Hooked on Phonics, Worked for me!

readingMLI is coming up on five years old and is therefore, in pre-K. In addition to the twice-weekly Spanish classes (Spanish at 5 years old?), they are also learning how to read. Each night he comes home with this little sheet of words that he is working on and last week, he even came home with a rhyme that he read–something to the effect of, “Nan pats the cat. The Cat can pat Nan.” etc. It didn’t get much more difficult.

Thing is, they are learning to read by learning the sight of words. So, they learn that “STOP” reads “Stop.” They are not learning to sound the word out, “Sssss…ta…ta…ah…pa…pa…SssTaPa…STOP!”

We had a small debate over at CareerMom’s parent’s house the other night as to the appropriateness of this method of teaching. CareerMom’s mother is a teacher, and sitting around the table were several highly educated people, who each thought he or she knew better than the other which way of teaching a child to read was better.

It was my MIL who postulated that the child isn’t really learning to read this way; while one of her daughters (who went to a very expensive private university, then transferred out west to get a Masters in Music and who is now doing a Jr. level job at a pharma company), claimed, “Well, once you’re older, aren’t you reading by recognizing the words anyway?”

A good point to be sure, but I’m of the opinion that a child should learn to add manually before using a calculator. However, being the “outlaw” at the table, and one who understands the value of a free, home-cooked meal, I kept my mouth shut.

Last night while trying to come up with a low-key way to kill the last 30 minutes before the kid’s bedtime, I sat down with MLI and asked him to read me “Go Dog Go.” Doesn’t everyone know this book?

Well, he knew the first couple of pages…by heart. Once we got past his “sight words” vocabulary, it was a frustrating thing for him to sound the words out. This cemented my belief that learning to read by sight words is a waste of time! I mean, if a kid has a photographic memory, then fine. Eventually, the kid can read Webster’s and be good to go, but for the rest of us, we really need to learn how to figure things out on our own.

Unfortunately, patience does not run on my side of the family (Bio-mom excluded), and MLI quickly became frustrated with my attempts at helping him. And to my credit, I think I was very patient! (Yaah me!).  All in all, I’m not too worried about him reading or not reading right now. In Kindergarten, I was in the “Remedial Reading Group” until I figured it out and then I was into it like gangbusters. I still spend a substantial amount of money each year on books and I have no doubt that my kids will follow suit.

But, for you parents out there with school-age kids; what did you/do you have to do to help your kids read? And how did they learn? Did the “sight word” method work for you?

10 thoughts on “Hooked on Phonics, Worked for me!

  1. My wife is a teacher so I will most likely find out how “they are doing it now-a-days”… but if it were me?

    I would of said..
    “sound it out!”

    That is how “I” learned to read! Anyway, it will be interesting to read the responses to see what the “masses” say…

    But, I think by just “looking” at the words? How do you know how to say it?
    Oh well… seems like you are thinking in the right direction.


  2. morningbug

    Having children guess at a new word based on a limited knowledge of other words seems to be a recipe for disaster. And I think it might make a child less likely to read on their own for the fun of it, to develop a love of books. If you can’t pick up a new book with unfamiliar words and have any luck at reading them, why would you bother?

  3. Paula

    I think it is a balance of learning to sound words out and sight words. My degree is in ECE and in college I was taught to use the Whole Language approach to teaching children how to read. (That is pretty much just sight words and very little phonics involved.) I think it works really well for some children and others need the phonics-y kind of stuff as well. Your SIL is right though: most of the words that adults read are sight words and very little actual decoding is going on.

    My daughter (now 10) was privately tutored for reading for almost 2 years. They worked on both skills, but sounding words out was strongly emphasized. She made some progress but I think she would have done better with a huge list of sight words. I also found that when we continued to push her into reading skills that she just was not ready for she made NO progress. When we backed off and let her read whatever she wanted and at her own pace she was able to relax and she blossomed; now she is reading Harry Potter.

    My son is the same age as MLI and he is shocking us with his reading skills. He has a lot of sight words and can sound things out too. Neither of those things were taught by me, he just picked it up because he was interested in it. He is at the same level that his almost 8 year old sister was at a year ago. They all get it at some point, and it is different for every kid.

    I think that MLI will be just fine with learning just sight words for now. He has a looong time to work on his reading skills and the way they teach reading in his Kindergarten class next year may be completely different. Good luck!

    1. dobeman

      Good points. And that’s why I’m not stressing over it much. I think we got to page 10 last night on “Go Dog Go” before I called it quits. My mother taught me to read using Flash Cards and the “Train” method. Basically, you lay out ten cards in a row and you start with the first one. When you get it right, you go to the next one, but you have to start at the beginning each time. It worked, but it also made me so upset at myself and I could see that going on with MLI last night.
      Thanks for commenting!

  4. With my son we just played sounding out games, like “If t-o-p spells top, then what is p-o-p,” and of course in that instance the child needs to understand letter sounds.

    I’m completely phonics oriented and think whole language is ridiculous BS and sight words . . . well, you get my drift.

    But then I’m sick of people thinking that reading Harry Potter is the end all/be all. I’m just a bitch like that:)

    The most important thing I learned after having my daughter is that very little of it matters. She’s not the student her brother was and that’s fine. It all comes out in the wash. Some of the best “students” are the worst at real life. You’re reading with the kid, which means he’ll be fine. You’re actually thinking about it, you care how he’s doing, and that’s the #1 determining factor.

    But whole language still sucks the big one:)

  5. We sounds it out at our house. Our 6 year old can always work through reading by breaking them down. But that’s what his school teaches too so it’s not like we’re going through your issues.

  6. fayezie

    ironic, i just posted about this very topic. my son just turned 4 and is in preschool. they started learning site words about 3 months ago, and i am confused over the process and why. i don’t remember learning to read that way. i remember sitting in a classroom with large posters of the phonic diagrams around the periphery. so, i agree with you. the way to read is to understand the letters, sounds, and how/why words are put together. when my son comes home with his site words that he is supposed to “practice” i sit him down with a dry erase board and spell out the words and make him sound them out. LOL… this morning he was asking to look at pictures of sharks in my textbooks (i am in school), and i made him sound out the “chond-” in chondrichthyes, and he got it!

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