The 20 Best Phonetic Alphabet Programs for Kids

Learning to read by phonics helps children learn to read better and faster. Since there are only 43 English letter combinations, most children can sound out words quickly and easily. Students who learn to read phonetically are better spellers. There is no need to memorize hundreds of words because most words can simply be sounded out. Since diagnostic tests can easily be administered, children can be taught those skills that they have missed along the way without any need to start over. Children can easily be tested on their knowledge and see how much they are learning helping to promote a love of learning and helping to build self-esteem, according to research performed by Gwen Fulwiler and Professor Patrick Groff from San Diego University.

Not all phonics programs are created equally. According to National Reading Panel under the auspices of the National Institute of Health good phonics programs not only teach the individual sounds but also teach children how to put those sounds together to form words.

Instruction is explicit as children often do not learn from embedded instruction. A great phonics program gives students plenty of practice breaking complex ideas down into smaller pieces. The program should teach phonemic awareness, knowledge of the complete phonetic code, directional teaching, blending and attention to detail.

If you are an early childhood teacher or a parent, you can help young children learn to read. You will need to choose the right resource for your situation. Here are 20 choices that you will want to consider.

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons uses special marks for 44 different phonetic sounds. For example, blended letters are joined while long vowels have a line above them. This program is best for children who have never been introduced to reading as other children may become confused. The book contains reading stories and word lists allowing children to practice. After about 80 lessons, the book then begins to withdraw the special marks. Teachers and parents need to follow a careful script. The last few pages of the book contain lists of books that children might enjoy reading along with additional teaching ideas for teachers and parents.

Parents and teachers who are working with children functioning on many different levels may find The Writing Road to Reading a great program as it contains instructions from beginning reading to sixth grade. There are no student books and only one teacher manual. Students are taught many more rules than with most systems. They then write each rule down in a spiral notebook. Phonograms are learned through saying, writing and reading in their notebooks. This program requires a lot of work on the leader’s part. The program seems to work well for students who have had problems with other methods that present more generalized rules.

Parents and teachers can easily build their own curriculum by using the ideas in Teach a Child to Read with Children’s Books. This book shows parents and teachers how to take the child’s natural curiosity and use it to teach a child to read. The program recommends that teachers and parents regularly read great children’s books to kids. The authors suggest magnetic alphabets to teach children to spell phonetically. As children begin to read basic words, then their vocabulary is slowly built up. Many experts find that this is the most natural way for children to learn to read.

The program At Last! A Reading Method for Every Child uses a combination of phonics and sight words. It teaches a decoding program teaching children to deal with exceptions in the most simple phonic rules. The program first introduces children to consonants that say their names which the program calls the good guys. It then introduces children to silent consonants that they call tough guys. Children are then taught short and long vowels before they are introduced to 25 sight phonograms. Many of the activities in this program must be created by the parent or teacher. Many are not suitable for the student learning alone.

Parents and teachers who are looking for a system that is almost totally independent may want to Action Reading Fundamentals. This program uses eight CDs and a workbook to teach the student. The only instructions that the teacher gets is a DVD that is about three minutes long. The system uses flashcards and games to keep the child enthused about learning. Some children may become bored with the program because it is very straightforward without gimmicks or animations. Most students find plenty of room in the workbook to complete the exercises which use the precursive style.

The Adventures in Phonics program is very intense. Not all children will be prepared for the rapid pace at which this program moves. Children will do better if they already have a basic idea of letter and sound combinations. This curriculum is not appropriate for all settings because it incorporates Christian values and words which may be offensive to some users. Some children will find that the provided space in the workbook is too small for their big writing. Most activities in the workbook are fill-in-the-blank or connect the dots which may bore some children. Little attention is given to blending words.

Color Phonics CD program probably works better as a supplement to another phonics program. Children are introduced to basic phonics concepts while watching five CDs. Each concept is carefully introduced. Then, practice occurs with the child being shown a cloudy picture. With every answer that the child gets correct, the picture becomes clearer. When all answers are correct, the child is rewarded with an animation. The program teaches consonants before vowels which are introduced in family groups. Children are encouraged to mark in their own books to practice the skills that they are learning.

 Explode the Code teaches some phonics while it also uses techniques to introduce students to letters. The program starts with an initial assessment so that parents or teachers are not wasting time teaching children what they already know. Different learning activities are included to help children with different learning styles including visual, auditory and kinesthetic. There is an online version that many find easier to use because it is less adult intensive. Some adults find the assessments difficult to interpret, and the computer program does this automatically.

There are two programs called Alpha-Phonics. Teachers and parents should look for the one from Chalcedon, as it is an updated version of the original by The Paradigm Company. This program is contained in a single manual that lies flat. It contains both teacher and student instructions. The program does a great job of teaching basic phonics rules. There is not much practice for students, so parents and teachers will need to supplement this manual. Sounds and words are introduced without accompanying pictures, so this may be a problem for some students. Others will benefit from the straight-forward presentation. 

Parents and teachers find Foundations one of the simplest courses to use. Reading, writing, handwriting, and spelling are all combined with the believe that students learn better when these language art skills reinforce each other. Unlike most programs, a letter is introduced to a student and then its most common sounds are taught together. For example, the student is introduced to the letter a by learning all three of its normal sounds. Great emphasis is placed on saying the sounds properly with the mouth and tongue. Parents and teachers can choose rather they want the child to write in manuscript or cursive with places in the workbook for both.

First Start Reading starts with the introduction of holding a pencil properly before children can develop poor writing skills. Then, it introduces children to a few consonants and then teaches them to blend them before vowels are introduced. This series has three books that children move through rather rapidly. Parents and teachers find all three books covered in one teaching manual. Essential sight words are introduced along the way so that children can read simple sentences quickly. Teacher instructions are brief but comprehensive. Assessments are included in the course, but they are optional. All necessary activities are in the five books, so parents and teachers do not have to worry about having other supplies on hand.

 Lifepac Gold Language Arts curriculum uses Christian words and concepts throughout, so it may not be appropriate in all settings. This program combines all elements of language arts into its curriculum including literature, speech, grammar, penmanship, composition, and spelling. Therefore, parents and teachers who are looking for a well-rounded curriculum may want to consider this one. This program starts with short-vowel sounds assuming that children already know letter and sound combinations. The student workbooks are full color and have plenty of room for students to work. This course is very teacher intensive, so the teacher’s manual s mandatory.

Teachers and parents who find it frustrating to teach multiple rules may find this program more to their liking. Instead of concentrating on teaching students rules, this program teaches through practice and familiarity practiced in workbooks. Levels A and B are designed for beginner readers. Carefully scripted lessons makes the lessons easy to teach. Some find the small print in the teacher’s manual difficult to see. Sounds are taught before letters encouraging students to sound out the word. The teacher or parent creates their own word cards and letter tiles with this system using supplies that they furnish. The program also has shorter versions for students needing remedial help.

Beginnings K5 is a comprehensive system covering handwriting, comprehension, composition, science, social studies, music, motor development and art. Most students do better when the entire system is used together rather than when individual components are used separately. In the phonics program, students are first introduced to vowel-consonant patterns before being introduced to beginning consonants. Parents and teachers definitely need the teacher’s manual for effective instruction. The complete phonics part of the program includes a practice book, reading books, review cards, workbook, a learner’s packet and a cute phonics’ CD. This program is aimed at homeschoolers Although classroom teachers may find it useful.

Children are invited to visit Alphabet Island where they are introduced to letters and their sounds through songs, poems, and songs. Some students may find the characterizations distracting while others will look forward to the next installment. While the program suggests that the video be watched during each lesson, if the student finds it distracting, then it can be omitted after seeing it once. Students are introduced to phonics rules that are repeatedly practiced. While the program can be used independently, many parents and teachers find it best to combine it with the company’s spelling program creating a total system. A complimentary math program is included with purchase.

Children who have to many wiggles to sit still and learn may do very well with the Sing Spell Read and Write Kit. This comprehensive system teaches through a CD presentation with catchy songs that introduce the concepts. Then, the student can read from 23 phonetic storybooks. Workbooks further reinforce the concepts. Also, included are fun phonic games and a treasure chest filled with small prizes. A wall chart allows students to easily see their progress. Teachers are introduced to the course on a video. The teacher’s manual makes it easy to stay organized. Assessments are included for those who would like to use them.

Teachers who want one book that serves as both the teacher’s manual and student book will want to consider Phonics Pathways. This program starts by introducing short vowel words and almost immediately starts to teach students to blend them to read simple words. Upper and lower case letters are introduced at the same time. Each sound is introduced in multiple ways including hearing, saying, tracing and writing. The material is specially designed to encourage proper tracking. Students are introduced to positive-thinking proverbs and fun characters throughout the book. Students are often introduced to a single word. Then, that word is introduced in a sentence. The sentence is then expanded in a pyramid formation.

The McRufy phonics program is a comprehensive program incorporating multi-sensory learning techniques. The laminated covers and sturdy pages in the student workbooks make it easy for students to learn as they will not tear easily. Unlike many programs relying on question-correct response questions, this program relies on open-ended questions frequently. Students should have some introduction to letters before beginning this program which moves rather quickly. For example, lesson three already has students blending b and a. By the end of the kindergarten year, students should know all letters including both long and short vowels, some digraphs, a few sight words including the names of colors.

All About Reading is an intensive phonics system that breaks each sound down into separate lessons. Open-and-go lessons allow teachers or parents to teach these lessons without any preparation work. The program features many hands-on activities. Each lesson focuses on spelling abilities: print awareness, phonological awareness, letter knowledge, listening comprehension, motivation to read or a combination of these skills. The program includes two reading books that students will work their way through during the first level. A zebra hand puppet is used to teach many of the lessons. The program also uses an app to introduce children to the various sounds. The program also reinforces other early childhood skills such as following directions, coloring, cutting, listening, identifying syllables audibly, making inferences and developing vocabulary.

Saxton Phonics 1 is the top pick in phonics curriculum because of its completeness. The company recommends that the student is introduced to one new sound each week although the program can be completed faster if desired. Each lesson takes about 30 minutes to complete with students kept enthused through the use of a variety of activities. Constant review and assessment help ensure that students are learning. Parents or teachers who are unfamiliar with teaching phonics find this an easy program to use because the 500-page teacher’s manual tells the adult exactly what to say. The complete system includes two student workbooks, an alphabet strip, letter cards, spelling cards, key word cards, letter tiles, audio pronunciation tape and other components.