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From 50-75% of all words used in school books, library books, newspapers, and magazines are in the Dolch Basic Sight Vocabulary of 220 words (preschool thru Grade 3). The Dolch word list is made up of "service words" (pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and verbs).
Most cannot be learned through the use of pictures. Many of these words cannot be sounded out because they do not follow decoding rules and, therefore, must be learned as sight words.
Betsy B. Lee has written a poem that she has shared with us to help emphasize the importance of learning dolch words.
Dolch words are intended for children preschool through grade 3. Fry words are intended for grades 1 through 6.
As a mom, I actually like to teach the Dolch words in preschool and kindergarten and then transition to the Fry words from grade 1 to 6. There's a bit of overlap, but I didn't find this to be a problem.
I had access to my kids at an early age (something their elementary school teachers didn't have) -- by elementary school, I didn't have as much time with them. For my girls anyways, they seemed to catch onto things and be excited to learn in preschool/kindergarten. By grade 3 or so, flash cards with boring old mom was a lot less exciting than going biking with their friends!