Homeschool, Reception

Phonics vs Sight Words and Why we Use Both

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sight words vs phonics and why we use both. Plus 50 FREE Flash Cards and Sight Words Activity Guide

Over the past year or so I have been a witness to many ‘Phonics vs Sight Words’ debates. The way in which we choose to teach our children to read is a hot topic for homeschool parents. Learning to read eventually opens the gateway for our children to access more information. As well as allowing them to leap into more independent learning and research. Although as a parent of a preschooler and Kindergartener, that a goal seems a long way off, this is the time to begin setting the foundations.

How do we do that?

Should we begin with Phonics or sight words? Do we teach them both or choose just one? Is it better to scrap formal reading lessons and just enjoy reading to our children let them pick up reading naturally?

I think most parents agree that we should all be reading with our children as much as possible. There are however arguments against both the use of Phonics and Sight Reading methods.

Arguments Against Phonics

  • Phonics does not teach comprehension. Children may be able to sound out an entire sentence, but they don’t necessarily know the words or understand their meaning.
  • Phonics can be difficult for visual learners because it does not take into consideration the word image. Instead phonics requires a child to break down words into individual letters or sounds.
  • Different accents can change the sounds of certain vowels. When teaching phonics, the way one speaks naturally is not taken into consideration. Although we can debate over the ‘correct’ way to pronounce a word, that doesn’t help a child who hears people around him pronounce words in one way and then asks them to phonetically sound them out in another. An example of this would be the difference between the way the word “fast” is pronounced in some parts of Suffolk using a long vowel sound vs Manchester in the UK using a short vowel sound.
  • Some words are impossible to sound out phonetically.

Arguments Against Sight Words

  • Some children will guess words that look like words they know.
  • A child’s reading vocabulary could be reduced or grow slower since they are only able to read the words that have learnt.
  • Logical and analytical type learners learn better by breaking words down.

This is Why we Use All Three Methods!

In my opinion there isn’t just one right way. It is clear that where phonics falls short, learning words by sight fills in the gaps. We have already established that children learn in different ways. Some are visual learners, some are more hands on and some are very logical or analytical type learners. So, it seems only natural to me, that the way in which children will learn to read well, will depend upon their learning style. For these reasons I haven’t limited my children to one method and I don’t think you should either.

Remember: Homeschooling provides us with flexibility to choose and use the methods that give the best results for our children.

How we Use Phonics

M is the type of child that needs to see himself progressing. He is very quick to give up if a task proves to be too challenging and it takes him (in his opinion) a long time to get it right.

When we first started teaching M to read we began with a structured phonics approach through a book called Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. Although I could see M was doing quite well with it, after the first 20 lessons it became more difficult for him. So, we slowed down on how many lessons we were doing each week and made sure he had each lesson down before moving on. It resulted in M feeling like he wasn’t getting it and therefore he got frustrated and became more reluctant to spend much time on phonics. I love this book and we still use it but not every day!

We are now focusing on phonics at a much slower pace through our letter of the week curriculum and this is working much better for M but he is still impatient to get reading on his own.

How we Use Sight Words

Both M and A have fantastic memories. I knew that M would be extremely happy and his confidence with reading would grow if he could just read a couple of simple sentences to begin with. I want to make use of his interest and desire to learn to read whilst it is still at the forefront of his mind. Phonics isn’t going to get him there quick enough and I don’t want his frustration to sour his desire to read and turn it into a dislike of reading instead.

That’s why I decided to do a little experiment with Sight Words. To begin with I chose a book called “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss. This story is made up of just 50 different words in total and the first 4 pages contain 6 sentences made up of just 8 different words:

  1. Sam
  2. I
  3. Am
  4. That
  5. Do
  6. Not
  7. And
  8. Like

So, I set M a goal of being able to read theses 8 words within a week. In the hope that he would be able to put them together and read a few sentences of a book on his own.

We spent 20 minutes each day playing games with these words, using flash cards and writing them down.

The result?

By day 2 M knew every single word by sight and by day 4 he read those 6 sentences out loud. He was chuffed! What I didn’t expect was that he would continue onto the following pages and attempt to sound out the words he hadn’t learnt phonetically. Even A knows most of these words by sight simply by sitting beside us and listening in. M is now working towards being able to read the whole book.

The Best of Both Worlds

Alongside our numerous daily family reading habits, we have settled into using both methods for teaching our children to learn to read: phonics and sight words. As you can see it’s working for us. It’s helping us to pursue M’s desire to learn to read, filling in the gaps, finding ways around he’s preferred learning style and the quirks of his personality whilst little A is also learning alongside M at his own pace.

Don’t Join The Debate!

If you have a child who is taking their first steps towards learning to read approach it with an open mind. Take their learning style into consideration and play around with different methods, activities and games until you find what’s working best and stick with it. The experimenting may take some extra time, but the payoff is grand, and you’ll have a happier child as a result!


Want to get your child reading there very first book?

Download the 50 FREE Printable Sight Word Flash Cards and Activity Guide below! Just like M, your child will soon be reading aloud from the popular classic ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ by Dr. Suess in no time at all!

All About "d" - The Letter of the Week Curriculum
All About "C" Letter of The Week

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