Phonics Programs for Kindergartners: How to Choose the Best One!
Kindergarten is a foundational year for a child’s academic career and reading success. At Reading Teacher, we understand the importance of this year - and as educators ourselves, we also recognize how difficult it can be to find a reliable phonics curriculum for a kindergarten classroom.
In the age of Google, finding quality resources takes a bit of time, patience, and research savvy. Fortunately, we’re here to do some of the hefty work for you. With a quality program and the principles of phonics in mind, you’ll be ready to embark on a year of phonics-filled fun, learning, and literary growth with your kindergarteners.
What Phonics Should Be Taught In Kindergarten?
Whether you’re working in the classroom or creating a homeschool phonics program, kindergarten reading curricula should cover similar core topics. For kindergarten-age readers, a comprehensive phonics curriculum often addresses:
1. Letter-Sound Awareness
This refers to activities that improve kindergartners’ phonemic awareness, or their understanding of the connection between written letters and their corresponding sounds.
2. Short Vowel Patterns
After your reader masters those pesky letter sounds, they’re usually ready to move on to simple vowel patterns. A solid reading curriculum will help kindergartners learn the most common ways to spell short vowel sounds as well as CVC words, or “consonant-vowel-consonant” words. Think “cat,”, “hot,” and other common (and fun!) words sprinkled throughout your reader’s favorite book.
3. R-Controlled Vowels
Also called “r-influenced vowels,” these occur when the letter “r” follows a vowel and impacts the vowel sound - which also makes it “Bossy R”!
4. Blends and Digraphs
The ability to blend letters together complements kindergartners’ growing understanding of short vowels and digraphs. Digraphs are a bit trickier, as they combine two letters to represent one sound: for example, ph or ch.
5. Long Vowels
Move over, short vowels! For long vowels, educators sometimes start with CVCe words: ones with a silent e. This makes for easy comparisons to short vowels, before readers learn the three other ways to form long vowel sounds.
What Are the 5 Principles of Phonics?
You may have heard of them already: those 5 principles that *should* be in any phonics curriculum for kindergarten. Whenever we encounter a “should” in the phonics discussion, it’s important to remember every kindergartner’s approach to reading will differ slightly.
Now, for the five principles of a phonics-based curriculum:
1. Focus on written and spoken words!
In any kindergarten phonics program, a combination of phonemic awareness and phonics is key. For students to solidify their phonemic awareness, they must understand the relationship between sounds and letters (phonics), and be able to differentiate those sounds in speech (phonemic awareness).
2. Explicit, systematic teaching.
We say it all the time, but this is an essential characteristic of any science-based phonics program.
3. Practice reading and writing.
Writing is a fun, creative, and necessary component of learning how to read, even in kindergarten. Start early and encourage students to apply their phonics skills in writing activities.
4. Be flexible.
Again, all students are different. Ultimately, educators should feel empowered to adapt their curricula to suit the needs of their students.
5. Teach reading as a holistic subject.
Phonics is essential, but it’s not all about phonics! Kindergartners also need to develop their vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension skills.
Before selecting a phonics curriculum for kindergarten readers, ask yourself: is the program age-appropriate, and does it include activities that address these five principles? If the answer is “no” or “maybe,” it’s helpful to consider any scientific literature or research on the program.
A phonics program grounded in the science of reading will include explicit, systematic instruction. Ideally, it will also use silly, accessible stories like the I See Sam series, which will engage young readers, teach them phonics in bite-sized passages, and keep them reading far beyond kindergarten.
- When looking for a phonics curriculum for kindergartners, parents and educators should assess whether they include activities for the following skills:
- Letter-sound connections
- Short and long vowels
- R-controlled vowels
- Blends and digraphs
- Regardless of the curriculum, it’s important for kindergarten educators to keep these five principles in mind as they teach phonics:
- Kindergartners need to practice both reading and speaking new sounds.
- Explicit, systematic instruction is essential.
- Reading and writing are a pair!
- Flexibility is paramount.
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