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What is phonics: Understanding that letters make sounds which make words

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Phonics is the learning of the sounds each letter makes. Continued practice with sounds needs to occur for years before a child is ready to read letters and words on a page. This process need not be rushed! Your child will get there as they are able.


Charlotte Mason and Waldorf educational philosophies recommend not formally teaching reading until age six. The child can, however, work to develop their phonological awareness and phonemic awareness through oral work, reading together, repeating phrases, and simply going over these questions when you’re able. Moveable alphabet pieces and plenty of books will make this a peaceful and gentle process!

Phonological awareness work extends itself into phonics, that is, to understand that letters make sounds and those letters create words. Words are made up of various sound units and the understanding of these sounds, or phonemes, is phonological awareness.  When connecting sounds to letters, then it is incorporated into phonics learning. This teaches that letters make sounds in words.  All of the important skills listed before phonics all assist the learning to be able to grasp the letter-to-sound connection and become more confident in their abilities, so learning to read can be an enjoyable and satisfying experience.


Phonics is simply teaching the sounds that each letter makes.  When teaching letter sounds, keep your sounds short and crisp. Try not to add an “uh” sound to the end of the phoneme to prevent confusion when your reader will be ready to sound out words.

D is /d/ and not “duh”

B is /b/ and not “buh”

T is /t/ and not “tuh”


While teaching letter sounds as a starting point towards reading, Montessori teaches the phonetic sounds of the letters, rather than the letter names. The belief is that the letter names will come naturally.

“s” is no longer “esss” but “/sss/”

“w” is no longer “dubl-u” but “/www/”


This can include the combined letter sounds of /ck/ or /ss/ together, as well as the multiple sounds that a certain letter blend (or digraph) can make, such as /oo/ or /ou/.

Another fun way to teach phonics is through moveable letters (blocks or wooden letters), small objects correlating to each letter, and more! Phonics is the learning of the sounds each letter makes. Continued practice with sounds needs to occur for years before a child is ready to read letters and words on a page. This process need not be rushed!

We have many ideas to help equip you with this fun time! Check out the following posts!Montessori Three Period Lesson: Learning Letter Sounds Matching Montessori Letters Montessori Alphabet BoxPreschool Alphabet Book More Easy Alphabet Recognition Ideas


Phonics is associating sounds with letters and blending those sounds into words. Children who develop strong phonics skills will have a solid foundation for deciphering words and reading.  Extensive work with phonics, alongside sight word practice, will help your child find success in reading for a lifetime!

You can see our extensive summary of Charlotte Mason Reading Lessons in our series here. 

what is phonics when to begin reading lessons

This post is Post 9 of 10 in our Learning Language Series. See all of the posts, with Teaching Tools packed into each post, here:

  1. What is phonological awareness?
  2. Why is rhyming an important language skill? {free nursery rhyme printable}
  3. What is phonemic awareness?
  4. How can I help my child develop phonemic awareness?
  5. How can I teach onsets and rimes?
  6. What is the importance of counting syllables in words?
  7. How can I help my child create sentences and count words in sentences?
  8. How to create a solid vocabulary from infancy?
  9. What is phonics and how do we begin reading?
  10. How can I help my child grow in language learning before reading?

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