When phonics doesn’t work

The fact is that phonics doesn't work for everyone! Writing this as a teacher and the founder of a company that positively promotes phonics, I can see both sides of the fence. Phonics can be the building blocks of early reading, but if this doesn't work it's never too late to approach early reading in a different way.

Let’s talk about phonics...There is no doubt that if young children don't learn to read properly, it closes doors as they progress with their education. They could fall behind, not just in English, but in every subject. Learning to read is the building block of early education. The goal of a systematic, synthetic phonics programme is to help children develop the skills they need to unlock the code of phonics. To understand that words can be broken down into it's individual sounds, and that by blending these sounds together you can read any word that is put in front of you.

You will not be the only parent who wants their little reader to stop sounding out words and speed up a bit, but these early stages of sounding out and blending back together is what gives them confidence and in turn will increase their fluency later on. At this stage being patient is so very important! But if they persist in using early sounding out and blending skills and you can't see any improvement beyond that, then it might be time to think about a different approach.

So what other options are there? What do you do if phonics is just not working? The first step is to acknowledge that there are different types of learners, so we need to figure out which kind of learner they are: Is your child a visual learner, or do they like to listen to stories? Or are they a physical learner who likes to be active and who learns best by doing?

One approach worth exploring for a visual learner could be to focus on a sight words, a method of learning to read where some children learn best by memorising the shape of the letters and learning to recall them by association. It does require a student to learn thousands of words individually, but repetition and memorising like this can work really well for some students. For visual learners learning through sight words you could also use picture books and flashcards to help them associate whole words with pictures to help give the words context and meaning.

Auditory learners may respond better to whole language learning. Using rhymes, jingles, and auditory repetition through tape recording can help auditory learners progress in early reading. Youtube can be a excellent resource for this! Auditory learners also work better in quiet environments, try reading in quiet areas to reduce distractions, avoiding areas with conversation, music, and television.

Physical learners need to touch and manipulate things, so that they can learn through their senses. Physical phonics, through using every day objects can keep physical learners interested, using tactile materials to make phonics sounds and hunting for sounds outdoors can be a great start. Take a look at our blog post https://www.readwithphonics.com/blog/top-3-physical-phonics-games-children for some interesting ways to help physical learners.

Which ever learner your early reader turns out to be, there is something for everyone! If you have found any other methods to help when phonics doesn't work, please get in touch!