By Jan Bedell, PhD, M.ND
We all want our children to read so they can read God’s Word and get along better in the world. Much of learning comes through the ability to read. As moms, we often make it “our mission” for our children to read well. This is an admirable mission.
The Truth About Phonics
I am going to say something controversial now and get it out of the way. Are you ready? Here it is: Phonics may not be the best way for you to teach reading to a particular child. Unless foundational skills are in place, phonics will be ineffective. I know it may be a shock to hear me say that about phonics. This was quite a surprise when I first heard it as well. I had diligently been trying to teach my daughter with special needs to read with a phonics approach for five years!
Before my own attempts at this reading quest, the public and private school were also trying to teach her to read with phonics. She was a phonics dropout, but she was a phonogram champ! She knew the sounds of all 70 phonograms, even the ones like “ough” that have six sounds. Even though the sounds of the phonograms were solid, she couldn’t hold the sounds together past a three letter word to read anything! This was rather confusing, and I have to admit extremely frustrating.
I found out after my five-year, miserable struggle with phonics that she had low auditory processing. That meant she couldn’t hold the pieces (phonograms) in her short term memory long enough to put them together to get the word out. We were in an endless loop of sounding out the same word over and over until something sort of like the word came out. So, by the time she got to the end of the sentence, she had no clue about the meaning of what she read. WOW!
The Auditory Processing Disconnect
For some children, learning to read using the phonics approach is a breeze, but for others it is a huge struggle like it was for my daughter. When children have low sequential auditory processing abilities (an inability to hold a series of items in consecutive order in short-term memory), phonics doesn’t work well. Why is auditory processing so important for using phonics? Phonics is an auditory learning system, meaning the child must be able to hold all the pieces of the word and the rules together in his brain long enough to get the word out of his brain. Phonics is a fabulous way to learn to read for those with good auditory sequential processing! I love, love, love it! For those with low auditory abilities though, it can be a nightmare for parents and students alike.
When auditory processing is low and words get longer and more complicated, the child gets lost by the end of the word and starts guessing. There are also some developmental issues with the eyes that can make reading in general difficult. You can listen to Podcast #17 – Make Reading Easier for a better understanding of other developmental challenges. Number 17 at www.BrainCoachTips.com will also help you learn how to raise your child’s auditory processing abilities so he can be more successful with phonics in the future.
Some Brain Coach Tips for More Reading Success:
- Determine if your child is struggling with low sequential auditory processing by ordering your Free Auditory Processing Test Kit. Your child should have a strong 5 digit span and preferably working on a 6 digit span before reading with phonics is effective.
- Do some auditory processing activities twice a day for two minutes (instructions included in your free kit). In my opinion, this would be the best investment of your homeschooling time that you will ever make! The benefits go far beyond phonics help.
- Read to your child with him following word by word. Then have the child read the same sentence or paragraph immediately after you (Echo Reading). I know this sounds a bit like cheating and memorizing, but prepare for another shocker that you might not have realized yet: We are all sight readers! Once we know a word, we don’t sound it out again. I know that is hard to believe, but read the statement at the end of this article: Phonics vs. Sight Reading. Now tell me if you read it with phonics.
- Don’t let your child struggle. Tell him the words he doesn’t know or sound it out for him.
- Have your child listen to auditory books daily and read aloud daily. At least an hour a day of listening will help develop the auditory processing.
- Teach your child sight words while building auditory processing levels. Then work more successfully with the phonics approach when the foundation of processing is set. Find resources here. We become sight readers once we know a word, so by combining these approaches you have the best of both worlds and a happier, more successful reader.