How to Teach Your Child to Read With Zoo Phonics and Have Fun Doing It

Updated on December 19, 2017
letstalkabouteduc profile image

As an educator, I know parents are best suited to teach their children to read. It's that loving bond and one-on-one time that make it work.

These girls are pretending to be the Zoo-phonics animal called "Lizzie Lizard." They're sticking out their tongues to catch a fly while making the sound for the letter "l."
These girls are pretending to be the Zoo-phonics animal called "Lizzie Lizard." They're sticking out their tongues to catch a fly while making the sound for the letter "l." | Source

What Is Zoo-phonics and How Can It Turn Your Child Into a Reader?

As a parent and teacher, I've used Zoo-phonics to help hundreds of children become readers. Unlike other programs that are dry and boring, Zoo-Phonics is fast, fun, and playful – mixing music, movement, and games to teach the sounds that letters make. Because Zoo-Phonics is a developmentally appropriate program, it lets kids be kids – capitalizing on their natural inclination to contort their bodies, act silly, and use their imaginations. It's a kinesthetic approach to teaching letter sounds that moms and dads can easily do with their youngsters -- getting exercise and having fun. It's based on the motto: "When the body moves, the brain remembers!" Both parents and children have a blast, pretending they're animals and making "signals" with their bodies.

Who are kinesthetic learners?

Many young children are kinesthetic learners, meaning they learn best by doing. They understand new information more efficiently when it's paired with physical motion. These children are active learners who get little or no benefit from sitting at desks and listening to a teacher.

Once Your Child Learn the Signals and Sounds, She's on Her Way to Becoming a Reader

Zoo-phonics Works for all Students: Gifted, Special Needs, and English Language Learners

Zoo-phonics is a well-rounded program for the homeschooling parent or a perfect supplement for the mom or dad who wants to enhance their youngster's classroom learning. It's effective with typically developing kids, gifted students, English Language Learners, and those with special needs such as Down's Syndrome, autism, and dyslexia. Best of all, it works – turning young children into happy, confident readers with a strong foundation in phonological awareness.

Teaching Your Child to Read: Phonological Awareness vs. Whole Language

Those of us who are middle-aged may remember phonics with dread – those tedious drill-and-kill worksheets with instructions such as: Color the picture that makes the hard “c” sound and circle the object that ends with the “sh” sound. The irony is we did these while sitting quietly at our desks while the very essence of phonological awareness is auditory. We never heard the sounds that letters and combination of letters make so it's no wonder some of us struggled to read.

But the generation after us had it even worse because they received little or no phonological awareness at all. When they were in school, Whole Language instruction was the rage with its emphasis on reading quality literature, connecting reading and writing, and reading for meaning. Many experts in education touted Whole Language as a panacea. Phonological awareness got pushed aside, regarded as old-fashioned and unnecessary.

Thus, an entire generation of youngsters grew up without receiving adequate decoding skills. While most students learn to read without an explicit education in phonological awareness, it's estimated that a whopping 30% need systematic instruction or they'll struggle to sound out words. They'll read haltingly with little comprehension.

Zoo-phonics Promotes Phonological Awareness in an Organic Way

Parents are the best teachers for promoting phonological awareness.
Parents are the best teachers for promoting phonological awareness. | Source

Zoo-phonics: the Complete Package

It was during the height of Whole Language's popularity that I returned to college for a multiple subject credential. During that time, I never received any instruction on how to teach phonological awareness nor did I have any mentor teachers who showed me how they taught it in their classrooms. Thus, I started teaching kindergarten with a big hole in my repertoire. When some of my students weren't “picking up” reading naturally like the Whole Language advocates promised they would, I was frustrated and confused.

Educators learned a lot from those decades that pitted phonological awareness against Whole Language. Now it's widely agreed upon that the two must exist in partnership. In 2000 the National Reading Panel stated there are five essential components of an effective reading program: phonological awareness, phonics, reading fluency, vocabulary development, and reading comprehension. Zoo-phonics successfully combines all of those.

What is decoding?

Decoding refers to the process of translating print into speech. It's the foundation for early reading because it's needed to build fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. According to research, teachers should present decoding skills in an explicit, systematic way to improve the reading skills of their students.

Zoo-phonics to the Rescue

In a traditional kindergarten classroom, the teacher presents one letter of the alphabet per week. She has presented all the letters after a long 26 weeks, but now the earlier ones have long been forgotten. The children may remember the names of some letters, but it's doubtful they remember their sounds. It's those sounds, however, that are most needed for learning how to read. Knowing the names of the letters in C-A-T will not help them read the word. But if they know the sounds they make -- cuh-ah-tuh -- it most certainly will.

Letter sounds in Zoo-phonics take precendence over letter names. Instead of using the laborious letter-of-the-week method, the teacher and students run through all the sounds from a-z each day. The kids are on their feet, moving and grooving to the music. They sing about Allie Alligator, Bubba Bear, Catina Cat, and Deedee Deer as they do body movements called “signals” to represent each animal. Allie Alligator opens and closes her jaw while saying "ah." Bubba Bear reaches up to a honeycomb and brings honey to his mouth while saying “buh.” Catina Cat cleans her face with a paw while saying "cuh."

By combining a signal and sound, the children get the information firmly implanted in their brains. In less than two weeks, they've learned the letter sounds and are ready to move on to forming consonant-vowel-consonant words like bat, fog, tan, and ham. Learning the letter sounds isn't a year-long ordeal. It's done in a quick, efficient way that serves as the springboard for reading words, sentences, and stories.

A Chinese Proverb:

I hear and I forget.

I see and I remember.

I do and I understand.

Allie Alligator

"Zoo-phonics" is a fantastic vehicle for integrating the curriculum. It flows easily into art, music, literature, and science.
"Zoo-phonics" is a fantastic vehicle for integrating the curriculum. It flows easily into art, music, literature, and science. | Source

10 Fun Facts About Zoo-phonics:

  1. Zoo-phonics presents information in an age-appropriate way, moving from the concrete (26 zoo animals depicted on large cards) to the abstract (sounds represented by letters of the alphabet).
  2. Zoo-phonics teaches the lower case letters first because those make up most reading material, not capital letters.
  3. Contrary to what some believe, the English language is regular and predictable. Three-fourths of our most commonly used words in English have regular spellings. Zoo-phonics helps children see and understand the patterns in our language.
  4. By doing a body movement or “signal” for each animal, children secure the phonemic information in their memories.
  5. Zoo-phonics teaches short vowels before long ones.
  6. Zoo-phonics emphasizes patterns. Children begin by learning a group of words that are similar such as pig, wig, big, fig, and twig, not random words such as the, since, of, me, and it.
  7. Zoo-phonics is fully incorporated throughout the day in all subject areas.
  8. Zoo-phonics improves spelling skills.
  9. Zoo-phonics improves pronunciation.
  10. Zoo-phonics maximizes learning. When children hear information, they remember 10% of it. When they hear, see and say it, they remember 40%. When they hear, see, say and do it, they remember 70-100%.

Final Thoughts on Zoo-phonics

Whether you're homeschooling children or enhancing what they're learning in the classroom, Zoo-phonics is a delightful program that gets results. In two short weeks, you'll be amazed how you and your child have learned the names of all 26 Zoo-phonics animals, their signals, and their sounds. With that solid foundation, you'll move into making consonant-vowel-consonat words such as man, hat, dog, and cat. Best of all, you and your youngster will be learning together in a playful but productive way. Zoo-phonics makes learning a joyful experience and that's exactly what young children need.

If You Purchase the Zoo-phonics Signal Practice DVD and These Picture Cards, You Have all You Need!

Zoo-phonics Signal Practice DVD
Zoo-phonics Signal Practice DVD

I highly recommend starting slowly with Zoo-phonics, purchasing just the DVD and these large picture cards. With young children, less is more. You will use these picture cards all the time and figure out new and creative things to do with them. I would play "Zoophonia May I" with my sons, holding up a card as they moved across the floor like that animal. They loved it.


© 2016 McKenna Meyers


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • letstalkabouteduc profile image

      McKenna Meyers 23 months ago from Bend, OR

      Yes, I've heard of Kumon but don't know much about it. Thanks for reading!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 23 months ago from England

      Hi, what a great idea! a few years ago I taught something called Kumon after school, its a repetitive way to learn english and maths, and it works too! no calculators, fingers or toes! lol! similar way of learning, nell

    Show All Categories