How To Help Kids Sound Out Words: Expert Tips And Ideas

by | Apr 16, 2021 | Core Skills

It can take some time for kids to learn how to sound out words. Since this is a crucial part of reading fluently, you probably want to know how you can help. Are there any special exercises you can do at home to assist your child?

Of course there are! And we’ve compiled this detailed guide to help you get started.

What Does It Mean To “Sound Out Words”?

you girl trying to sound out words while reading a book

It’s hard to imagine it now, but once upon a time, none of us could read. The alphabet, lower and uppercase letters, and the spaces between words were all confusing. But through time and practice, here we are today.

While many components helped us become fluent readers, learning how to sound out words was one of the game-changers.

In a nutshell, sounding out words means applying knowledge of letter-sound relationships in order to pronounce words properly.

When children learn this essential literacy skill, they will be able to say each sound in a word slowly and then quickly again. They will also understand how to blend the different sounds in a word together without much effort.

Eventually, kids internalize the process of sounding out words. To illustrate what we’re talking about, here’s a little challenge: Try to pronounce “splaf.”

You probably didn’t have to think too hard to pronounce this, even though it’s a nonsensical word. You were able to figure out the pronunciation almost immediately because the process of sounding out words has been so internalized.

At this stage of your life, sounding out happens automatically without thinking. Of course, you didn’t become an expert at sounding out words overnight, and neither will your child. But with time and practice, your young learner can also get there!

Why It Matters

Sounding out words helps kids learn about how to blend sounds, which can help improve their overall reading skills.

Additionally, we know that when children have strong abilities in sounding out words, they are less prone to stumble as books become harder, even when books incorporate vocabulary that they have never seen or heard before.

This can especially be seen during the “fourth-grade slump.” Throughout the first few years at school, most kids can read the material well enough to get by. But around fourth grade, children who haven’t grasped some of the basic word recognition and decoding skills may lag behind.

Helping your child learn how to sound out words early can give them the confidence they need when faced with complicated and unfamiliar text both now and later in their learning journey.

Is Your Child Ready To Sound Out Words?

If your child isn’t developmentally ready to sound out words, forcing it on them can be both frustrating and futile for you and your child.

Here are a few things to watch for to help you determine whether or not your child is ready to start sounding out words:

  • Knowledge of the alphabet
  • They can play with sounds in words
  • Print awareness
  • Phonological and phonemic awareness
  • They are interested in learning to read

For more information about knowing when to start helping your child learn to read, take a look at our article Reading Readiness: Top Skills For Kids To Master.

How To Help Your Child Sound Out Words

Mom teaching her daughte how to sound out words

If you feel your child is ready to learn how to sound out words, here are some ways to get started at home.

1) Help Them Identify The Phonemes

A phoneme is the smallest possible unit of sound in a language. For example, the word “cat” has three different phonemes — “c,” “a,” and “t.” Phonemic awareness is the ability to identify and manipulate these sounds.

Understandably, it’s challenging for a child who doesn’t understand phonemes to pronounce words correctly.

While reading together regularly gives you a great opportunity to help your child recognize and become familiar with different phonemes, you can also create activities to make things more exciting and help your young learner become more engaged with the content.

Activity Idea: From Sense To Nonsense

Choose a familiar book or nursery rhyme and ask your child to close their eyes as you read the story to them. This will help them focus on what they’re hearing.

As you read, occasionally change the words, word order, or wording. Your child will try to identify these changes, and when they manage to, ask them to explain what they think was wrong.

Here are some examples of how to make subtle changes to words to help your child with their phonemes:

  • Mary had a little land
  • Twinkle, twinkle, little far
  • The wheels on the bus go mound and mound
  • Baa baa black sleep have you any wool?

Your child will get a kick out of these little “mistakes” and have fun correcting you!

2) Read Aloud

dad sitting with daughter reading a book while teaching her how to sound out words

As a parent, you probably already know the importance of early childhood reading and the great impact it can have on your child as they enter school and later in life. That’s why it’s essential to set aside some regular reading time with your young learner.

While reading, focus on reading slowly and aloud as you pan your finger on each word.

This exercise can help them associate printed letters and their combinations with the individual sounds they make. It will also help them realize that the spoken words we use can be found in print.

3) Demonstrate How To Blend Different Sounds

The ability to blend different sounds in words is essentially how we can read fluently. It helps us smoothly connect the individual sounds in a word as we read.

For example, the individual sounds in “maybe” are m/a/y/b/e. However, because of blending, you can sound out the word as /maaybee/ without even thinking about it.

Here are a couple of activities that can help your child blend different sounds.

Activity: Robot Talk

Robot talk can help a child segment the different sounds of a word. After “robot talking” a word, they can then say the word faster or more fluently.

Robot talk is exactly as it sounds: speaking in shorty, choppy sentences like a robot!

Activity: Guess The Word

All you need to get started with this fun activity is some picture cards of objects or items your child is familiar with (e.g., sun, moon, stars, trees, ball, etc.)

Place the picture cards in front of your child and tell them that you’re going to say a word out slowly and they will need to identify which card matches the word you’ve just said. For example, /ssstaarrsss/.

Playing this game is another way of helping your child recognize the individual sounds in words, a key component of learning how to sound out words.

4) Encourage Reading And Writing

Mom encouraging her son to sound out words when writing them out

You don’t have to wait until your child is a perfect speller to let them start writing. Any practice they get can help boost their awareness of sounds that are in words and, in turn, improve their writing awareness.

Activity: Sound Out The Written Word

If your child is learning how to spell mat, start by stretching the word out so they can hear each sound (m/a/t). After spelling the word, have your child read the word back to you at a normal pace (blending sounds).

This activity can help improve not only your child’s blending skills but also their spelling. Make it a bit more fun by letting them write each letter in a different color.

5) Play “I Spy” With The Alphabet

Letters are all around us. We might overlook this fun fact, but a child who’s learning the alphabet will find joy in noticing it. Now’s a great time to play “I Spy” — with a little twist, of course!

Play I Spy (driving to school, walking to the park, etc.) to find letters in the world around them. When your child finds a letter, encourage them to say it and the sound it makes out loud.

Take It One Sound At A Time

Young girl reading a book outside on a blanket

There is no magic wand that can help your young learner sound out words overnight. But we believe that with a little practice and lots of encouragement, your child will be a word-sounding-out pro in no time!

While on this literacy journey, remember to continue reading regularly, and when they finally get it, embrace those moments (no matter how small) to help keep them motivated.

For more fun activities to try at home with your emerging reader, check out the HOMER Learn & Grow App!


  • Begin Learning Team

    Parents hear so much noise about what matters–it’s hard to know where to begin. That’s where we come in. We are early learning experts & PhDs helping you focus on what matters most for your child.

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Begin Learning Team
Begin Learning Team

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Parents hear so much noise about what matters–it’s hard to know where to begin. That’s where we come in. We are early learning experts & PhDs helping you focus on what matters most for your child.