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Phonics is widely used in early years and primary education for teaching literacy throughout the English-speaking world. But, what is phonics?
Well, phonics is a way of teaching children the relationship between letters and sounds to form words so they can learn to read and spell. When your child learns that the letter A has the speech sound of /a/ as in ant or the letters CH together have the sound /ch/ as in chair, they are learning phonics.
English language can be broken up into 44 sounds, which are put together to form words. The smallest unit of sound is called a Phoneme and is represented by one letter of the alphabet; letters of the alphabet are also called Graphemes. In the English alphabet there are only 26 letters or Graphemes so groups of letters have to be combined to make the rest of the sounds. Digraphs are 2 letters making one sound e.g. /sh/ in ship, /ay/ in play. Trigraphs are 3 letters making one sound e.g. /igh/ in high, /ore/ in more.
Research has shown that systematic teaching of phonics is the most effective way for teaching most young children to read. Most schools now introduce children to phonics in Reception through a schemed resource such as: Oxford Reading Tree, Read Write Inc or Jolly phonics. They will continue to learn phonics throughout Key Stage 1/Grades 1&2 until they can read with confidence and fluency. Mastering phonics early on will allow children to move on quickly from being a beginner reader to one that can readily enjoy reading independently.
In the beginning, teaching will usually focus more on the sounds of the letters rather than the letter names, so don’t be worried if your child starts calling letters by the sounds they make rather than their ABC names. At first they will learn the sounds, then how to match them to letters and then how to blend the letter sounds together to form simple words e.g. CAT, MAT. Blending means that they are reading individual sounds with increasing speed until you can hear a word. At the same time children will also work on segmenting; separating whole words into individual sounds. The two work hand in hand.
Developing early literacy skills at home will help get your child ready for learning phonics. The easiest place to start is by simply making time to read aloud to your kids; reading aloud is one of the most important things parents can do with young child and gets them excited about learning to read themselves. When your child is ready you can start to introduce letters and sounds. You can encourage your child to play with letters at home and get them excited to find the letter and sound in their own names. Play games that involve listening and recognising sounds and the differences between them e.g. Sound Eye Spy – ‘I am thinking of something that begins with the sound _. What other things begin with that sound?’.
Pronunciation of the sounds is often what confuses many parents as it might be different to what you remember. Just try to make sure that you and your child pronounce the sounds precisely, using the pure sound (for example mmmmmm not muh, ffffffff not fuh) so you can hear each individual sound clearly.
A word of caution… remember that NOT all words can be sounded out phonetically e.g. the, what, he. These are often called ‘tricky words’ and children will simply learn to recognise them as the develop their literacy skills.
We have made a brilliant literacy based game called Alphabet Hotel. This game will allow kids to explore all the letters and sounds of the alphabet as well as digraph combinations through playing a series of mini games where they will learn to recognise the sounds and corresponding letters as well as matching objects beginning with the same sounds and even practise tracing the letters of the alphabet in preparation for beginning to write.
That’s not all – we also have a show called Phonics School which introduces each letter of the alphabet and its corresponding sound in a fun, memorable way.
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