she says /æ/, Annie Apple she says /æ/, she belongs to Mr A" (to the tune of London Bridge is falling down). Err, fun but, like I said, not very instructive without using the Letterland books. Ryan listened to that CD for weeks, but he still does not know who or what Annie Apple or Bouncy Ben is. If you use it with the books with the pictures of the characters, it will be much more meaningful.

Subsequently we got a Leapfrog CD as part of this set we bought online. The songs were familiar to Ryan because he had watched the DVDs from where the songs were taken. Ryan loves it! This CD includes songs about letters, numbers, and math concepts.

I did not bother buying an alphabet wall chart. In my view, many alphabet wall charts are not helpful for teaching letter sounds. They simply present words that begin with the particular letter, not necessarily the phoneme that the letter usually represents. For example, you usually see xylophone or x-ray for the letter "X" but I would prefer Ryan to learn the phoneme "ks" as in fox. Ryan does come across x-ray and xylophone when we read books but that's all right because the words appear in context. Please read this article which explains it further.

Last but not least, we read and read and read aloud to Ryan, plus we sing lots of songs!

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