Phonics vs whole word reading

I have been looking at Easy Peasy homeschooling for language arts, and I saw on her site that for reading she starts with 110 lessons of sight word reading and then moves into using phonics for words that are longer or unfamiliar. I’m wondering what your thoughts are on these two learn to read options. On the Easy Peasy site, she explains that she uses this method because it helps with fluency and because we as adults don’t read by sounding out but by whole words. Anyway, I’m just curious what others think.

I will preface this by saying that I know nothing of education theory, I am just a mom. No qualifications.

Having said that, her system is basically how my son learned to read. Not on purpose, mind you. He started reading on his own just before he was 3 - mostly short sight words. So I started him on phonics because I didn’t want him to develop bad habits like recognizing words only by sight, thus risking that he transpose letters or read the words incorrectly because he is mainly looking at the shape. Anyway, it worked well for him and I plan to do the same thing with the child I am expecting. When they start reading sight words on their own, I will start phonics. We do teach all the letters and basic letter sounds early but just in day-to-day play. Oh, and lots and lots of reading great picture books!

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In my reading, I have come to disagree with this approach.
Easy Peasy is correct that adults read mostly using the whole word approach, because we have had thousands of hours of practice and much becomes automatic. Just because the end result is sight reading, it does not logically follow that this is the best way to teach reading in the beginning.
Starting with a strong phonics foundation allows children to make connections across words, that also applies to how they will learn to generalize rules for many other systems of life. While I am not completely against all teaching of sight words, I have never found time spent working on sight word reading to be more profitable than simply reading with a strong phonics foundation.
For most children, they will learn to read when their brains are ready to read, no matter what approach you use. If you suspect any form of dyslexia, a phonics intensive curriculum as early as possible is the best way to overcome the disability.


From what I have seen in education I have learned that there is not a one size fits all approach (which is actually one of the biggest issues that many have with the Common Core.) The approach that is used on Easy Peasy may work wonderfully for some kids. And for others it may totally bomb.

I personally prefer to mix phonics and whole word learning. I have found it to work most frequently as an approach. There are some words you need to learn in order to read that simply cannot be sounded out (you is a great example) with the phonics rules. Also once you have a sight word learned that word can be used to help teach other words with the same phonics rule (ie once you know at you can learn cat, sat, etc). But to learn every word by sight is relying heavily on the visual memory and not necessarily building great foundational skills that all children need to read. And for some children learning sight words is difficult. On the other hand learning every phonic rule in the American English language is tedious. There are so many. Added to it some rules are broken often. As an undergrad we were told not to teach a phonics rule unless it was correct 80% of the time or more in the younger grades. It becomes to tedious to teach a rule only to say "but not when x occurs or y occurs or z occurs, then the rule isn’t the rule. "
Mixing phonics with sight word instruction is my preferred method. And right now it works well with my oldest son. We’ll see what happens with the other two boys.
I do have background in elementary education, with a heavy concentration in reading. And while my preferred mixed approach is based on theory that I learned it is also based on practice of teaching in the classroom as well as working with my own children.


Some kids will learn to read no matter how you teach them, but some kids will develop guessing habits and really struggle with reading with this kind of approach. I prefer to instill good sounding-out habits first, and work on a few sight words at a time along the way. 97% of English words can be sounded out by learning basic phonograms and the sounds they make, along with some basic rules. (Even most of the Dolch sight words are not really sight words). I like to help kids learn how to sound them out, then provide sufficient practice so they can read them fluently.

Sight-reading methods make words like house and horse (4 of the 5 same letters, same shape, same beginning and ending) look nearly identical. And if you end up with a child who guesses based on a few letters, word shape, or context…it’s hard to untrain those habits and help the child become a fluent reader.

As far as adults reading–think about the last time you tried to read a name you weren’t familiar with or a technical article that used unfamiliar vocabulary–likely you tried to sound out the word in an attempt to recognize it.


My youngest son is in first grade and just turned 7. He learned reading in a completely different way, and now reads at the end of 3rd grade reading level. I used a program based on long vowel. It does not require them to memorize words in order to read. They just start reading, and then each level introduces a new rule and corrects the words in the book to match the rule. It’s amazing the large words he can sound out, all because he learned the rules of reading and common blends, and not just lists of words. Tough for me, but very much worth it!!


What program did you use?

It’s a long vowel program developed by the principal at my older son’s alternative school (where he attended before we started homeschooling). I was lucky his teacher sent me off with the materials to teach his little brother!!

Whole language is word memorization. Phonics is breaking down the word by recognizing phonograms. It really depends on the child. When I was a kid I taught myself to read through word memorization. When my mother read to me I began to memorize what she said with the word she pointed out. I have no recollection of this. This is what she has told me. I also never remember actually learning to read. In my mind I have just always read. My son, while in public school, was taught this way. In 1st grade I pulled him out because he couldn’t read anything and hated reading. I had him tested for dyslexia, but he was diagnosed with “sight word aversion”. If that is even a real thing, I don’t know. He can’t memorize words. He must learn phonically. We started using All About Reading that year. He is know finishing up the 3rd level. I am amazed at the word breakdown skills he has. Unlike me he can read a word he has never seen before, because he can breakdown syllables and phonograms. He is also better at spelling that I was in school. I feel like you should do whatever is best for your child. My 4 year old daughter has started memorizing words that we read. I feel like she will be more like me in reading, but I will try phonograms on her first. I feel like whole language can be the fast track to reading, but I am not sure it is the most comprehensive way to teach children to read. Sight words do have there place, but I do feel they should be kept at a minimum.


Kids should learn both phonics, spelling rules, and site rules.

My oldest learned to read first by phonics but we read books that had harder words, words that could not be sounded out. I repeated over and over “English is a funny language…not all words follow the rules” and would always help him out with the “rule breakers.” So he knew from an early age that though it was good to sound out words it wasn’t always going to work.

But by the time we were doing this he had already been memorizing books we read to him. It’s all part of the reading toolkit. No method is bad, but neither phonics nor learning site words is a complete method by itself.

But like people said, one method doesn’t work for everyone…but I think learning both phonics and to recognize words by site and context is important.

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I have never dealt with dixlexia but my current 4 (almost 5) is learning to read and is doing pretty good but she always tries to start with the last letter when sounding out. I mostly notice it for words that begin with a vowel but I will pay better attention to see if it’s words that start with a consonant too. Do you know of any other signs I should watch for or any tips on how to help her? Thanks! :grinning:

At age 4, her eyes are probably still training to read and track from left to right. For now you could either use your finger or her finger to track the word from left to right. Some people have used a notched card to hold over the word and only reveal a sound at a time. I never did, but have read it can help. I just used to remind her when needed that we sound out or read from left to right and that the meaning of the word could change if read the wrong direction (like on and no or was and saw).

Thank you! I will work on that with her.

I have taught my children to read w/ phonics, I feel that there is a great deal of wasted time on using sight words because they do not know how to sound out the words they are reading. Once phonics is introduces to the children they are able to sound out any word no matter how long or short it is. Sight words do not have that effect to build upon. My grand child struggled through the sight words but when we began using phonics, she sat down and was reading 100s of pages all in one day, yet she has only made it through 8 sight lists by the end of the school yea. Her mom insisted that phonics is the best method around. I use one I got from my college classes and love it and so do the kids. They begin reading right away!


Thank you for all the responses. I had been planning on using a phonics approach, but was looking for something less expensive. I found easy peasy and wanted to try to make it work, but perhaps we will start with AAR level 1 (which we already have) and then switch to the easy peasy readers for grade 1. That way phonics instruction has been established but they continue extending their reading with a less expensive curriculum. Or maybe we can use AAR until all levels are complete, and THEN switch to EP since that one goes up to grade 7. Lots to think about and consider. Thanks again for all of the feedback.

usually developmental at that age. :slight_smile:

I started out with sight words, phonemic awareness but then switched to phonics and now my daughter focuses on all the rules and gets frustrated when the word is a rule breaker. LOL, I can’t win with her. But I suggest teaching both ways.

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If you want something inexpensive to help with phonics, Phonics Pathways, Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading, and Reading Lessons through Literature are all inexpensive. LOE and AAR both have a phonogram app as well if desired. AAR level one is good, but won’t teach all areas of phonics in that level.

I’m not a licensed teacher, just a mom, but we like the phonics route. Another homeschooling mom shared with me that she found a phonics program for $10 and just loved it. So I got the name of it, Candy4WayPhonics, and looked into it. My son was in kindergarten at the time. Compared to the cost of all other phonics programs I looked into I honestly couldn’t past up giving this one a shot for $10! My son is now in second grade reading at a late third grade, early forth grade level. So needles to say, it was well worth the $10. I plan to continue to use it with our other children as well.