The Benefits of Phonics
As a parent you want your child to do well in school and in life, and you know that being a good reader is a crucial part of this success. But you may or may not know that the Department for Education recognises phonics as a key element in helping children to become successful readers.
Why is Reading Important?
The Department for Education National Curriculum for England states that reading helps pupils to develop culturally, emotionally, intellectually and socially.
An important goal of the curriculum is therefore to enable young learners to become fluent readers and the department of education regards this as the best way to develop pupils' comprehension skills and love of reading, and to prepare them for success in secondary school.
As their reading skills develop, pupils gain the ability to read a wide variety of material, including stories, poems and non-fiction. This extensive reading broadens their vocabulary, develops their general knowledge, and allows them to acquire self-knowledge. It is also believed that when children share in the lives of others, they see the world through new eyes and develop a greater capacity for empathy. In addition, reading may actually help to increase the young reader's intelligence by laying down new neural pathways in the brain.
The National English Curriculum states, enthusiastically and almost poetically, that:
"Reading … feeds pupils' imagination and opens up a treasure-house of wonder and joy for curious young minds."
How Can Phonics Help?
Phonics is an important tool to develop reading fluency. Language ability at age five is the single most important factor in predicting literacy levels at age 11, and the most important early skill in helping children escape poverty.
Phonics teaches pupils that letters they see written on a page are part of a code which represents the sounds of spoken language, and provides them with the tools to understand that code. With these skills they develop into fluent readers who are able to quickly recognise familiar words and to easily sound out new words they encounter.
Phonics allows young readers to develop their reading comprehension. With practice, pupils' decoding skills become so automatic that they are able to concentrate on and easily understand the overall meaning of what they are reading.
Phonics also raises children's phonemic awareness. This is the ability to understand how words are formed, and to break them down into individual sounds. For example, if a teacher asks "what are the sounds in the word ball" pupils will answer "b" "aw" and "l". This helps them not only with reading but also with spelling and writing.
Of course, all children are individuals with their own learning styles. Because all children are unique, phonics may not be the best teaching method for all. It should therefore be part of a complete, well-rounded reading program that encourages visual learners to recognise whole words by sight, and that incorporates opportunities for extensive reading and creative writing.
As a parent you can help your child to develop a love of reading. If you are a reader yourself and have plenty of books at home, you set an excellent example. You can also introduce your child to picture books before they start school, and help them to enjoy stories by regularly reading aloud to them.