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#5-Teach Your Child Long Vowels, Digraphs, and Other Vowels for Reading Success

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Teaching children letter names and sounds (one sound for each letter) is pretty straight forward, but teaching children all of the quirky rules of the English language (which is phonemic awareness…knowing ALL of the sounds the letters can make) can be a bit more challenging. By introducing children to these rules at a young age through quality literature, they will be able to learn new words easily and reading will come naturally. I promise.

All of my children have learned how to read at a young age, and I believe one of the key factors was my background (a bachelor’s degree in English, a teaching certificate and 7 years teaching 3rd and 4th grade, plus a master’s degree with an emphasis on language acquisition) that allowed me to passively interject what I knew about language while reading quality literature.

Now, as I reflect back on what I taught them, I have created these resources that will teach children (and parents right alongside them) ALL of the sounds the letters make, and it will make learning how to read a breeze.

Phonemic Awareness

The ability to hear, identify, and manipulate all of the sounds the letters make is known as phonemic awareness. Each individual sound is called a phoneme, and we have 44 phonemes in the English language.

Studies show that,

“The two best predictors of early reading success are alphabet recognition and phonemic awareness.”

When first teaching children the ABCs, I highly recommend associating only one sound to each letter, but once children have mastered that, it’s time to introduce them to ALL of the sounds the letters make.

This Isn’t Spelling

Before children learn how to SPELL the letter arrangements that make these sounds, they need to HEAR and IDENTIFY them. Children are exposed to these sounds through oral language, but by having these spelling patterns pointed out at a young age while reading quality literature, it will make learning how to read all of the tricky words in our english language SO much easier.

There is a misconception that children need to wait until they are a certain age before being taught about the complexities of the English language, but the reality is that their brains are yearning for this information at a much younger age like when their brains are peaking at the age of 2-3 years.

The Remaining Sounds

These are the remaining sounds in the English language.

  • Long Vowels – In addition to teaching children about the long vowel sounds, I also want them to be introduced to common spelling patterns.
  • Long and Short oo – The oo in moon is long, and the oo in  book is short.
  • R Controlled Vowels – When a vowel is followed by an r, it makes a different sound.
  • Diphthongs – These gliding vowels start with the sound of the first letter and glide to the next.
  • Digraphs – Digraphs are two letters that come together to form one single sound.

Age to Start

Wait until your child has mastered the letter names and sounds from my ABC resources and has become familiar with my words and vocabulary resources before introducing these phonemic awareness resources. I would recommend starting these resources when your child is between 18 to 24 months.

How to Teach

It’s really best to start gradually. With my children, once I saw that they had a solid understanding of the short vowels, I started to sneak in some long vowels too. So, for example, when we were reading through my ABC flashcards and we would say that “a is for apple”, I would also add “and a is for apron and ape too”.

I love resources like this Leapfrog Fridge Phonics Letter Magnets and this Preschool Prep Letter Sounds dvd because they teach children all of the sounds that each letter makes at once. While this is too overwhelming for your 6 month old baby who is just starting to become familiar with the alphabet, it’s great for your toddler who is ready to master a deeper level of understanding about ALL of the sounds that letters can make. Preschool Prep also makes a really engaging Meet the Digraphs dvd that is a GREAT way to introduce your child to digraphs.

Teaching the remaining letter sounds can seem overwhelming, but if like the rest of my resources, you start young and do a little bit at a time, your child will master the remaining letter sounds and have a great foundation for learning how to read. I do not have any books or videos with these resources, just flashcards and posters. I recommend introducing one set of flashcards at a time and putting up the posters where your little one can see and touch them, but most importantly, get to know these flashcards YOURSELF so that you can point them out while reading quality literature together.

It’s very important to have regular reading time when your child is at this stage. Reading should be fun, not a “set your timer” sort of chore. I find that by having a reading ready environment with tons of books in baskets easily accessible in every room, it makes reading easy to do. I love cuddling up with my little ones, getting some snacks, covering up with a favorite blanket, and getting really animated while we read our favorite books. This is the perfect time to start pointing out long vowels, the long and short oo, r-controlled vowels, diphthongs, and digraphs.

Reading with Elliot

Reading with Elliot

My Resources

I have hand drawn and digitized each of these resources to specifically fit the needs of my own children. Someday, I would like to create a “Teach Your Child to Read Kit” that will bundle everything together in one package, but for now, I want to get this information and these resources out there. Please feel free to print as many copies as you would like for your own personal use.

Long Vowels Flashcards

Long vowels are tricky because in our English language there are soooooooo many ways to spell them. Teaching children the common ways to make these long vowels will help them immensely as they start to read. When you start using these flashcards, focus first on the the picture and the word. Once your child is familiar with the picture and word, then you can start talking about the rule that makes the vowel long. If your child is ready for a challenge, start talking about other words that fit that rule. It’s all about layers, and teaching a little bit at a time over a long period of time.

Long Vowels Flashcards First Page

Long Vowels Flashcards First Page

Get a PDF of the flashcards here: Long Vowels Flashcards PDF

Other Vowels Flashcards

These other vowel sounds are tricky because they don’t really fit into the short or long vowel categories. First, there’s the long and short oo, followed by r-controlled vowels, and finally diphthongs. These vowels sounds aren’t something that most adults know how to properly name, so you may be learning alongside your child, and that’s okay!

Other Vowels Flashcards First Page

Other Vowels Flashcards First Page

Get a PDF of the flashcards here: Other Vowels PDF

Digraphs Flashcards

Digraphs are tricky because they are two letters that come together to form one single sound. When children don’t know about digraphs, it can make sounding out words like phone and them very difficult. As with the other vowels, you may not be familiar with all of the digraphs, and so once again, it’s totally fine to learn alongside your child!

Digraphs Flashcards First Page

Digraphs Flashcards First Page

Get a PDF of the flashcards here: Digraphs Flashcards PDF

In Conclusion

By learning about ALL of the sounds in the English language, children will have the code to unlock reading, and they don’t need to wait until they’re school aged and do piles of worksheets to do so. By using these flashcards and posters, both you and your child will learn how to name and identify the common spelling patterns with long vowels, the long and short oo, r-controlled vowels, diphthongs, and digraphs. When children are familiar with these sounds and how they are presented in text, it is best to reinforce this understanding by pointing them out while reading quality literature. So make reading fun, fill your house with quality literature with easily accessible books, and read often. (See blog 7 in this series, Encouraging Children to Read Independently for suggestions on quality literature.)

Check out all of the blogs in my reading series:

  1. How to Introduce Your Baby to Reading
  2. Learning the Alphabet Lays the Foundation for Reading
  3. Memorizing Words is What Good Readers Do
  4. Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes
  5. Phonemic Awareness Leads to Reading Success
  6. Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Words
  7. Encouraging Children to Read Independently
  8. Reinforcing Reading with Writing