Teaching Vowels: How To Help Your Child Learn Long And Short Vowel Sounds

by wherelearnu

It’s not uncommon for children to struggle with vowels. Most kids actually pick up consonant pronunciations much more quickly. Why is that?

One of the challenges with vowel sounds is that they can’t exactly be “felt” in the mouth. With consonants, kids can feel the friction created while using their tongue, lips, or teeth to produce the sounds. To produce a vowel sound, you only need to adjust the shape of your mouth.

Then there’s the challenge of distinguishing between long and short vowels or two similar vowel sounds. In a nutshell, learning vowels can be a monster!

But have no fear; we’re here to help! We’ve compiled a step-by-step guide you can use to help your child finally connect the dots with both short and long vowel sounds.

When Is Your Child Ready To Learn Vowels?

Teacher using big flash cards to teach vowels to young kid

It’s challenging to teach your child vowel sounds if they cannot hear them. This is why one of the most important signs showing that a child is ready to learn vowel sounds is when they can hear the vowel sounds in simple words.

For instance, let’s say your child tries to spell a simple CVC (consonant, vowel, consonant) word like “cat.”

Even if they may misspell the word by writing “cet” instead of “cat,” this is still a beautiful moment, so celebrate it to the fullest because it indicates that your child can hear that there’s a letter between the C and the N.

If you feel that your young learner is developmentally ready to start learning more about vowels, how can you help? Let’s take a look.

Tips For Teaching Short Vowel Sounds

Since short vowels have more consistent spelling, this is a great place to start when teaching your young learner.

1) Begin With The Names Of The Vowels

Young woman and kid playing with colorful clay molding different shapes

Teaching your child A, E, I, O, U is the first step in helping to familiarize them with vowels. We recommend taking these one vowel at a time to avoid overwhelming your young learner.

The good news is that there are various tactics you can use to help your child remember their vowels.

Besides sounding them out, you can also help your child create three-dimensional letters with something as easy and accessible as PlayDoh. To help emphasize the differences between the letters, use a different color for each vowel.

As your child feels and creates vowels, more of their senses will be engaged, and this will help them get familiar and comfortable with the five vowels and their sounds.

2) Differentiate Between The Vowels

This point on our list is connected to the previous one. Still, it deserves its own emphasis because it can be easy for children to struggle with differentiating between the vowels.

The example we used earlier of a child spelling “cet” instead of “cat” is pretty common, especially when you consider how similar the sounds are to each other. This is why it’s important to make the letters distinct.

To add some fun into your child’s learning, you might consider using stick puppets made with the five vowels. Simply attach a printout of each letter onto a popsicle stick, and then let your imagination run wild!

A can go to the store with E; I can head out to the beach with O; and so on. While acting out your scene, remember to emphasize the difference between the letters and keep sounding the vowels out clearly.

3) Introduce Word Families For Simple CVC Words

Parents playing with plastic numbers to help child learn

Word families can be described as a group of words that have a common pattern or features. Helping children learn these allows them to spell and sound out related words.

For example, a child who learns the word family -at, will have an easier time spelling cat, mat, hat, etc.

Remember to take it one word family at a time. This will help prevent your child from feeling overwhelmed with all the new information.

Here are some activities we recommend for working on word families:

  • Say a word like “hat” and ask if it has the /a/ sound or the /i/ sound. Focus on sounding the letters out, not writing them, so your child can hear the differences better.
  • Say two words and ask which has /o/ as the middle sound.
  • Make a Tic-Tac-Toe board and put a vowel in each cell. Before placing their mark in a cell, your child will need to identify the vowel with its short sound.
  • Sound out CVC words by emphasizing the phonemes. For example, say /t/…/a/…/p/… and then blend together into tap.
  • Place a t and a p with a space in-between. Ask your child to fill in the missing letter that will help form “top.”
  • Switch the vowels. For this, you can play with magnetic letters. Ask your child to turn “tap” to “tip” and then to “top.”

Here are some great words with short vowel sounds to practice at home:

Short “A” Sound Examples:

  • Cap
  • Bat
  • Bad
  • Cat
  • Dad
  • Lap
  • Tap

Short “E” Sound Examples:

  • Bed
  • Get
  • Pen
  • Bet
  • Wet
  • Fed
  • Net
  • Ten

Short “I” Sound Examples:

  • Bin
  • Sip
  • Tip
  • Zip
  • Did
  • Fit
  • Nip
  • Win

Short “O” Sound Examples:

  • Rod
  • Cod
  • Jog
  • Dot
  • Fog
  • Mop
  • Pot
  • Top

Short “U” Sound Examples:

  • Bun
  • Cut
  • Pup
  • Sun
  • Sum
  • Run
  • Fun
  • Hug

Tips For Teaching Long Vowel Sounds

1) Form Long Vowel Sounds

Parent helping girl to pronounce vowels

Although long vowel sounds are typically easier for kids to learn, we normally teach short vowels first. Why is that? It takes two vowels to make a long sound, and this can be tricky for kids to understand at first.

To get started with long vowel sounds, we begin teaching the silent e. It’s important for kids to understand that every vowel will change its sound when a silent e is put after the CVC form of a word.

For instance, if you put an e after the CVC word tap, the word changes to tape, and the vowel sound produced changes.

To help your child grasp this concept, begin with phonemic awareness. Ask them:

  • Are tap and tape the same?
  • Say the individual sounds slowly — t-a-p and t-ae-p.
  • What changed?

You can also use magnetic letters to help illustrate the power of the silent e.

First, show your child the letter a. Make the short sound and then explain that you will give the power to its own name. Who can give the power? E! Tap the magnetic e on the magnetic a, adding it to the end of the word after, and — voila! — you now have a new word.

Using magnetic letters, you can then change tap to tape, bit to bite, dot to dote, and so on. While your child will hear that the sound changes, using magnetic letters will help them see what vowel contributes to the change in sound.

You can also use flip cards to demonstrate this concept. Fold the last eighth or so of an index card, and then write a CVC word, like tap, on the unfolded part and an e on the folded part. When you unfold the card, the word will change from tap to tape!

Note: The long o and u sounds can be a bit more complicated, so we recommend holding off on those until your child has gotten a good grasp on the others.

2) Correct The Spelling

Young girl learning her vowels with cardboard letters

To help your child gain a better understanding of long vowel sounds, why not play a game to help strengthen their knowledge?

To play this game, show your child the incorrect spelling of a CVC word and have them correct it. For example, using magnetic letters, spell out f-i-n-o but pronounce it as fine. Now your child, who’s learned the power of the silent e, will be able to replace the o with an e.

Here are some great words you can use for this activity:

Long “A” Sound Examples:

  • Bake
  • Lake
  • Fame
  • Date
  • Fate
  • Cake
  • Make

Long “I” Sound Examples:

  • Hide
  • Fine
  • Time
  • Line
  • Mine
  • Pine
  • Wife
  • Ride

Long “O” Sound Examples:

  • Joke
  • Rose
  • Woke
  • Poke

Learning Vowels One Day At A Time

Young girl writing with colored pencils

Learning vowels can be challenging for children. That’s why it’s important to take it one day at a time.

Help your child learn their basic vowels, start with the short CVC words, and then after some practice, help them nail the long vowel sounds, which are a little trickier.

Using the right strategy, you can give your young learner the confidence to face any unfamiliar word they may come across during reading activities.

With the help of the HOMER Learn & Grow App, continue exposing your child to all sorts of stories and reading activities. This will not only help them with their vowels, but it will also set a solid foundation for their literacy journey!


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