If you have children between the ages of 3 and 6 I bet you’ve heard someone mention “phonics” recently.  This week I discovered two phenomenal apps to help preschool age children develop phonics skills.

But in order to use these resources to their full effect, it’s important to understand how learning phonics aids in the development of reading skills. What follows is everything a parent needs to know about phonics in order to set their child on a path to reading success.

So, if the following video sums up your working knowledge of phonics, keep reading.

Everything You Need to Know About Phonics in fewer than 300 Words

As children first begin to develop language skills they are primarily learning the names of objects that are common place in their environment.  That’s why most ‘first words’ are “Mom,” “Dad,” or some other person or object that the child has had daily exposure to. At this stage in language development, children are primarily learning to associate the sounds they hear with the objects or actions they designate.

Next, children begin to string a couple of these words together – first two, then three, eventually forming complete sentences. Shortly thereafter, most kids will take their first steps towards reading. But remember, up to this point, all the words that a child knows are essentially sounds that designate things (such as emotions and people) in their environment. In order to begin reading, children have to understand the link between the printed words they see and the sound of that spoken word.

This is a HUGE conceptual leap to make.  And helping your child develop a solid understanding of phonics is the best way to help her make this leap. An example will help:

Until recently, your child thought the sound “chair” meant “that thing you sit on with four legs.” Now she has to understand that the sound “chair” has the same meaning as the letters C-H-A-I-R written on a page.  But the letters C-H-A-I-R don’t sound like the word “chair.”

The spelling pattern “C-H” is called a “grapheme,” meaning “written.”  The “chuh” sound is called a “phoneme,” meaning “sound.”  So learning phonics is really all about matching the spelling patterns (graphemes) to their corresponding sounds (phonemes). A good phonics app will therefore be one that helps build the ability to associate graphemes with phonemes.


Free Phonics Apps that Really Deliver

Kids Reading (Preschool) Free


Kids Reading (Preschool) Free

One of the most important phonics skills is “blending.” This refers to the ability to blend the sounds of single letters, for example, “C” and “H” to form the phoneme that you will automatically hear when you see the letters “CH” together. Blending is the focus of this app.

There first exercise is called “Learn to Blend” and it is part game and part demonstration.

Learn to Blend

A word is displayed as a bridge over which Tommy the Turtle must walk.  As first he does so slowly with a walking stick and the user hears a narrator make each letter sound as Tommy walks over it.  Then Tommy begins to move faster as he trades his walking stick in for sneakers and ultimately a skateboard.  The faster Tommy moves, the more blended the individual letter sounds become.

Once a user has mastered the blending exercise, it’s time to move onto actually reading three letter words in a fun and encouraging quiz game and ultimately, making words of her own. This app is a fantastic resource for kids who are just starting out reading and while the free version is great, you won’t be disappointed if you jump right to the paid version 

Phonics Awareness


Phonics Awareness

The first thing to note is that Phonics Awareness is a standards-based teaching tool. So if you practice with it, you’re setting your kids up, in a direct way, for success in the classroom. This app focuses on three phonics skills. In the Segmentation exercise kids will learn how to break a three letter word down into individual phonemes (sounds).

In the blending exercise, the user hears a narrator say the parts of a word outloud (the phonemes) and then must select the correct written word.

This app also features a vowel exercise that focuses on vowel recognition and understanding the difference between long and short vowel sounds.

But my favorite feature in Phonics Awareness is the pre and post test.  This app was made by data driven professionals and they want to prove to you that their app will impact your child positively.  It’s rare than an “educational” app maker puts its money where its mouth is like this, and it’s reassuring that the Bugbrained team has so much faith in the quality of this valuable teaching too.

So there you have it.  Time to start reading!


A native of Scranton, PA, Matt holds a B.A. in Philosophy from Colgate University, an MBA from the College of Charleston, and is currently a JD candidate at the University of Texas School of Law.  With a varied past as an Outward Bound sailing instructor, elementary school teacher and non-profit administrator, Matt does a little bit of everything at Famigo. 

Matt McDonnell (40 Posts)

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