Thursday, November 3, 2011

Phonics vs Sight Words

I feel very strongly that too many kindergarten and first grade classrooms focus too much on Sight Words and not enough on Phonics.  My nephew's school does sight words.  We chose to do Distar with Primus.  (Distar is very heavy phonics-based.)  Primus, as a kindergartner, is reading better than my nephew, as a first grader. 

Now, of course this could be because Primus is a girl, or that she is naturally talented at reading, or any other number of reasons.  But for the sake of this argument, I am going to assume it is because of this Sight Words vs Phonics issue.

I was looking at nephew's sight word list and one word that jumped out at me was, "like."  Seriously?  This is a sight-word?  How about instead of teaching him to memorize this word, you teach him the "silent-e" rule?  So then that way he can apply that rule to many, many different words he will encounter?  "Like" is definitely a word a child should be able to sound-out

Or how about this word, "it."  Really??  How hard is it to teach a kid what "i" says and then teach them what "t" says?  And then with that knowledge they can sound-out "it" or "tip" or "tin," etc.  Why do they need to emphasize memorizing this little word, "it?"

Am I way off base?  Do I need to observe one of these classrooms in action?  Admittedly, I have only ever had personal experience with Distar.  Am I missing something?  Also, I do admit that the American-English language is kind of ridiculous and that there are plenty of words that don't follow any of the phonics rules.

Anyway, now that Primus has finished her 100 lessons in Distar, I am kind of at a loss of what to do.  One of the things our ES (the teacher at the charter school that checks up on us) suggested is now working on high-frequency words (sight words).  So, given that Primus has a really good background in phonics, I've decided to give it a go.  I've downloaded all the Dolch lists.  It will be fun to see how fast she can zoom through and pass off words that she already knows how to read.

I also found this good website that has printable record sheets and games for using with Dolch.  The games sound really fun.  So maybe we'll get a chance to play some of them.  I'll let you know how it goes!


  1. I really think it's important to have a good phonics background when learning to read. Mikey's classroom does both sight-words and phonics (not that HE needs it for reading). Mikey was learning phonics when he was three so he was already well ahead of his class. Part of the sight-word program in his classroom is not only being able to read them "fast as a snap" but to be able to write them as well. I think the reasoning behind so many classrooms teaching sight-words instead of phonics is they just don't have the resources to put that much effort in. I also think too many parents rely on the school alone to teach their kids. I'm grateful that my husband has always worked hard and supported me as a stay at home mom so that I've been able to see that my kids are learning and I can always be a part of it, even if I don't home school exclusively, my children will still be home schooled.

  2. When I was getting my degree in education, I took several literacy classes. It was emphasized over and over and over that Phonics and 'whole language' (memorizing words) need to go hand in hand in order to create a successful literacy program. Many programs incorporate the 'First 100 Key Words', some of the most common words found in reading material. The more familiar children are with these words, the more successful they will be at understanding what they read because it increases their fluency. I agree with you, many of these word can be sounded out. If a program is successfully integrating phonics and whole language, these sight word will help children recognize language patterns and rules. However, don't forget, the main purpose of reading is (and thus the main focus should be) comprehension. It is worthless if a child reads beautifully and understands nothing.

    Remember that all children learn and develop at different rates. As you continue homeschooling you will probably find that all three of your children learn very differently. Comparing children and their learning experiences is really like comparing apples and oranges.

    I enjoy reading your posts. I'm glad that you question different learning methods and are willing to research what is best for your children.