The Power of ‘Old MacDonald’ – Sound Play Developing #Phonemic Knowledge

Sound Play with ‘Old MacDonald’

Spring and all that we often associate with this time of year is upon us: lambs, chicks and new life. This in turn prompted memories of singing ‘Old MacDonald had a Farm’, with my own children. A strange connection; maybe!

But, maybe not! Through the making of animal noises and the repetition of the ‘e i e i o’ refrain the girls were learning to play with sounds. Through the song they were learning how to make sounds through changing their mouth shape, the position of their tongue and controlling their breathing.

When they couldn’t make a particular animal noise we just moved to the next animal on the farm, because it is a fun song, so no pressure. Next time we sang the song, the animals were still all included and over time they learnt to make all the animal sounds. Which, by happy coincidence, are the same sounds (phonemes) needed in our everyday speech.

The great thing about Old MacDonald and his farm is that he also has tractors, a quad bike and depending on where he lives even a helicopter. The list of vehicles and additional animals is endless, especially if he opens up his own zoo next to the farm!

Old MacDonald and other nursery rhymes/songs all help to build and teach a child how to make the sounds required for pronouncing words. They offer a child the opportunity to practice making sounds which they may otherwise have no experience of in their normal everyday life. They will store this sound making information for later use as they mature and extend their vocabulary, which in turn supports their phonics knowledge, which impacts on their reading ability.

Games to Develop Listening Skills – Part 7 – Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is our ability to split words into their smallest sound units (individual phonemes) and to manipulate these sounds through segmentation, blending, substitution and deletion. This is based on what we hear and say, not the written word.

These games are great for playing in the car or when waiting in queues and hopefully soon when out and about with other friends and family.

We usually introduce this concept to children using one syllable CVC words, a word that has a Consonant followed by a Vowel and then another Consonant, such as cat, dog, sit, peg and sun.

Play, ‘I hear with my little ear…’

This is based on the game I spy with my little eye. In this version you say;

 “I hear with my little ear the words (for example) cat, cake, key and kite. What sound do these words begin with?” The answer is they begin with the sound ‘k’ remember it is about what they hear not the spelling or letter names.

  • To begin with focus on helping your child to identify the first sound in words, remember it is about what you hear not the spelling, so shop, ship, and chef all start with the same first sound ‘sh’; fish, photo, fog would also have the same initial ‘f’ sound. Try not to correct your child based on spelling conventions, as it is sounds you are working on – spelling comes later.
  • Next help your child to listen and identify the last sound in a word such as ‘t’ in cat, sit and hat.
  • Then focus on the medial, or middle, sound in the word such as ‘a’ in mat, lap and tap.

Once your child can identify the initial, medial and final sounds in a word the next step is to playing with the words through oral phoneme segmentation and oral phoneme blending. You are probably doing this already with your child without really realising it.

  • Segmentation – being able to split words into their individual sounds, for example ‘cat’ into c-a-t.

Play, ‘How many sounds (phonemes) can you hear?’

This is a simple oral segmentation game just ask; “How many sounds (phonemes) can you hear in the word ‘hat’? The answer is 3. If your child can not count, they can show you using their fingers. The important thing is for them to hear and pick out the individual sounds in the word not the number of letters used to spell the word.

  • Blending – being able to blend individual sounds together to say a word, for example d-o-g into dog. This is achieved by saying the sounds over and over again getting quicker until it sounds and can be identified as the word (a tricky skills to learn).

Play, ‘I’m thinking of a word and it has the sounds (phonemes)… What is the word?’

This oral blending game seems easy but can be very trick skill for some children to master, so do not be surprised if they find it hard to begin with. Use CVC words to begin with, but do keep trying as it is a very important skill to learn; be patient and over time they will get there.

Say “I’m thinking of a word and it has the sounds (phonemes) l-o-g what is the word?” The answer is log.

Important Tips

We often slow down our pronunciation of the word and over exaggerate them, thinking we are helping our children to hear these sounds. This can be useful to start with, but be careful not to do it all the time. The aim is for your child to pick out the sounds in normal speech patterns, as these can be different from the way that words are spelt.

The most important thing to remember when modelling this, and when playing games to help develop these skills, is to make sure you are making the sounds correctly. It can be very easy to pollute a sound by adding an extra ‘uh’ sound to it, so ‘k’ becomes ‘kuh’ which makes it very difficult for children then to blend sounds.

When your child feels comfortable using and playing with sounds in CVC words move on to CCVC words such as stop, clop and flop, following the same steps of identifying the initial and last sound in the word and then the vowel sound rather than the middle sound. Then play oral phoneme segmentation and blending games.

Spring/Easter Drawing Activity Ideas – Supporting Language & Pre-handwriting Pattern Development

The Easter holiday break is upon us!

We have put together some quick step by step Easter drawing ideas for you to try, using basic shapes such as circles, rectangles and triangles. It is amazing how, by using these simple shapes, you and your child can create fantastic Spring/Easter: cards, pictures mobiles or bunting: http://bit.ly/2kyeo3w

Drawing pictures is a great way to help your child develop their pre-handwriting strokes and shape forming skills. As well as supporting shape, colour, pattern and language development.

Accents – Phonemic awareness & Phonics – Part 6

Because the English language is so rich and diverse it is very difficult to create a phonics system that caters for all. Every region that speaks the English language has its own accent which means there are always variations in the way that a word is pronounced.

Across England we all spell words the same but we certainly do not say them all the same, even though we all use the same 44 sounds. In the English language the 44 sounds can be represented by over 280 letter combinations.

So, accents have arisen from regions applying different phonemes (sounds) to graphemes (letters) when they pronounce words. The regions still use the same sounds and letters, they just associate them differently.

For example, in the South of England the letter ‘a’ can be pronounced as the ‘long ’R’ controlled’ vowel sound /ar,(ɑː)/ in words such as ‘grass’ and ‘bath’ whereas in the North of England it will be pronounced as the ‘short’ vowel /a,(æ)/ sound in these two words.

Click and then scroll down the page to see the animations of the different pronunciations of the word ‘bath’. https://www.teachphonics.co.uk/teaching-phonics.html#pronunciation

Both pronunciations are correct, which can make teaching phonics a little tricky; the key is to teach the sound to letter relationships which best suit the children being taught in relation to their regional accent. It is important to remember that children’s knowledge of the sounds that make words is based on how you speak to them naturally and not a strict standardized set of sounds.

However, for general educational and learning purposes the English language’s phonics system has been standardized, this is known as the ‘Received Pronounced’ (RP) English, and is used in comprehensive English dictionaries and translation dictionaries. The RP is based on a southern accent sound to letter relationship basis.

Games to Develop Listening Skills – Part 5

These games are designed to help a child learn about the different levels of sound, pitch, tone and volume.

Music Fun

  • Skittle Band – Use, or make, a drum stick (wooden spoons are good for this) and explore with your child the different sounds the drum stick makes against objects made of different materials, such as steel saucepan, another wooden spoon, plastic bottles etc. Choose items that are safe and you are happy for them to play with. You could photograph the objects, record the sounds they make, or video (on your phone), to play back and talk about later on. Try moving the activity outside for a different sound quality experience.
  • Orchestral Conductor – Once your child is happy and enjoys playing and making sounds, with different objects and instruments, try the conductor game. You can use your hands or a baton to point and encourage them to play certain sounds just like an orchestral conductor does, but make sure you have a clear stop gesture which your child will understand (you may need to say stop at the same time as the gesture to begin with, but they will soon get the idea). Then swap places and you become the musician and they the conductor; it may not be a classic you create but it is great fun. As your child develops their skills you can add new elements and hand gestures to make the sound louder or softer.
  • Musical Bottles – Use plastic bottles with different amounts of water/sand in them and different things as a beater. Talk about how:
    • Low/deep or high pitched a sound is compared with another.
    • Using different beaters can change the quality of the sound when used on the same bottle.
    • Using different amounts of pressure to hit the bottle makes the sound louder (harsher) or quieter (softer).

Try organizing the bottles in order of pitch to create a musical instrument and using this as part of the Orchestral Conductor game. You could number each bottle or use a different picture on the bottle as a way of encouraging your child to play the bottles in different orders (making music).

This is the last in our ‘Speaking and Listening Development’ series we hope you have found it useful and enjoyed the games and activities!

Sound Scanning Games to Develop Listening Skills – Part 4

These games are designed to help a child learn how to block out ambient noises so that they focus and concentrate on one particular sound.

Games

The idea is to identify and talk about different sounds in different locations; in the park or at home in different rooms. Ask the child to listen for a moment (timed activity 30 seconds to start with then increase) and to pick out different sounds they can hear. Some will be close and easier to identify; other sounds may be further away and require more focused concentration to work out what they may be.

  • Sound Scanning Questions to help:
    • What can you hear that is far away?
    • What can you hear that is close by?
    • What can you hear that is loud?
    • What can you hear that is quiet?
    • What can you hear that makes a high-pitched sound?
    • What can you hear that makes a low-pitched sound?
    • What can you hear that sounds big?
    • What can you hear that sounds small?
  • Listening Walk Activities- You could record some of the sounds heard and talked about on the walk. Try changing the ‘What can you …?’ questions to ‘What did you…?’ Depending on your child’s age they may be able to draw a sound scape picture showing all the things they heard on the walk.
  • Where is the Sound? – The aim of the game is finding out where the sound is coming from. Start by using something that makes a good clear sound.  Ask your child to cover their eyes (can use a blindfold) and have them sit or stand in the middle of the room. Move around the room, starting not too far away from them and make the sound. Pause between each sound to give your child time to settle and focus on it before you make the next sound. Try to keep an even, slow pace. The aim is for your child to point in the direction they believe the sound is coming from. Gradually move further away, maintaining the same sound level. Swap places with your child, so you have to guess where the sound is coming from.

To make it more challenging:

  • Change the volume of the noise.
  • Change the object that is making the noise.
  • Change the speed (rhythm), as well as the location, at which the sounds are made.

Have Fun!

Develop Listening Skills Part 3 – Sound Screen/Barrier Games

Last week we explained the three things required for good listening skills:

  • To pay attention – being able to focus on a particular voice or sound by filtering out other voices and ambient noises.
  • To concentrate on the voice or sounds to take in the information, building the stamina needed to listen for extended periods of time.
  • To interpret that information to gain meaning – comprehension.

Here are some games to help build these skills.

These games are designed to help a child learn how to block out ambient noises so that they focus and concentrate on one particular sound.

Create a barrier between you and your child so that they cannot see the object you are going to use to make noises with and see if they can guess the object. Try to use objects that make sounds that occur around them a lot of the time, for example keys rattling together or wooden blocks being knocked together. There are many variations of the game that can be played but you need to make sure your child has the opportunity to experience the sounds with the relevant object beforehand so they don’t get frustrated by the game.

  • Mrs Blog has a box… To the tune of Old Macdonald changing the name as best fits the situation. Place a box, on its side with a number of objects inside that make a noise (choose items your child is familiar with the sound of), between you and your child so they can’t see what is in the box. Start singing “My mummy has a box ee, i, ee, i, o and in that box she has…” Stop and gesture to encourage your child to listen (maybe a cupped hand to your ear) then pick one of the objects and make a sound; your child then tries to guess what it is. Continue to sing but imitating the sound of the object you played, which your child can now see. If it was a bunch of keys for example; “with a jingle, jangle here and a jingle jangle there, my mummy has a box ee, i, ee, i, o.” Swap places so your child can choose an object in the box, change the song so you are using their name, for example “My James has a box…”
  • Same or Different?  Place a barrier between you and your child so they cannot see which object you will use to make a sound and that you duck behind so they cannot see your face when you make vocal sounds.  This can be played at different levels. At the basic level using animal noises such as baa, moo, woof etc. A more complex level would be to use shakers with different size things inside to make different shaking sounds. Plastic containers or bags of the same size and type can be used to make the shakers with different small items in such as dried pea, rice, sand or small coins, pebbles or small Lego bricks. Make the noise once and then repeat either with the same noise or a different one. The child then says if they were the same or different.
  • Copy Cat!  Place a barrier between you and your child so they cannot see which object you will use to make a sound and that you duck behind so they cannot see your face when you make vocal sounds.  You will need two set of the same objects, a set for you and one for your child. The aim of the game is for you to make a noise with either an object or your voice and for your child to copy that sound choosing the correct object in front of them or using their voice as you did. The game can become more complicated as you mix a number of sounds using objects and your voice. Swap roles so that your child becomes the leader of the game and you have to copy them.

Have Fun! N.B. Be careful of small objects, especially those escaping from shakers, as these can be a choke hazard.

What is listening? – Part 2

Listening is a complicated skill that requires children to learn how to pay attention – being able to focus on a particular voice or sound by filtering out other voices and ambient noises. They then have to concentrate on the voice or sounds to take in the information, building the stamina needed to listen for extended periods of time. Then they have to interpret that information to gain meaning – comprehension.

The usual approach to teaching children to listen is based on three behaviours:

  1. Sitting or standing still
  2. Looking at the person who is speaking
  3. Thinking about what the person is saying or said

However, just because your child is replicating these behaviours doesn’t mean they are listening.

It is also surprising how often children are happy to follow steps 1 and 2 but completely miss step 3.

This is not surprising really as listening is not a set of behaviours but a set of skills that need to be taught and developed, starting from birth.

A child with poor listening skills will find it difficult to complete tasks, as they have not taken in all the information and so not understood the full extent of the task, or what was required of them. This can lead to a child flitting from one activity to another and never finishing anything, slowing down their learning. They also miss out on the sense of achievement and feeling of pride when a task is completed. This helps to build a child’s confidence, self-esteem and self-motivation to try again or attempt a more challenging task.

For many children good listening skills do not develop naturally, they have to be taught!

The Importance of Small Talk & Conversational Turn Taking – Week 1

Don’t underestimate the importance of everyday chatter or conversation (‘Small Talk’), children develop and learn a great deal through ‘Small Talk’ with adults and other children.

What do we mean by ‘Small Talk’?

With babies it is the kind of talk that explains what we are doing, what they are doing, where we are going and what we can see.  As they get older our verbal exchanges increase as we support their receptive and expressive vocabulary development. Through these exchanges we also support their general language development and understanding of how words are pronounced, basic sentence structure and using the correct tense.

When we talk with a child we demonstrate and model the use of language in real time so that it has meaning. For instance, a child may point and say “cat” and we would respond with “Yes, the cat is sleeping.” Or we may correct the child and say “That is a dog.” If we could we would point to a cat and explain the difference. We also correct mispronunciation of words and correct tense issues in the same way; repeating the word or sentence using the correct pronunciation or tense back to the child.

For more tips and advice try our tips page: http://bit.ly/2ncjzYn

The Communication Trust has a link to a free downloadable booklet called Small Talk which is a very useful guide for understanding how your child learns to talk from birth to age 5:

https://www.thecommunicationtrust.org.uk/resources/resources/resources-for-parents/small-talk.aspx

Conversational Turn Taking

We covered this a couple of weeks ago but I think it is useful to recap the main points again here as it supports the development of ‘Small Talk’:

Children need to learn when to talk and when to listen; for this to happen they need to do the following:

  • Actively Listen to the other person. This means:
    • Concentrate on the words being said, by blocking out other environmental noises and voices.
    • For most children and adults this also means looking at the person, watching their facial expression and body language.
    • Listening for the verbal cues and/or changes in the tone of voice that signifies that the person has finished speaking.
    • Recognising that it is either your turn to respond by formulating a reply or not.
  • Formulate a Response. This means:
    • Extracting meaning – taking understanding from the words that have been spoken.
    • Mentally searching for words to compile a grammatically correct set of sentences.
    • In young children this can take time, not because they do not have the answer, because they just take longer to recall and formulate their responses. This is due to the constant acquisition of new language and understanding of the grammatical conventions that need to be applied.
  • Communicate Response. This means
    • Speaking clearly, pronouncing words correctly in coherent sentences.
    • Using socially appropriate facial expressions and body language to accompany the response.
    • Using the appropriate verbal cues and/or changes in the tone of voice that allow the other person to understand it is now their turn.
  • Wait. This means giving time for the other person to formulate their response.
  • Actively Listen to the other person.

Developing a Child’s Speaking and Listening Skills is Vital!

It is not just the key to literacy success but an essential social communication skill.

Sadly, with the closure of schools over the last year due to the COVID-19 situation schools are reporting ever increasing concerns over the decline in young children’s speaking and listening skills. So, over the next 7 weeks, we are looking again at the different developmental elements of speaking and listening; providing practical games and activities to help build a child’s skills. 

Week 1. The Importance of Small Talk & Conversational Turn Taking Skills

Week 2. What is Listening?

Week 3. Games to Develop Listening Skills – Sound Screen Games

Week 4. Games to Develop Listening Skills – Sound Scanning Games

Week 5. Games to develop Listening Skills – Music Fun

Week 6. Accents – Phonemic awareness & Phonics

Week 7. Games to develop Listening Skills – Phonemic Awareness