An Introduction to Zoo-phonics®

“Why teach phonics?” you ask. Because in every kindergarten, first, second, third and even fourth grade class, there are children who either don’t know the sounds and symbols of the alphabet nor understand the phonetic system of the English language. These students are unable to read and write proficiently.

Because these children lag behind their classmates academically, they begin to develop feelings of inferiority and frustration. This can result in inappropriate behavior and lack of motivation.

Unless the right type of intervention takes place, the damage can be irreversible. Reading and writing for that child become activities to be avoided and school a place of indifference or aversion. A recent poll was taken asking high school drop-outs why they had quit school. Their answers are summed up in three words: “I hated school.” Most struggled with academics. It is the goal of Zoo-phonics to begin a pattern of success from preschool throughout the grades, promoting each child’s ability, interest and participation.

Learning to read and write should be painless and stress-free. Zoo-phonics is committed to joyful learning. Using a cast of Animal characters teaches the Shapes and Sounds of the letters, and then a body movement is used to lock this into the children’s memory. They thus use their eyes, ears, mouths, and large muscles as vehicles to establish and access information. Zoo-phonics encourages the child’s natural tendency to wiggle and make noise, channeling them for learning. Children learn when they are having fun. They learn by touching and by doing.

Hemispheric Learning

There is a long-standing paradox in education. In kindergarten through third grade, arithmetic is taught from the concrete to the abstract. For instance, children are given items with which to manipulate for addition and subtraction; to sort; from which to make patters. In reading, however, children in preschool, kindergarten, and first grade, and are expected to master abstract symbols that make letter sounds.

Research suggests that young brains need right hemispheric intervention from birth to about third grade (seven years old). Traditional reading instruction, however, thrusts left hemispheric activities (abstract symbols forming words) too early into a child’s education, thereby interfering with and delaying understanding and mastery.

It has been commonly accepted over the decades that girls learn to read and spell earlier and more easily than boys. As a possible explanation for this, recent research has surfaced that suggests that “When a man mentally breaks a word into its individual sounds, he concentrates the job on the left side of his brain. But a woman uses both sides of the brain almost equally to do the same thing, researchers report.”

If emergent readers need right brain strategies to access language information, is it possible that because males primarily utilize the left hemisphere, it may be the cause of the difficulty for some boys? Is it also possible that because of the concrete integration of the hemispheres in the Zoo-phonics approach, boys might have easier access to the reading and spelling process?

Zoo-phonics is an efficient tool, not only for the stimulation of the right hemisphere, but for the actual integration of both hemispheres. It encourages integration of the concrete right side of the brain and the abstract left side of the brain. It turns the a-b-c’s from an abstract left-brain activity into a concrete right-brain activity by means of this very physical, multi-modal approach.


1. Fleming, I. & Stern, L. (Eds.). (1986). Child Development and Learning Behavior., New York: Fischer-Vertag.
2. “Gender Differences in How the Brain ‘Reads,’” San Francisco Chronicle, February 16, 1995, p. A4.
3. Sharon Begley, “Your Child’s Brain.” Newsweek, February 19, 1996, p. 57.
4. Linnea C. Ehri, Nancy D. Deffner and Lee S. Wilce, “Pictorial Mnemonics for Phonics,” Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. 76, No. 5, 1984, pgs. 880-893.
5. Linnea C. Ehri, Nancy D. Deffner and Lee S. Wilce, “Pictorial Mnemonics for Phonics,” Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. 76, No. 5, 1984, p. 881.
6. Thomas Armstrong, PH.D., In Their Own Way, XXX
7. Eric Jenson, Teaching With The Brain In Mind, XXX, pg. 96.
8. Ehri, Deffner, Whilce, “Pictorial Mnemonics for Phonics” (1984) Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. No. 5, page 880-893.
9. Marily Jager Adams, Beginning to Read, Thinking and Learning About Print, p. 67.