Homeschool Reading 101: 13+ Phonics Rules for Reading and Spelling
Rules, rules, rules… something that can bore kids very easily. But rules are not always as tedious as they sound. When it comes to reading, there are many phonics rules that you can teach in their homeschool reading.
By teaching phonics rules as part of homeschool reading sessions, you help your child learn different word sounds and what letters represent those sounds.
Phonics rules also teach spelling rules, spelling patterns, and syllables. A child who is proficient in syllable patterns is more likely to become better spellers and readers.
Here are 13+ phonics rules you can teach your child in his homeschool reading sessions.
Table of Contents
13+ Phonics Rules for Reading and Spelling
The vowels are A, E, I, O, and U. Y and W can be both a vowel and consonant.
Every word must have a vowel. The letter Y is a consonant if you use it at the beginning of a word. Letter W, on the other hand, is usually a consonant. It is a vowel only when you use it with an a, e, or o to spell a single sound (i.e., low, few, and draw).
Consonants are all non-vowel sounds which limit or stop the flow of air from the throat in speech. They are:
b, c, d, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, x, y, z, ch, sh, th, wh, ph, gh, and ng
[Related: Top 20 Best Alphabet Apps For Children]
Short and long vowels
Another phonics rule to teach your child in his homeschool reading is that vowels can be short or long. Vowels can make different sounds, depending on where they are placed in a word.
A vowel followed by a consonant is short. Compare these: hi vs. hit, be vs. bed, and go vs. got.
When there is only one vowel in a syllable with at least one consonant next to it, the vowel makes a short sound. E.g., mas-cot, cat, and hot-dog.
We call this pattern “closed syllable” because the consonant “closes” the vowel sound, making it short.
Every syllable of every word must contain vowels
Because English is a vocal language, there must be at least one vowel sound in every syllable of every word. Note here, a vowel can stand alone in a syllable—for example, a-ni-mal, u-nit, and el-e-phant.
Consonants can also surround a vowel—for example, nap-kin, hat, and dan-cing.
On the other hand, a vowel makes a long sound if it is at the end of a syllable and is the only vowel. E.g., ban-jo, Af-ri-ca, po-ta-to, u-nique, la-ter, and my.
The letter C, when followed by e, i, or y, usually sounds soft “s”
Introduce this phonics rule to your child in his homeschool reading. Here are a few examples: celery, celebrity, cement, central, cyst, cinema, citrus, city, and cycle.
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Improve homeschool reading with silent e
When a word ends with letter e, and there is only one vowel in that syllable, the vowel in front of it is long, and the letter e is silent. Notice the following examples (note: the vowel in bold and underlined is long).
Lake, Make, Rope, Sale, In-side
We call this syllable pattern, “vowel-consonant-e.” Many teachers introduce this pattern as silent e rule.
When followed by e, i, or y, the letter G usually sounds soft “j”
Check out these few examples: gem, gender, genius, gel, gentle, gypsy, giraffe, ginger, giant, and gin.
Consonant digraphs and blends
A digraph is a combination of two consonant letters that form one single sound. Sometimes, the combination makes one letter sound, making the other consonant letter silent. Yet, at most times, the combination results in a unique sound that neither of the letters would make on its own.
CH produces a tʃ sound (as in cheese, chalk, church, cherry, much, etc.) To pronounce CH properly, you have to press the tip of the tongue against the roof of the mouth before forcing air. Then, press the sides of the tongue against the top teeth, forming a ʃ (SH) sound.
E.g., achieve, purchase, much, teacher, child, and beach.
CH can also sound as K or hard C (i.e., chemistry, choir, chorus, etc.)
DG and DJ both produce J sound. (i.e., bridge, badge, judge, adjective, adjust, etc.)
GH produces two sounds <g> or <f>. Sometimes, it can also be silent.
Here are some examples:
GH as <g>
ghost, ghetto, aghast, spaghetti
GH as <f>
Enough, rough, tough, cough
GH as silent (OU + GH; AU + GH; AI + GH)
Dough, bought, ought
Caught, daughter, naughty
GH can also produce two separate sounds when they function in two separate syllables. Example:
Leghorn, doghouse, staghound
Consonant blends are different from digraphs. They are two or more consonants that work well together. Unlike digraphs, you can still hear the individual sounds even when the consonants blend—for example, grasp, scrub, and clam.
When a syllable has two vowels together, the first vowel is long and the second is silent.
This is another rule that you can teach in your child’s homeschool reading. Some examples are rain, pain, boat, beach, paint.
However, this rule doesn’t apply to diphthongs. In diphthongs, two vowels blend and create one new sound. Some examples of diphthongs are oo, aw, au ow, ou, oy, and oi.
Words with diphthongs: loud, coin side, low, lied, lay, lean, leer, cloud, boil.
When a syllable ends in any vowel, the vowel is usually long.
This pattern is called open syllable. You can see this pattern in words such as pa-per, o-pen, my, me, etc.
Using the “schwa” sound /ə/
Any of the vowels can make the schwa sound—a sound the same as weak ih or uh. The schwa sound is a neutral, relaxed, and quick vowel sound very close to u. Here are some word examples:
Again, celebrate, president, from, banana, apartment
As you can see, some words can have more than one schwa sound.
Syllables ending in k or ck
When there is a syllable that ends with k sound after a short vowel, it is usually spelled with ck, such as trick, tuck, and duck. But when the k sound is next to a long vowel sound, consonant, or diphthong, you spell the word with k. E.g., soak, cake, hawk, and task.
Using -ing correctly
When a word ends with a silent e, you must remove e before adding –ing. For example, dodge/dodging, dance/dancing, give/giving, bike/biking.
This rule is also for words with suffixes that start with vowels, such as -able, -ous, -ed, or -er. For instance, hope/hoped, practice/practicable.
Another important phonics rule in homeschool reading is adding s to make words plural, as in dog/dogs, cat/cats, bag/bags. But when a singular word ends with sh, ch, x, s, or z, use es to make it plural—for example, foxes, churches, brushes, ashes, and classes.
Use the Y rules in homeschool reading
When a word ends with a vowel sitting next to y, and you want to make it plural, simply add s, as in boy/boys, toy/toys.
However, when y follows a consonant, you have to change the y to i and add es—for example, family/families, baby/babies, sky/skies, and pony/ponies.
Suffixes also follow the same set of y rules. When there is a vowel before y, you can keep the y and add the suffix, as in annoy/annoying, play/playing.
But when before y is a consonant, you need to change y to i. Only then can you add suffixes such as -est and -ed. Examples include sad/saddest and carry/carried.
When the suffix starts with i, do not drop the y and simply add the suffix. For example, baby/babyish, fly/flying, cry/crying.
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The fizzle rule
This is also called the “fszl” rule, and here’s why. The letters f, s, z, and l are usually used twice at the end of words with only one syllable following a short vowel. For example, fuzz, shell, grass, stuff, class, sell, bell.
Many words in the English language follow phonics rules. But there are also several exceptions to these rules that children need to learn and memorize for spelling and reading. You can find many of these words on sight words.
You can help your child in his homeschool reading by introducing sight words and the phonics rules listed above.
If you notice your child is struggling with spelling or reading, you might want to talk to a teacher or consult a speech therapist.
How do you teach your child phonics rules?
As you notice, there are many phonics rules in the English language, but you don’t have to teach your child everything at once, as it can only confuse them. Start with short vowel sounds first and introduce sight words.
Interestingly, children can still develop excellent phonetic reading skills without learning phonics rules.
What age should you start phonics?
Experts agree that children are ready to start phonics when they learn to identify the alphabet’s letters. Use toddler apps to help your child memorize alphabet letters.
Do you know more phonics rules that can be used in homeschool reading?
More parents embrace homeschool as an alternative to conventional schooling, especially now that many schools have closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many are still scrambling to manage home education.
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