How I Taught Beginning Phonics and Blending (Up to Age 5)

We started teaching phonics early (yes, you guessed it, beginning before they were one) because I found babies were easy to really teach anything to without reason behind anything. It means they’re great with just memory and not logic (at least yet). They develop reasoning later but if they had the basics all memorized, then the reasoning came twice as fast for them.
IF you have a baby, start soon!
If you have a toddler, start now!
If you have a kindergartner, again, start now.
The sooner the better!

Steps I Took:

Step 1: We started with just letter sounds and short vowel sounds. With teaching English blending (as well as Chinese) you first need to know the sounds of each letter first. This doesn’t mean the letter “name” but purely the sound it makes. A is “ah”, B is “buh.” Now it may sound crazy but our alphabet songs went “Ah” “Buh” “Cuh” “Duh” “Eh” “Fuh” “Guh”….

I wasn’t fixated on the order of the alphabet either as I assumed they would just learn it in school.
Step 2: We then went to three letter words such as cat, bat, mat, fat, bop, mop, cop, hop, etc. I usually picked words that they know the meanings already or else it could get quite boring. There are a few manipulatives to do this in a more fun manner. One of them is this nuts and bolts like toy from Learning Resources Word Construction:

Many other methods work as well. It’s easy to use these turning nuts and bolts for smaller kids as they like to work things with their hands. However, it could be as simple as writing it down on a white board, a piece of paper, etc.

What about for children who already speak and can listen to stories? Take books that are easy readers and start reading with them these cuter books and point out the phonetic sounds of these letters as you read. Some good books that we used are:

Step 3: To gain more thoroughness (because I always like to make sure I’ve covered all grounds in terms of variations of sounds and blends, etc.) you may want to buy a few sets of games or flashcards that covers all the rules already to make sure you’re covering all word families and blends. My favorite of course is … you guessed it… a set of flash cards by Trend Enterprises with all the word families. It gives me a base to cover for my curriculum so I don’t need to think about what I’ve covered or what I haven’t:

Trend Enterprise Word Families Flashcards:

trend word families

I like these flashcards because they give the word family in the front, pronunciation to the left top for adults if they have issues themselves, lol. A bunch of examples in the back so you can practice your blends too.

For games that are great at splitting blends and families, there’s a game called pop from Learning Resources:

pop for blends

Pop sight 1

Pop sight 2

You should combine the above games and flashcards with daily reading where they can circle out or point out what they learned in the flash cards and to where it shows up in the books! Again, there are a bunch of easy readers out there a few series are my favorites:

  • I Can Read (My First) – These are readers with a bunch of different types of characters and stories your children may be interested in. The beauty is that you can find these at your local bookstore, Amazon, Costco, etc. and you can pick the topics that you like! They are only one short sentence a page, and a perfect next step for those that have finished the bob beginning readers or the readers listed above. There are many other forms of readers like Step Into Reading or Hello Reader, etc. They’re all okay. I think it’s about finding a subject you like that they cover. We even had some National Geographic starting readers. We have at least 200+ readers at home with different subjects and topics….
  • Usborne My First Reading Library – I only have great stuff to say about Usborne. Their stories really captivate the early reader and the illustrations are to die for. They start off the series with pages where the parents read and then the child reads a few words on the right and slowly builds up where the child is reading full sentences on her/his own. It’s really nicely thought out. I’ll show this on the video. I like Usborne so much, I joined as a consultant just to get a discount on my books! LOL! There are 4 reading library series that ranges from Lexile 100- 700 I think?
  • Our awesome group members in our Motherly Notes Facebook Group has suggested the book Reading in 20 Easy Lessons. It’s a total guide to combining everything above if you want a full curriculum. Thanks Jenny Y and Meijie CG for recommending these!
  • Picture books!!!!!!!!!!! We have hundreds of picture books in English at home as well, LOL!

There’s no trick in any language. Get your foundation straight and then excel by reading a bunch of everything whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. All topics should be covered and all types of books ranging from magazines, story books, picture books, chapter books, science books, lift the flap books, etc. The more they read, they more they know and fluency just goes up exponentially year after year.


Sure, it’s easy to list out stuff you need to do. Most of you really question how I actually got my kids to do all this. What if they can’t sit still? What if they don’t want to? What if they fight back? What if they’re not interested?

Observe and listen to what your kids are interested in and incorporate it. This doesn’t mean stopping to teach! It means incorporating it with what they like. Observe to see when in the day they learn the best. For some that’s in the morning right after a meal, at night before bedtime, after lunch, or right after a nap. Then observe what topics they like. Cars? Dolls? Animals? Start with those words or words related to those first.


Brainwash them. HA! Ok, so the younger they are, the easier this is. You can brainwash your child into training their brain to just memorize things! I’ve mentioned this in my other posts before. But I’ll kind of go into it a little bit more here. You know how some commercials just stick in your brain? Like when you were young, you can probably listen to a beginning of a commercial and you know what’s coming? Better yet, you realize you can read ALL THE BRAND NAMES or all the words to your favorite toy that was ON the commercial? Why? It’s a form of brainwashing. They have brainwashed you into memorizing things that you didn’t even agree to. You learned how to read their brands and even memorized what color the letters are in without even knowing it. Did you study it for hours? No. Commercials flashed their logos around maybe for a few split seconds on tv 2-3 times a commercial and there’s a commercial every 10 minutes and if you were a good kid and only watched a show a day, it means you were flashed about 9 times that brand/logo for a total of 3 commercials with the same company. The next day you watch another show but the same commercial comes on the same number of times.

What does this mean? It means:

  • You probably don’t need to sit your toddler down for a “lesson” that’s formal and rigid and boring and serious. If you do, then yes, most toddlers will associate reading with something really tedious and slow and not a great time with you.
  • You can use the minimal amount of effort to achieve the fastest results. Flash them throughout the day or ask them throughout the day for a few seconds at a time what something sounds like instead of doing it in one sitting. The younger the child, the shorter the lesson. For lesson times, I use the same rule of thumb as time out. One minute for one year old, two minutes for two year old, three minutes for three year old and so forth until maybe age five where you can increase the times of each topic. Each lesson or the combination of all lessons in a day for that topic, shouldn’t have to exceed that amount. It also depends on your children! If you’ve been training them since they were born, their attention spans for lessons from you may be way beyond what I’ve listed above.

I Have A Child Who Doesn’t Want to Move Forward

There’s the question of what if my child only wants to stick with books that he or she knows the words to but doesn’t necessarily know how to read or blend words?

Yay! That’s very normal! At this point you should pat yourself on the back that you’ve read something so many times they already can memorize that book and pretend read! You’ve already cleared the hardest part of the journey which is letting them have a love for books and better yet, finding their favorite books. What should you do to translate that into reading?

  • Follow the same steps above EXCEPT take the words out of his or her favorite books.
  • Do your letter sounds first from cards or writing or whatever material you choose. When he’s reading, point out a few like, “Look! C is in CAR!”~
  • When teaching the subjects above, only find the relevant blends and families that relate to words in their favorite book. If it’s a sight word, then draw out those sight words and put them on a card, write them on a board, single them out so the child can see it in different places, different fonts. Then when he reads his favorite book, point to it and say, “Look! We had this on the card! It’s the same word! How funny! Do you remember what that word is from the card? It’s SHE!”~
  • With word families, write those out or use the cards that you’ve purchased that has the same blends. For example, if it’s a car book, start with -ar and change the first letter sounds to show car, jar, far, etc. Then like above point those out in the book. Slowly… you’ll be mastering the book with the words that you’ve taught.

Ideas on How to Utilize Their Favorite Books

Ok, so you know their favorite book and you’ve done some of the brainwashing and some of the steps that are listed above. How do you extract maximum juice from their favorite book?

  1. Word Extraction – take out the words you want them to know and put it on small flash cards. Lay those out next to the book. Pick a page and ask which flash cards appear on that page in the book and tell them to put them on the page. If the page has, “The car went zoom.” You should have those four words somewhere next to the book on little cards and have them pick those out from the pile and place them on the page and have them read aloud as they are doing this.
  2. Sentence Extraction – write or type out the sentences from the book and have them arrange it in order on a page or if each page only has one sentence, match it to the page. Which page does this sentence go? For smaller kids, every time they get it right, you could do a funny dance to reward them or if your child needs it, one M&M or jelly bean or whatever they want. Some kids just like to see parents do a dance or have a feeling of fulfillment and that may be fine but many other kids may want a small reward like they’ve won a game and that is what they won, a piece of tiny candy.

OMG! That’s so much work from ONE book!

Yup, who said parenting was easy and who said teaching reading was easy??? Here’s the good news though. After you’re done with one book, they’ll be able to find words on their second, third, and fourth book even faster. Once you make it a habit for them to sound out words, the rest is history. They will feel empowered to read the menu, the road signs, the street signs when they are out. They even tell me where the entrance and exits are when we’re out or how many miles away we are from a destination. They will grow more curious each day with everything that they see. The bad news is that they may control what you order or now have the magic KEY to what desserts are available at a restaurant as now they will and can order on their own even at a young age.

Beyond Your First Few Books

The next steps are to read, read, and read some more. More picture books, more readers. Some picture books are harder, some are easier. Pick the ones fit for them to read on their own and then pick ones where you read to them and point to the words. Then utilize what I call Cooperative Reading which I have explained in my article on Chinese Journey: My Journey in Teaching My Children Chinese (Teaching Children Chinese From Age 0-5).

Cooperative reading is basically you read the book and stop at words that they know and have them read those words.

  • Beginning stages: you stop on those easy words they already know or you want to try to have them sound out and they sound those out. You’re reading 90% of the text and they’re reading 10%. Be sure not to over tire them out and maybe pick out 10 words a book only.
  • Intermediate stages: you’re reading 70%, they’re reading 30%. You can start with them reading a phrase or a sentence all on their own. Then you read a sentence and then swap.
  • Final stages: you’re reading 50%, they’re reading 50%. This is when you can read a page, they can read a page, and so forth. It shows they can actually read independently! Yay! You’re there really just as company and it’s beneficial for them to hear your read aloud anyway. It builds more stamina in them over time to read together like this. Makes it not painful.

You’ll find after a year of the above, your child will finally be able to finish books on their own and maybe have moved on to short chapter books.

What are we doing now?

  • My little one who turned four in March has ventured into shorter easier chapter books like Frog and Toad series, the Usborne Pink readers and anything in I Can Read for Level 2 and 3.
  • My older one who turned six in May is reading Roald Dahl shorter series books, Usborne Blue and Purple readers and Magic Treehouse Merlin and anything that’s in the Lexile 550-650 level. She still loves picture books and all the lower Lexile material too and I let her switch around because let’s face the fact that their brains should not always be at 100% capacity or you’ll just get over exhausted.
  • Our schedule is quite simple. We have a non-negotiable thirty minutes of English reading at least four times a week and sometimes everyday for some weeks depending on how they feel or what they have time for. This year, we’ll bring that to 20-30 minutes a day (per school homework requirements).
  • I implement the same philosophy as I have taught Chinese. They read silently at their level for 30 minutes (or however long for that topic we set) and then a couple times a week I whip out a book beyond their level where I read aloud to them so they can guess from context words they do not know to boost comprehension. They don’t love listening to CDs so we resort to “mom” being that CD player.
  • We practice spelling by having them write me letters and writing journals.
  • We practice writing by having them make up stories and writing them out.
  • You are also practicing writing and spelling by not writing and spelling. What? You can chat. Chat about what they feel, what they think, tell them to tell you a story by just talking. You can have them make decisions and be creative during the day. This all leads to writing better. You can have them spell aloud when they are talking about a word. Incorporate it in your daily lives instead of a strict lesson. This will save time and effort in the long run.

The Idea of Non-Negotiable

I know, sounds so awful. When I say something is non-negotiable, all the parents of today’s world start putting up red flags. Here’s what I think. This word has many meanings and if you put a bad tone to it, yes, it will suck for you and your child. I want to say first though that many things in life and keys to success are non-negotiable. For example, you don’t negotiate what hours you work on a typical job. You don’t just tell your boss that hey, I want to show up at noon and work til 9pm because that’s what my schedule needs. You don’t tell your boss what projects you absolutely do not want to do if he really wants you to do something. You don’t tell the professors in college to switch their class times to coincide with your clubbing nightlife. So, yes, many things in life are non-negotiable and we all have to live with it. Things non-negotiable for my kids are taken very seriously because sometimes it deals with their health or safety. For example, you don’t run in a parking lot, you hold hands when walking across the street, you don’t stick a knife in your mouth, you don’t touch fire, etc. When it’s life altering, I’m sure most parents make it non-negotiable, right? So why does it have to be different for learning?

Non-negotiable doesn’t mean you have to be a big mean person and throw them at a table and say READ! It means hey, let’s set some priorities in a day and have our “reading time” and it’s a “happy time” for you and I to spend together to learn something. It’s a time that mommy or daddy gets to spend with you and ONLY you and we’ll have some fun reading stuff that you LIKE! The whole “non-negotiable” becomes a daily pattern, a daily habit and something they know for sure is coming and when children know a certain schedule, they learn to just accept it and do it (just like they change classes at school when they hear a bell). We as humans are conditioned to react to these habits and cues given to us.

Whatever method you use, as long as it fits your child and you and your lifestyle, it’ll be fine. The whole point is:

  • just start
  • work a little each day
  • make it a habit
  • improvement comes from doing only bits a day

Enjoy your time and don’t make it painful! Cheers!

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