This is not to say that you should not teach your child phonics. Teaching whole words is never meant to replace a phonics‐based approach to reading.
Why teach phonics?
Whether or not a child learns some first words by sight, there will come a point when she needs to know the sounds made by the letters of the alphabet. In order to progress to the level of a competent reader (with a vocabulary of 50‐75,000 words), the ability to sound out new words is a must.
Around the world, whenever phonics is removed from the reading curriculum, literacy rates go down.
Holistic readers are indeed handicapped by the way they are taught to read. They are taught to look at words as whole pictures, which means that they are not bound to look at a word from left to right. They simply look for something in the word‐picture that will remind them of what the word is. Thus they may actually look at a word from right to left, which accounts for the tendency of dyslexics to
reverse letters and read words backwards.
Phonics lessons have also been shown to work wonders for children beginning school with poor reading skills. In 2005, psychologists Rhona Johnston and Joyce Watson published the results of a seven‐year longitudinal study into the reading abilities of Scottish schoolchildren. Comparing a group of first graders in a phonics based reading program to two groups enrolled in whole‐language programs, they concluded:
At the end of the 16‐week training period, the [phonics] group was reading words around 7 months ahead of chronological age, and was 7 months ahead of the other two groups.
The [phonics] group’s spelling was also 7 months ahead of chronological age, and was around 8 to 9 months ahead of the two [other] groups.
These groups were spelling 2 to 3 months behind chronological age. The [phonics] group also showed a significant advantage in ability to identify phonemes in spoken words.
Whole language is often pitted against phonics – but that needn’t be the case. You and your child can enjoy what each have to offer. Since your child will naturally learn her first words by sight, you can take advantage of the time when her memory is at its most powerful to teach her a large numbers of sight words. You will be amazed at how smart your baby is, as she begins showing that she can read,even before she is able to talk.
At age two or even younger, you can introduce your child to phonics. Play letter games with him, building words and asking him to see if he can. Sound out any real as well as nonsense words you each build. Most toddlers love word games of this sort, and find the sounds of the nonsense words particularly hilarious!
Once your child becomes a skilled reader, she will naturally blend her knowledge of spellings and sounds to make reading most efficient. The strengthening of the neural pathways for reading, and knowledge of whole words gained in babyhood will always be an asset.