Teaching Long Vowels to Children

Long vowel sounds are among the first reading skills your child will be exposed to in a phonics-based learning program. The association between sounds and spellings can be a difficult concept to grasp at first. It requires children to understand that certain letter combinations can make a vowel short or long (such as "pin" and "pine") and that different spelling variation can end up making the exact same sound (such as "rain" and "date").

Here is a primer to help parents identify the goals and challenges of teaching long vowels to children (and ways they can participate):


Understanding Long Vowels and the Silent "E"

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Long vowels are those in which the sounds of the letters A, E, I, O, and U match the spoken name of the letter. They are usually taught from preschool through the first grade.

Oftentimes, a word with a short vowel is transformed into a long vowel by placing a silent letter "e" at the end of the word.

For example:

  • By adding "e," "mat" becomes "mate."
  • By adding "e," "win" becomes "wine."
  • By adding "e," "hop" becomes "hope."
  • By adding "e," "tub" becomes "tube."

One exception is the letter "e," wherein the addition of a silent "e" rule does not apply.

There are many similar exceptions that can cause child confusion when first starting. It requires the teacher to stage the instruction to outline each rule and exception individually. By working closely with the teacher, you, as the parent, can begin helping out at home.


Understanding Vowel Teams

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Vowel teams refer to the use of two consecutive vowels to create a single long vowel sound. The long vowel sound usually relates to the first vowel in the sequence.

For example:

  • Using "ai" to create the word "wait"
  • Using "ea" to create the word "meat"
  • Using "oa" to create the word "boat"

When a child starts learning long vowels, the instruction will generally be constrained to one-syllable words. Longer words and more complex rules (such as "I before E except after C" ) will usually be introduced in second grade or later.


Double "E" and Double "O"

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The child will also be taught that the only double vowels used in words are "ee" and "oo." Of these, only "ee" is spoken as a long vowel in words like "sheep," "wheel," "beet," and "bee."

By contrast, "oo" is pronounced in many different ways such as "hoop," "look," "brood," and "boo."


Teaching Long Vowel Exceptions

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One of the rules a child may learn when starting out is that vowels can sometimes be long if followed by double consonants. It is a fun rule for kids to test out as they begin to read.

For example:

  • The letter "o" followed by "ll" can become "stroll."
  • The letter "i" followed by "nd" can become "kind."
  • The letter "a" followed by "ng" can become "bang."

Of course, there are plenty of exceptions to the rule, and that can be part of the fun. By picking out the inconsistencies, children can start to intuitively work out how a word is spoken as they move from reading words to entire sentences.

So, even if words like "sing," "long," and "hill" don't adhere to double consonant rules children will quickly get the hang of it as they become better at working out the sound and context of a word at the same time.


If Your Child Is Having Trouble With Long Vowels

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If your child is struggling with long vowel sounds, try not to stress about it. Children learn at different rates and will usually catch up if you work them at home. Flashcards are a great and fun way to do this.

On the other hand, if your child is falling behind and you're worried there is a real problem, there are several things you can do:

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  1. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Speech and Language Developmental Milestones. Updated March 6, 2017.