There are loads of Internet resources on phonics including websites that allow you to print pages for offline use. Search on “phonics resources” and you’ll find information and tools for parents, teachers, and kids.

What’s appropriate and effective will depend on you and your child. When my youngest child was finishing kindergarten, I got mixed signals about his reading progress. Though I didn’t necessarily think he should be reading fluently (or at all) at age 5, his kindergarten teacher insisted that he could read better than he was letting on. I sensed that he had partial understanding of phonics but needed help. I did research on phonics instruction and though I was intrigued with the glitziness and guarantee of Hooked on Phonics, I decided to try a less expensive option: some literacy games and Explode The Code workbooks.

There’s more than one way to teach a child to read or just encourage what may come naturally to some children. My dad, a volunteer elementary-school tutor, loves web-based resources and doesn’t understand why more schools don’t use the Internet for remedial instruction. He recommends Starfall, which I think is a pretty cool site. The graphics are kid-friendly, bright and not too busy. The stories are entertaining and educational with story lines and instruction for pre-readers and beginning readers.

Here are some topics to consider when encouraging literacy:

Am I starting my child too early? You don’t have to push independent reading for your child to develop literacy skills at an appropriate age. Some kids may start reading at age 5 (or earlier) while others will master reading at 6 years or older. My oldest loved being read to so I continued to read to him, rather than encourage independent reading. My youngest didn’t particularly enjoy sitting still (though I often read to him as he played) so he enjoyed the hands-on involvement (looking at pictures and writing) associated with Explode The Code.

Should my child enjoy using the resources I’ve selected? Children should enjoy learning and if a resource is boring or tedious, you can stop using it. My child happened to like the workbooks better than games, which was a surprise to me. At some point, your child will learn that he or she has to study whether it’s fun or not, but I think that a young child should think that learning is fun!

Is phonics the best way to teach reading? I found materials promoting phonics as the most effective way to teach reading as well as research to the contrary at EdResearchReading Rockets offers a thorough explanation of phonics instruction plus resources. From a mom’s perspective, phonics is a great way to teach children how sounds connect to making words, a key element in learning to read. Equally important, however, are how words convey meaning and connect to tell a story.

What should I read to my child? Read nearly anything from picture books to novels. Many kids love to look at pictures while you read. To relieve parental boredom (my oldest liked to read the same books over and over, over and over), try novels; some of my favorites are The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White, Dominic by William Steig, and Winnie-the-Pooh books by A.A. Milne.

It didn't take long for my son to understand the connections between letters and sounds and words so I was glad that I didn't invest in more comprehensive but expensive resources. I'm still not sure how much he understood before I bought the workbooks and games, but in first grade he told me that when he has children, he'll give his kids some extra help too.