Teaching Phonics to Toddlers

by Martha Mendenhall, Demand Media
    Grocery shopping with your toddler provdies an opportunity to explore phonics.

    Grocery shopping with your toddler provdies an opportunity to explore phonics.

    Your toddler speaks in complete sentences and sometimes identifies common words by sight. Is she ready for reading? According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), no matter how precocious your youngster might appear, reading readiness requires age-appropriate maturation and development. Toddlers aren’t quite ready. Focus instead on phonics -- the sounds that letters and groups of letters make -- a developmentally appropriate step toward reading readiness.

    Rhymes and Songs

    Help your toddler gain awareness of phonics by identifying repeated rhymes in simple songs and rhymes. “Row, Row, Row Your Boat," “The Itsy, Bitsy Spider," “Eeney, Meeney, Miney, Moe” and “Star Light, Star Bright” will amuse your child, while providing repeatable examples of rhyming phonics sounds. Follow up speaking a verse or singing a song with reading a picture book that depicts in print the song or verse you’ve practiced with your toddler. As you read through the familiar words, point out the letters that make the rhyming sounds that she has learned, allowing her to begin to connect letters with the sounds they make.

    Alphabet Match

    Collect pictures from magazines, postcards or old books and use them to create cards for phonics practice with your toddler. Cut out and glue the pictures to index cards or pieces of card stock so that they are sturdy enough for multiple uses. Write the beginning consonant or consonant blend beneath the image on the card. Use simple images such a as Car, Train, House, Flower, Tree, Girl or Boy, so that you would write C, TR, H, FL, TR, G and B beneath the picture. If you prefer, begin with single consonants only and save the blends for later. Your toddler will recognize the picture and soon make the connection between the spoken sound and the written letter.

    Silly Words

    Allow your toddler to get silly with sound by encouraging her to make up words that all begin or end with the same sound. Start with a recognizable word such as Big or Dog and model for your toddler how to change the beginning or ending to create a new word. such as Pig, Dig or Wig for Big. For Dog, try changing the ending to Dot, Doc or Doll. In both cases, allow your toddler to add her own silly beginning or ending sound. Turn this activity into an opportunity to get moving by dancing to the beat of the words you both create. As your toddler matches and repeats the phonics, she’ll be paving the way to reading readiness.

    “I Spy”

    Practice phonics recognition with your toddler as you complete on your daily errands. In the car, point out trucks and trees, emphasizing the consonant blend that begins both as you pronounce them. Let your toddler point out an object and challenge you to find something that begins or ends with the same sound. Grocery shopping also works well for this activity. As you wait in line to check out, allow your toddler to point out all the items in your cart that begin with the same sound – Sugar, Salt and Soup or Cheese, Chips and Chocolate, for example. You’ll keep your toddler engaged and assist her in preparing for reading.

    About the Author

    For more than 15 years, Martha Mendenhall has been an educator both in and out of the classroom. She taught high school, worked with children of all ages on the plays of Shakespeare and tutors students in grades one through 12. Maendenhall authored "The Shakespeare Guru's Guide to Getting Shakespeare Alive," a guide for teachers and homeschool educators.

    Photo Credits

    • Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images