Teaching Kids How to Read: 'Sound it Out' May Not Be the Best Method

Filed under: In The News, Research Reveals: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Education: Big Kids, Research Reveals: Big Kids

teaching kids how to read

Researchers finds focus on phonics may not be the best way to teach children to read. Credit: Getty Images

Hooked on phonics?

You might want to consider rehab. Researchers say phonics may not be helpful to you. That stuff can really mess with your mind.

Researchers at Victoria and Otago Universities in New Zealand found that phonics -- the business of "sounding out" words -- doesn't help kids develop reading skill after the first few weeks of school.

The New Zealand website Stuff.Co.NZ reports sounding words works well until you run across a letter behaving unpredictably. Consider all the letters that fall silent in certain words.

Associate Professor Claire Fletcher-Flinn of Otago University's College of Education tells the website that phonics threaten to leave a "cognitive footprint" on kids' brains to where they can't learn new words that follow unusual rules.

"We have research evidence to show that explicit phonics -- the sounding out of each letter -- is not useful past the very early period of learning," she says. "Explicit phonics may be useful because children need to learn ... that letters in words have connections to sounds in words, but beyond that, they don't even have to learn all the letter sounds."

Researchers compared children of similar ages in New Zealand and Scotland. Children in Scotland tend to learn to read through phonics. Researchers found that New Zealand children, who learn to read more from books than phonics, learned to read faster and learned more words than their Scottish counterparts.

So is one approach really better than another?

Teacher Susie Sumner tells the New Zealand website that teaching reading is more an art than a science -- and one size does not fit all.

"Kids come in to this class at different times of the year and at different levels," she says. "It would be impossible to use a blanket approach and teach them all the same thing at the same time."

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.