Chapter 5b - Phonics FAQ

Pre-K Phonics FAQ

I'm getting great questions about Phonics in the comments and emails.  If you see an asterisk next to a question, I'm the one asking it just to talk about the topic, because it's an exciting topic.

Q:  . Do you include workbook time in the hour of daily reading, or is that in addition to workbook reading?
A:  Reading should stand on it's own, the more the better.  For a 3.5 year old, this reading is primarily the parent reading to the child.  After a bit of phonics, the child can take over some of the responsibility of reading as their skills improve.

Q:  What is the recommended pace?
A:  When we first started this book, we did two 15 minute sessions the first week.  It was the first time my 4 year old had to do actual work.   I think the first 6 weeks with any material with any age may entail the begrudging acceptance of executive skills on the part of the child, sometimes fighting the whole way.  We got up to 4 times a week after that, took some time off, and then did the second half of the book on a daily basis.  Your timing may vary.

Q:  Do you put advanced vocabulary on the word board for comprehension purposes, even if it's too advanced for the child to read?
A:  Yes.  I read the words if I know the child can't.  If it's a vocabulary word like shock, and my child hasn't mastered sh or ck, I give the child an opportunity to try to read the word, maybe even recite it from memory if it's been there a while, and then I expect them to act out shock.  I remember shock being up there for weeks while related words accumulated.  Eventually, he could give a definition and read the word, so it came down.

Q:  For example, while reading picture books I defined insurmountable, devastated, distraught, and leer for my son. I don't expect him to spell these, but I'd like him to be able to act them out and commit them to memory.
A:  I would recommend starting with the words in the book first, which are cognitive stepping stones for the words you chose.  Your first goal is thinking and not knowing.  Leer, for example, has about 3 parts or more in the definition, but scan or watch are readily understood.  Please remove insurmountable, which is an awful  word for a child to discover, and replace it with 'yet', which is very powerful.  How can you explain the concept of insurmountable when in fact nothing is insurmountable?  That's more like philosophy than reading.  On the other hand, I do this all the time, which is why rectangular prism is in a phonics book for 4 year olds, and I specifically warn parents that they are going to have to read it when it's on the word board.

Q*:  I notice that your other 3 books are math books.  What's up with that?
A:  There are 3 reasons why I wrote this book.  First, it was the only gap I found in verbal skills that I needed to address; everything else I could just recommend from other authors.  Second, I had to take the GRE to get into graduate school, and memorized 3,600 words in the process.  At the time, I was listening to German tapes on my daily commute and just fell in love with words.  I got a 99.6% on the verbal section, which was at least 17 points higher than I had ever done before.  Of course, graduate school was all math, so these words are organized mathematically for the biggest cognitive impact. Third, I've got one neighbor who has 4,000 children's books in his family room that he accumulated from 2nd hand stores, and I have another neighbor with a PhD from the University of Chicago in history who's kids are so far ahead that he's forgoing GAT programs altogether because he thinks they are a waste of time.  We were going overboard with math at the time and I needed a way to catch up, stat.

Q*:  How does your course compare with Hooked On Phonics?
A:  These two courses have two different purposes.  Hooked On Phonics has to worry about the whole country, and I think they do a really good job.  Pre-K Phonics is only concerned with parents that are fully in the game and have higher expectations for their children.   It's a much smaller market. Hooked On Phonics has a program that is composed of many, many books and it adds up, whereas Pre-K phonics packs the whole program from zero to about mid-2nd grade into one book, which is appropriate for a child who will be reading at a 2nd grade level by Kindergarten, which is perfectly reasonable for a parent who is willing to invest time and effort in the process at this level.  Also, Pre-K phonics has about 350% of the vocabulary, builds in the type of thinking skills required by tests, and expects the child to begin exercising speaking and memory skills behind the lesson format and the Word Board.

Q*:  The introduction makes this course seem more like a lifestyle than a reading program.
A:  I've got middle school to deal with.  On top of that, it's middle school that is accelerated by 2 years.  And, we need a 99% on both the standardized tests and a test like the COGAT to get into high school, not to mention all A's.  That's the end goal, and it all starts with phonics.  I'm working through high school chemistry with a 6th grader right now, and as far as I can tell, it's 1,500 technical vocabulary words and the Word Board for the next 6 months.  I wrote about half of the introduction a few years ago right after the Kindergarten COGAT, and finished it recently.   As a consequence, the introduction is colored by the longer term view.  Also, I see the GRE in my child's future.


  1. Thanks for the answers! Those words came directly from fun picture books we picked up at the library. Ninja Bunny has "insurmountable" and Edward Gets Messy has "devastated & distraught" and Monster Truck Race has "leer." While we're reading, I always stop to define words my 3 year old doesn't know, using the context illustrated in the book to reinforce my definition. Luckily, in Ninja Bunny (a hilarious picture book btw), the little bunny crawls under the "insurmountable" wall of vines surrounding a big carrot. The lesson I taught was even if something seems insurmountable, there may be another way around (or under) it. You just have to think and try.

  2. Which prek phonics book are you referring to? Would you be able yo provide a link?