Preschoolers should spend most of their time playing, developing their speaking, listening, motor and social skills, imaginations and so on. The most important thing adults can do to help them get literacy-ready is to follow their lead in play, read and tell them lots of stories, and have lots of reciprocal, relaxed conversations. More tips on developing early language from the Hanen Program can be found here.

However, many preschoolers are already pestering adults to teach them to read and write. They firstly need to know that spoken words are made of speech sounds, which we write with letters and letter combinations. My free, download-and-print First Phonics Picture Book might be helpful when talking to them about this. Click here for a blog post explaining this book.

Children need to learn to hold a pencil correctly and control it in order to write, and thick pencils/crayons/textas are easier to manage than thin ones. Crayon rocks are great for kids who struggle to hold a pencil. There are free fact sheets about pencil grip and handwriting on the Royal Children’s Hospital website.

Help preschoolers develop their awareness of sounds in words by teaching them to blend spoken sounds into words e.g. “u-p = up”, “d-a-d = dad”, “sh-o-p = shop”. Play “I Spy” with sounds, like this:

If you like, you can use my free workbook for beginners to help them break words up into sounds and represent them with letters. Say each word slowly, ask the child to think about which sound is missing from it, and help them locate the relevant letter at the top of the page and copy it into the word. Once they can identify sounds at word beginnings, middles and ends, and represent them with letters, kids can start writing little words themselves.

There are free, online Udemy courses from UK-based phonics program Sounds-Write called “Help your child to read and write” for parents of 4-6 year olds. These help make the task of helping kids hear the sounds in words and represent them with letters straightforward and logical.

Many preschoolers are using alphabet/literacy apps on phones and tablet computers, but many such apps are frankly rubbish. In 2020, I wrote a review of what I consider the best ones here, and have updated it since. There are phonemic awareness and phonics activities and resources online too, many of them free, like the US Reading League’s Reading Buddies TV show, Reading Bear, ICT games, and the Flyleaf Online Portal.

It’s vital little kids practise their sounding-out skills using simple text mainly composed of words with the sound-letter relationships they have been taught, and not too many words with harder spellings. Hard words can undermine their confidence and encourage word-guessing (what weak readers do) not decoding (what strong readers do). Phonics practice texts are known as decodable books, and there is a huge list of them here. If that’s overwhelming, just go to your local library or bookshop and ask them for their simplest decodable books for beginning readers. If they don’t have any, ask them to get some!

5 responses to “01. Preschool”

  1. Linda Truss says:

    I enjoy your site and recommend it to fellow homeschoolers. I just wanted to let you know about three other phonics resources that are popular with Australian homeschoolers – I used two of the phonics programmes extensively during my homeschooling and tutoring years.
    The names of the phonics programmes are –
    LEM phonics (Light Educational Ministries) developed in Australia also suitable for ESL students
    ACE phonics – Accelerated Christian Education (American but used by many Australian homeschoolers and in some Australian Christian schools (programme is great for kids who are struggling to learn to read)
    Abeka Phonics programme for Christian schools (distributed in Australia by LEM).

    Here are the links to the various programmes

    Your readers might also like to know that there are several homeschool facebook pages in Australia where homeschoolers often sell or give away their phonics programmes . You might also want to promote your spelfabet resources on the above mentioned homeschooling facebook pages. All the best, Lindy

    • alison says:

      Thanks for the lovely feedback, Lindy, and for recommending my site to others, I really appreciate it. I already have LEM Phonics on my lists of phonics resources in a couple of places, and I purchased a few of their resources but then didn’t use them as I found some errors in them (perhaps these have now been fixed, I should find them again and email the company to point them out). I didn’t know about the other two sites but I haven’t made a big effort to include all the programs written for American English on this website because I wouldn’t buy any of them for use in Australia, the accent is too different and most materials require too much modification to be useful here. The Reading League is doing a great job of promoting things that are relevant to their accent in the US, so I’m keeping my focus on my own accent, as it’s very easy for Aussies to spend a lot of money on things that aren’t really suitable if they aren’t aware of how different vowels are in different accents. Hope you’ve had a wonderful Christmas and are looking forward to a great 2019. All the very best, Alison.

  2. Jenny says:

    Hi Alison,

    Thank you for the wealth of information and resources you provide.

    I am currently looking at preschool and schooling options for my daughter, and one school that I am interested in uses Letterland in their preschool years (I’m not sure yet whether/how much it is used for school age students). I noticed that you haven’t referenced this program in the articles that I have read, and I’m wondering what the pros/cons would be if I sent my child to this early learning centre and school?


    • alison says:

      Hi Jenny, I am by no means an expert on it, but I think Letterland is Ok for preschoolers, they use a type of embedded picture mnemonic which certainly has good evidence of effectiveness, but my understanding is that it’s more of an initial “sounds-of-letters” approach, whereas synthetic phonics works from sounds to letters, and right through the word, not focussed on word beginnings. Can you ask them if they also use Fix-It phonics as that looks more like a systematic, explicit approach that works in tandem with Letterland? Hope that helps, Alison

  3. Linda says:

    HealthWISE has an online training program for Early Childhood Educators called Sounds good to me that is available on subscription for ECE and parents:

    It has been based on research and has Aussie specific resources. It uses the Gillon assessment as a per/post test to show efficacy.
    (Disclosure – I was a co-author of the program in its early iterations – much improved and expanded since then).

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