Parents and schools should take a better approach when teaching children to read. In the 80s, with the phonics method, young students had to learn consonant and vowel combinations, next to a litany of rules and exceptions, to learn this capital skill. But a few years later, the idea that phonics was unnecessary spread insidiously, in favor of an allegedly more intuitive and less stressful way to learn to read, called "whole language", whose concept is that, with enough exposure to literature, children will pick up reading naturally.

So, according to whole word principles, reading is supposed to be a "natural" process: if you sit with your kids and read to them pointing out the words on the page as you read, the kids will eventually learn to read on their own. Many schools still operate today under this belief, foregoing phonics instruction and instead exposing their students to literature, leaving them to guess words based on context. The huge problem, however, is that this let-them-figure-out-on-their-own system for learning to read doesn't work most of the time.

There is even a lot of wrong with it, because reading is NOT a natural process, as many studies have shown. In fact, kids develop reading skills best through "synthetic instruction", which consists in breaking down the components of words in order to sound them out. A process called decoding, that requires step-by-step and systematic instruction. Phoneme awareness is indeed a powerful, scientifically proven method that can make a determining difference between reading success and reading failure. So, why aren't ALL schools using phonics?

An Interlude, by William Sergeant Kendall (Google Art Project - WikimediaCommons - w/Effects)