What’s the difference between learning the alphabet and learning phonics?
The alphabet teaches children the names of letters but not their sounds (phonemes). Often, the name of the letter is not the same as its most common sound (phoneme). For example, the name of the letter a does not sound like the short /a/ phoneme in 'cat' and the name of the letter o does not sound like the short /o/ phoneme in 'dog'.
Learning the alphabet as well as the difference between upper and lower case letters is important. For most children, learning the alphabet is a fun experience, especially when letters are introduced in a relaxed and playful way. But learning the alphabet alone is not enough to be able to read. For this, children need phonics instruction.
Why learning the alphabet is not enough to learn how to read:
The name of the letter a is different to the sound that a makes in words like cat, hat, and bath.
The name of the letter o is different to the sound that o makes in words like do, stop, and mop.
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Learning the alphabet is the first step on every child’s reading journey. Research shows that children with prior knowledge of the alphabet learn to read more easily and more fluently, so it’s vitally important that the alphabet is taught in a playful and engaging way.
When learning their ABCs, children have to understand that each letter has a different shape and name, and that letters combine to form words. By making it clear that the letter A is not just for apple but also for avocado, children learn that A makes a constant sound across different words. Learning the most common sound that each letter makes is an essential, foundational skill that will be built on later when children encounter phonics.
Read our report, A Deep Dive Into Phonics, for more!