How to Teach Sight Words to Children
Do NOT Teach Sight Words to Your Child Before You Read This! (part 1)
We all love our children, and all parents in this world want the best for their children. As reading is necessarily the most important skill a child must master to succeed, many parents rightfully place a high emphasis on the endeavor of teaching their little ones to read. Some start by teaching the abc's, some start with simple read aloud sessions, while others start off by teaching sight words.
Unfortunately, there's a lot of conflicting information and misinformation - some are good, many useless, and some are downright detrimental to a child's learning to read progress. And...
You'll probably be surprised to hear that one of which is starting off by teaching sight words through the whole language method of learning!
If one can argue that whole language learning method has taught many to read, one can equally argue that this method has probably created more reading difficulties in children and adults than other phonics based approaches.
I will explain why in detail. So read on.
Why Should You Listen to Me?
Great question. With all the riff-raff on the web today, it's important to find out who's behind the writing! I have 4 kids, and I have taught all of my children to read well before they were 3 years old. I've also taught children of all ages to read. By reading, I mean REAL, PHONETIC reading - as in being able to read any word, sentence, story - regardless of whether the words are familiar to them or not, because they understand the mechanics behind reading, have developed superb word recognition skills, and can decode on the fly when encountering unfamiliar words.
That is the "STUFF" of super readers!
I've also taken my years of reading research and experience and distilled it down into a super simple and effective reading program. Through my work and reading program, I've helped thousands of parents to successfully teach their children to read.
How to Teach Kids Sight Words?
With the lists of sight words, most would start with the highest frequency words such as "the", "of", "to", and so on. A handful of words can be picked to be taught each week to ensure that the child learns them well and isn't overwhelmed with learning too many words. However, this method of word by word "memorization" is far from the ideal way of teaching reading.
In fact, we say that you do not even have to, and nor should you focus your attention on teaching your child to read through the teaching of sight words. Furthermore, in part 3 of this article, we'll explain exactly why it's actually a bad idea!
When we teach children to read, we follow a methodical approach which combines synthetic phonics along with phonemic awareness, and sight words are only taught as we encounter them. By sight words, we mean words that cannot be decoded.
What the Science Says...
That aside, you don't just have to take my word for it, but scientific research has proven time and again, that whole language is an inferior learning method that produces poor reading results, and that the combination of phonics and phonemic awareness are far superior.
Probably the most well know research report was the one published by the National Reading Panel (NRP) where they had stated clearly that teaching phonemic awareness improves reading in children far more than instruction types that pay no attention to phonemic awareness. I won't go into details about that here, as we have a much more detailed article about phonemic awareness here.
While there is scant information, research, and articles on the topic of teaching very young children to read, this is an area that I have extensive experience in - after all, I taught all of my children to read at age 2, and have helped thousands of parents around the globe to teach their small children to read. The methods which I teach are proven and tested. This is something that requires intimate involvement of the parents in the learning process - this is not something like the programs that claim to teach babies to read, where the children have simply MEMORIZED various words, but have not developed any real ability to decode or read.
In fact, starting off with sight words could actually have detrimental effects and lead to reading difficulties in some children! I'll explain why in a bit.
However, the crux of this article is not about my reading program, but about why you should NOT start teaching your child to read through the teaching of sight words. Continued...