Learning To Read With Phonics – Is Engagement As Important as Encoding and Decoding?

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Learning To Read With Phonics – Is Engagement As Important as Encoding and Decoding?

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Lots of people will argue that it is. Phonics really is about learning to associate letters with their sounds and not just their letter names. It is about digraphs and consonant blends. It is about learning to decode efficiently so that true literacy – fluency – can emerge.

From that perspective, it is a technical process. Effective lesson presentation, education, and practice should create effective and efficient readers. For most kids, it does.

The problem is, I just don’t think that “most” is enough.

I believe that teaching the technical component without considering the implications of the content is a lot like buying a brand new car without seeing the body. The frame might be solid and the engine might look great…but are you really going to be happy when you get home and see that you just spent $25,000 on a lime green import from Bosnia? Maybe some will – but for many, that baby is totally missing the mark.

Consider this: from our earliest moments, we rejoice in seeing the things most familiar to us. For infants, the sight and smell of a parent is far preferred to the sight or smell of a stranger.

For toddlers, familiar texts and media are frequently chosen over newer experiences. Think about how many times your two year old asked you to read him the same book…or put on the same DVD (you know, that one with the world’s most irritating song that simply set your teeth on edge?)
The desire for familiarity looms large in the life of young children.

Now imagine, just for a moment, that you are a very young child who might:

-be the child of same-gendered parents…
-live with a grandparent…
-have been adopted…
-be bi-racial or of a totally different racial background than either of your parents…

When you reach the point in development where letters and words start to be more than just marks on a page – when the pictures and stories have real and discernible meaning – you probably begin to notice that almost none of the families in those books look like yours.

Most of those families have a mom and a dad.

Most of those families are racially matched.

Most of the parents are depicted as aged in their 20’s or 30’s.

Other books don’t have human families at all. They might be mice, or bears, or bunnies…but they still usually feature a mom/dad/offspring combo.

And when not even the darn bunny family resembles yours, well, that magical world of reading just might start to lose a little of its new car shine.

Here’s the bottom line. Keeping children excited about reading is every bit as important as the technical process of decoding. Handing kids a steady stream of “one size fits all” phonics primers may cover the technical aspect – but it falls far short of the mark in the department of engagement.

We just don’t live exclusively in that mom/dad/child world anymore. And it is about time for our children’s early experiences with written text to reflect that.

You could call it a “phonics plus” approach to literacy education, I suppose.

We just call it “Phonics for Us.”

Join us on this journey by visiting our website and requesting your free kid’s e-book, “Tad Has a New Hat,” at www.weliveheretoo.info/freebook.

Happy reading!
Peace and Love,

Phonics for Us Author and Illustrator

About Author



About The Author: Jennifer Sendling-Ortiz is a homeschooling mother of four awesome kids – Zoe, Niko, Manny, and Violet. Teaching them to read is among her most memorable experiences, but she always wished for early readers that reflected her own family structure. Phonics for Us is her way of bringing the world of phonics education to alternative households…and to families that believe in the importance of early diversity education.

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