Trailer Park Unschoolers

Because you don't need to be rich to unschool!

So Much for Phonics, Hello Sight Words

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Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m giving up. I always swore phonics was the path to good reading, but apparently not for my kids. I can’t fathom how it ever worked for my sister and me. Maybe it never really did.

After having so many people drill letter sounds and the importance of vowel sounds, blends, and all of that into my head, I swore phonics would be my tool for teaching my kids to read. All those days I remembered being told to “sound it out” and struggling my way through words. It gave me confidence in reading, at the cost of some early challenges. It may not have been fun at first, but I walked away with the ability to decode any word. It seemed like a valuable asset, something my own children would need to know in life.

Over time I’ve gone back and forth on this issue. I’ve tried teaching Corde through phonics with our every brush with reading. She fought me the entire way. She didn’t want to sound out words. That was too much work. She didn’t want to sound things out. She just wanted me to tell her, or just made up whatever word she felt like using. Hard work has never been a part of Corde’s goals. If she can do less work, she’ll do anything to get there. Shortcuts are her best friend.

I had no idea where I was going wrong! This was supposed to be the easy way to teach reading. You teach the child all the tools and they just take off, right? Apparently not…

After starting the same struggle with Beekee (who seems to have forgotten his alphabet, though we review it weekly and have for years), I’ve decided to give up on phonics, at least for now. It isn’t even coming close to serving us. Corde still can’t use phonics to sound out words (though purely because she doesn’t try, not from lack of skill), and to work it out phonetically, you need to know your letters at the least, something Beekee seems incapable of getting down at this point, and their sounds. Sadly, Sander is further on the path to counting well and recognizing his alphabet than Beekee. Apparently a weekly practice will at least get me somewhere with one of them.

Yup, I’m giving up. Sight words, it is! I hate the idea of sight words, since I feel it doesn’t give kids decoding skills, but it’s a start. Corde started picking up sight words at three, but I didn’t stick with building it because I was stuck on phonics. Now Beekee seems to be doing okay with it. You can tell the words he knows, he knows by sight. There is no decoding going on. However, it seems to serve him well. Clearly, he’s building a vocabulary of words he can read, so maybe it doesn’t matter too much for now. We can build in phonics later.

This week Beekee chose his own words. He selected: but, can, castle, not, play, sand, the, we, with, and you. So far he’s gotten pretty far along with memorizing them. I show him the cards, ask him to read them, then he spells them off the card. Maybe he’ll have less gaps in his alphabet this way. On Monday he gets to pick ten new cards to add to the list. It may be a slow pace, but ten words a week is a good start for him. We may make the list longer once he gets the hang of it. As much as I’m not so much for tests, I might give him a spelling test or review or something. It would help him with his writing. I may just take the words he gets familiar with and stick them in a spelling box in alphabetical order. Then he can pull them up when he needs help spelling it for his writing. My aunt suggested a book form, to make a “speller’s dictionary”, but the cards are already made up and an index card box is cheap.

Corde has twenty words this week. We’ve been doing a spelling bee kind of quiz. She’s been quizzed every day this week. Today she finally got all the words on the first try. “Laugh” kept tripping her up. Tomorrow is the weekly test. I don’t know if I will have her write them out or just spell them. I want to put her words in a box too, but I don’t know if I’ll use the same box or a different one. It may be easier to just use one for now. Right now Corde’s words are in black and Beekee’s in green. It means they can both benefit from the same box for writing.

I’ll probably bring phonics back into it in time. I know it’s a useful skill. Maybe giving them both some confidence in writing will help. They’ll both have a set of words they can confidently read and write to build upon. They can also look back to familiar words for decoding hints.

Thinking back, I’m sure this is how I must have learned to read, words first and phonics later. I could be wrong, but my mom probably didn’t teach me to sound things out. My aunt wasn’t a teacher yet, so I wonder if she even thought about phonics. I seem to remember doing most of that in Catholic school.

Again, this is another change that makes me think we can’t rightly call ourselves unschoolers. It’s been really positive for us so far. Corde is finally learning to spell and doesn’t hate writing near as much. Beekee is learning to read. Sander is starting to get comfortable with reading. Even Luca is starting to build a strong vocabulary. It won’t be long before reading and writing are no big deal around here. Better yet, I may be able to get Corde back on track for the classical co-op, if we can manage to get back in. She’ll be ready to handle her writing assignments and reports before long! That day can’t come too soon!

Once again, written in advance, in case the sequence of days is all crazy…

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Author: Fox

With four kids in the house, who has time for much? Well, we're trying to make it work, trying to get as close to our unschooling roots as we can while state restrictions and family pressures try to stand in our way. Every day is a new adventure.

One thought on “So Much for Phonics, Hello Sight Words

  1. I’ve also joined the ranks of abandoning phonics, at least temporarily. My kindergartner knows all her letters in upper and lower case and their sounds, but when I try to get her to sound out any word, there were many tears shed, and she wasn’t happy either. During Christmas break I decided we’d stop doing phonics and just go with sight words. In the month since break ended, she’s confidently reading 80 sight words. Ironically now that I no longer tell her to sound words out, I’ve noticed her sounding out many of the sight words. I have yet to decide when / if phonics will get reintroduced, but I’m happy that when we work through all the sight words (we’re doing dolch for now and will work on the fry sight words when she finishes the dolch list), there should be very few words she’ll encounter that she won’t know. Who knows maybe the of word that she doesn’t know by sight will spark her to try harder at sounding out words.

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