The more you engage with your child, the more language she will learn. When you sing songs and chants, especially nursery rhymes, you are training her ear to hear differences and similarities in language. When you exaggerate the “buh” of bat and compare it to the “puh” of pat, you are teaching phonics in an organic way. Of course, you can also name the letter. Point out to your child she needs to p-p-p-pat the cat. That’s the letter P! You can even make a joke. You can say, “Don’t b-b-b-bat the cat with a B! Cats like p-p-p-pats with a P!”
Phonics is simply teaching the sound or sounds associated with a letter, combination of letters (like “sh”) or syllables.
Start with words that are the most meaningful to your child: his own name, Mom, Dad, the names of his siblings and pets. If he has a dolly or stuffy he is attached to, teach that. If he has a name like Thomas, teach “Th” as a unit and point out that sometimes it says “t” but mostly it says “th” as in Thank You.
Encourage your child to write. First this will be scribble. Just ask him what he has written. If he has written something about someone in the family, you can say, “Let’s write Mary’s name again.” Ask, “What sound do you hear in Mary?” He will probably pick out the “m.” Write a capital M. Then ask, “What other sounds do you hear?” He will probably identify the “r” or maybe the “e” sound from the Y. Leave the spaces for whatever sound he doesn’t hear and write down the sounds he does here. Then just tell him, “Mary also has an “a” here and and a “y” at the end.
As he gets more sophisticated he will begin to write words with the main sound. It might look like this: I lv mi dg rky. You will see he has written I love my dog Rocky. Pick out just one word (probably Rocky) to write out fully for him. Identify the “ck” combination as one of the ways we write the “kuh” sound.
In addition to talking and singing lots, read lots. Lots. If you have a wiggler who can’t sit still, ask her to sit with you for the first story or the first few pages or the first chapter but then let her engage her hands with a puzzle or blocks or drawing. Even as she plays, you can stop your reading from time to time to highlight words or letters. Say things like, “The boy in this story is named Robby! Look. Robby starts with R and ends with y just like Rocky does. Can you tell me what the sound in the middle of Robbby is?”
The trick is to incorporate awareness of sounds and letters as you go throughout the day with your child, NOT to think, Oh, we have to drill phonics for 10 minutes a day! Leave the formal lessons to the teachers. You can do the fun lessons at home. As you are making cookies, ask your child to get you the flour container. He will probably be able to pick out the jar marked flour as compared to the jar marked sugar. (Don’t ask him for the jar marked sugar to begin with since the spelling of the “sh” sound as an “s” is not very common and is confusing. Of course, if he asks, just point out, “Mostly the letter S makes the “s” sound, but sometimes it makes the “sh” sound. Pretty sneaky, uh?”). If you print out the ingredients list in big print, he can help you read the ingredients. Adding pictures will help. In this way, he will see the purpose of reading in action. Reading = cookies!
When you go outside, help him write letters and words in the dirt, in the sand, formed out with pebbles or sticks. In the bath, write letters with soap bubbles on the tiles. Finger paint is another awesome place for kids to practice letters.
Above all, don’t get carried away with teaching. As soon as it is no longer fun, you are being counter productive. Children naturally want to communicate. They see that letters and words are communicating all kinds of important information to adults all the time, and they want to be a part of that—if they are not pressured unduly.