Phonics is one of those things that’s mentioned a lot but not many people (unless you’re born after 2005 or a teacher) know the ins and outs of it (or should I say the oo’s and ae’s).
Believe it or not, the system was actually being taught back in the 17th Century! We’ve just made a bigger deal of it since the turn of the 21st Century.
No parent should be expected to know the details of a diagraph and a phoneme. However, just like you want to know what they have for school dinners, it’s worth knowing what’s helping them to read.
So, what is phonics and why’s it important for your child?
Essentially, phonics means using letter sounds to help you read words.
Your child’s school will have a phonics program. In fact, every school in the UK is expected to be teaching it as the research shows it actually works.
If your child isn’t yet in a school, their pre-school or nursery will even be introducing the sounds of the alphabet. You will notice that from this, your child can start to learn simple words like d-o-g, dog and ‘m-a’t, mat.
Once your child has learned common letter-sound combinations they start different (and trickier) ones.
Whilst all this is going on, your child should be growing an interest and enjoyment for reading.
During their English lessons, your child’s teacher will be sharing a range of stories. This aims to make your child confident about reading. And it encourages them to talk and think about what they like reading too. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
Well, if your child is one of the lucky few that can absorb every bit of detail the teacher tells them throughout the day. Then congratulations, your child may be the next Hawkins.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. And in order to get that knowledge to sink in, you need to be practising and building on these freshly learned skills at home too.
How can you help and make it fun?
Without going into too much detail (and bore you completely), there are different phases and levels of phonics for your child to go through.
Before you make a start, talk to your child’s teacher and ask them where your child is at. This way you will know how much you need to be doing and where you need to pitch it.
I’ve put together some handy hints that you can use with any phase of your child’s learning of phonics:
- Use a puppet to teach with – puppets are a great way for your child to see it as a fun and playful activity. Also, your child may feel a little silly making the different noises and sounds. If you get the puppet to model them first, they won’t feel so embarrassed to copy.
- Lucky dip/magic box – giving your child choice around what they’re going to do will make them happier to take part. Throw a range (5 or so) of activities into a box and get them to stick their hand in and choose one for that day.
- Singing – type into YouTube ‘songs to help with phonics’ and you’re spoiled for choice. Often the words and sounds are on the screen so you can do them at the same time. WARNING: They are extremely catchy and memorable. Please don’t hate me if you find yourself singing them round Tesco…
- Keep the sessions short and focussed – phonics teaching has to be quite repetitive. Because of this, your child (and you) will only be able to handle short, sharp bursts of it. Don’t spend more than 10-15 minutes doing it. Set a timer and sit it in full view so you both know how long you’ve got left.
- Choose a time when your child is alert – you know when you’re trying to have a conversation when you’re running on 2 hours sleep and find you’re mincing your words? Well, imagine trying to learn a new language (because that’s what it feels like to your child) when you’re tired? Doesn’t matter what time it is. As long as you and your child are alert, you will get the best results.
- Keep reading to them even if they’re an independent reader – remember these sounds are brand new to your child. Even if you think your child is great at reading, hearing you read aloud is helpful no matter what age they are!
- Listening to sounds around them – this is especially great for your younger children. Doesn’t matter where you are, the park, supermarket, kitchen. Get your child to close their eyes and repeat any sound they hear. From the ‘beep’ of the self-scanner to the ‘hummmmm’ of the microwave. It all counts. This helps them form the sounds in their mouth.
- Use instruments to mimic sounds – same as above. Anything can be an instrument. Pots, hands, pens on tables. Just try to avoid anything fragile or expensive…
- Use hobbies and interests (trucks, diggers, animals etc.) – if your child is a big fan of cars. You could get them to choose their 5 favourites and then listen to the noises of the engines on YouTube. Or you could go through all the things in/on the car that would make a noise (door closing, clicking of a seatbelt etc.)
- Model sounds first and get them to sound it back – as mentioned above, your child’s never made these noises before. They need to hear it first (maybe a couple of times) before they can do it themselves.
Phonics is something that feels very scary but actually can be very easy.
Don’t to overcomplicate it and speak to your child’s teacher if you’re completely lost.