It’s been widely acknowledged that the most effective way of teaching children to read, especially with a language with so many quirks and rules as English, is with the use of phonics; this is basically focusing on the sounds made by the letters instead of the name of the letters and uses 44 basic sounds. This way, children learn to decode a word using sounds instead of spelling, for example, ‘cat’ is read as ‘cah-ahh-tuh’ instead of ‘see-ay-tee’ so if they come across a word that they don’t recognise, they can sound it out.
One advantage of using phonics is that it negates the issue of different letters making the same sound and some letters making different sounds because children are taught blended sounds. This also means that children develop the skills needed to decipher harder words themselves, for example, if they recognise the root of a word, they can use their phonic skills to read the new, longer word. Studies have shown that phonics helps build written vocabulary and is most effective in 5 to 7 year olds.
The structure of learning phonics is designed for children to start learning with the simplest sounds and then move on to harder and more complex letter blends so, as they become more adept at learning to read, they keep being challenged and mentally stretched without being pushed too hard and becoming discouraged.
There are some children who don’t learn best with phonics, usually those with dyslexia need other methods so it’s important to use a bit of trial and error and explore lots of different learning styles.