What is Phonics?

With the new school year under way some of you will have been introduced to phonics for the first time. Phonics is a very useful decoding tool used for developing reading skills and as an encoding tool for spelling.

Phonics is the simple process of linking sounds to letters, its complexity comes from how many sound (phoneme) to letter (grapheme) combinations there are. So, to be good at phonics a child needs to know the 44 sounds and numerous letter and letter combinations of English and then learn the associations between the two.

Children can communicate orally from an early age; it is when they move to the written word that they need to learn how to decode text, to turn the letters into words they already know.  

Using phonics knowledge for reading entails:

  1. Identify the letter or letter combination, in a word, that represent a sound
  2. Associate the letter or letter combination to one of the 44 sounds
  3. Blend each of the sounds together to form the word
  4. Recognise the now oral word to extract its meaning

The theory supporting the teaching of reading using phonics, especially synthetic phonics, is that if a child can decode a word by associating individual sounds to a letter or combination of letters they will then be able to blend those sounds together to form and say the word.

Once a word has been spoken they will extract its meaning by using their far more extensive spoken language comprehension. Children are therefore using the same mental processes to understand written text and speech.

Using Letter Names & Phonics

On our Teach Phonics website, and as part of our Teach Handwriting Scheme and website, children are taught the letter names. Some schools, teacher and parents still seem to be concerned that this is not consistent with the teaching of phonics. 

A myth which seems to have become popular, since the introduction of phonics into schools, is that children should not be taught the alphabet letter names as they find it too confusing. However, there is no evidence to suggest this is true. The Independent review of the teaching of early reading, final report, Jim Rose March 2006 states:

“The teaching of letter names is often left until after the sounds of the letters have been learned, in the belief that it can be confusing for children to have to learn both together. However, research indicates that children often learn letter names earlier than they learn letter sounds and that five year olds who know more letter names also know more letter sounds. The reasons for this are not fully understood by researchers’.

Given that children will meet many instances outside, as well as within, their settings and schools where letter names are used, it makes sense to teach them within the programme of early phonic work.

It appears that the distinction between a letter name and a letter sound is easily understood by the majority of children.” (Page 26)

Rose, cites Professor Morag Stuart who suggests that:

‘…children expect things to have names and are accustomed to rapidly acquiring the names of things.’ (Independent review of the teaching of early reading’ final report, Jim Rose March 2006, page 27.)

Learning the unique letter names of the alphabet is a pre-phonics skill; as well as an early learning goal. It has to be remembered that a letter is a shape which only represents a sound when it is placed within a word or sentence. Also a letter or combination of letters can represent more than one sound and so the only unique way of identifying alphabet letters when we talk about them is to use their names.

Learning the correct letter names helps to reinforce that when talking about the letter ‘a’ (ay) for example it has a set shape regardless of the sound that it will be representing in the word. This further supports children’s handwriting development as the communication of your requirements is unambiguous.

One of the first things we like a child to be able to write correctly is their name, however most names are impossible to spell using the simple phonics code taught to young children. A name does not have to be long in length to be phonetically difficult to spell such as Christopher or Charlotte. Shorter names such as Lucy or Liam also cause a problem. 

The only logical answer I suggest is to use the letter names until a child has been introduced to the more complex phonics coding system. 

Back to School – Ways to Support Your Child’s Phonics Knowledge

grapheme chart keyboard

After such a long break from school it is good to take some time to check your child has not slipped back.

Playing some simple letter name and sound games can really help get your child (and you) back into school mode.

Some simple game ideas:

  • You can use words in books, cards, on labels or signs when out and about. Ask your child to point to a particular letter in the word using the letter name. Then ask your child to say the word, or you can say it. Then ask them to tell you what sound the letter is making in that word.
  • Pick a card at random, using lower-case and capital letter flash cards (you can make your own); show your child and ask them to tell you the name of the letter on the card, and to give you a sound the letter makes. Ask older children to give you the other sounds the letter can make. For older children you can also use cards that have common digraphs (two letters representing one sound) and trigraphs (three letters representing one sound) on.
  • Play Pelmanism (Memory Game). How to Play:
    • You will need two sets of flash cards. The cards are thoroughly mixed and spread face down on the table or floor. They can be arranged in a regular pattern or randomly, but they must not overlap.
    • One player turns over a card, leaving it in the same place, they say what it is (letter name and/or sound) and then turn over another saying what it is. If the two cards match then the player keeps them and has another go. If the cards do not match then the cards are turned back over in the same location as before and it is the next players turn.
    • The game is finished when all the cards have been matched and the winner is the one with the most pairs.

If you are not sure of all the sounds a letter, or combination of letters, can represent then use our Alphabet Keyboard to help you find the sounds (phonemes): bit.ly/2bUtZae

Summer Fun – Part 4 – Get Cooking!

Cooking 1

Cooking is a great fun way to practise getting both hands to work together. This helps to develop coordination, hand and finger strength and dexterity skills; all skills required for handwriting. However, it is amazing how much talk can come from this as well; not just at the time with you but when they share the day’s experience with others later on (developing their phonological awareness).

An added benefit at this time of year is that you can do ‘Pick Your Own’. Getting out and about and encouraging your child to pick their own fruit is not only great fun but another sneaky way of working on their hand and finger strength and dexterity.

There are so many recipes, especially online, for making quick easy great tasting food (make a large batch and freeze the rest).

So, if the sun is shining, or it is just not raining, get out there find your local ‘Pick Your Own’ or check out the bargains at your local shops/market and get cooking!

Summer Fun – Part 3 – Think more Play, Play and Play!!!

Play play play 2

We are nearly through the summer holidays; six weeks may have seemed like a long time but it is amazing how quickly it passes.

The last thing you and your child probably want to think about right now is handwriting or phonics and getting ready for next term; and quite right too!

So, don’t think about it in the conventional way of practise, practise and practise.

Think more play, play and play!!!

Children learn so much through just playing; developing physical, mental, communication and vocabulary strengths and skills, which all support them at school and with learning.

Once introduced to a new game or activity children will very often take it and make it their own, making new rules and introducing extra characters or challenges.

The skill as a parent is remembering to let go of your preconceived ideas about how a game should be played and letting your child take the initiative.

If you provide the opportunities it is amazing how they will take on the challenge of inventing a new game or (in their eyes) improving an existing one.

This does not have to cost a penny; use the toys they already have or make games using empty plastic bottles or cardboard tubes.

The following types of play can support and develop the key strengths and skills your child needs for handwriting and you have not had to mention school or homework.

  • The local play park is a fantastic free resource; running, jumping, crawling and climbing can all be encouraged. If your child is a little reluctant then it may well be that they are unsure how to do some of these activities. Explain when jumping that they needed to land on their feet and bend their knees as they land. Start small and as their confidence grows so does the height or distance they jump. Climbing can be scary for some children so again explain how to climb, moving one hand or foot at a time so that there are always three other points of contact.
  • If you are lucky enough to have a garden then mud play is messy but so much fun, it can be contained in a small area and will not only make you a cool adult but, if you join in, it will knock years off you (have a go, it is a great free therapy session).
  • Skittle games are always fun, extend the activity by decorating the skittles (plastic bottles or cardboard tubes) using anything from crayons, paint or even dress them up as people or animals.

Enjoy!

Summer Fun Part 2 – Water, water everywhere!

Water fun 2

The SUN is out which makes it time for the water fights and games to begin.

It is August and for once, the weather is perfect, so why not set up water squirting games in the garden. The kids are waterproof and everything else will dry out, eventually!

How can water fights and games, where you can get wet, be handwriting and phonics homework?

You will be encouraging your child to develop their hand strength, co-ordination and eye tracking skills (all handwriting skills). However, these games are also fantastic for developing sound and word awareness skills.

Try mimicking the sounds that the water makes as it drips on to the floor or hits the targets; use directional language to support your child’s aiming skills; describe how the objects move when hit: bouncing, rolling or flying and talk through the emotions evoked through playing the games.

As well as supporting your child in developing a whole range of physical and language skills you will also increase your cool adult status.

Some fun water games:

  • Try setting up a target wall, using chalk to draw the targets.
    • How many of the targets can you hit with water squirted from a water pistol or squeeze bottle in a set time.
    • How many targets can be washed off.
  • Set up a skittles range.
    • Each skittle hit with water can be worth a certain number of points, or the distance of the skittles may affect their value.
    • A time trial game to hit all the skittles. If you are using plastic bottles as skittles try making some of them a little heavier by putting sand or dirt in them to make it a bit harder to knock them over.
  • Move the object race games.
    • A light toy/ball has to be moved by squirts of water over a distance.
    • A range of objects moved in to target areas to gain points.

The only limitation is you and your child’s imagination and trust me kids never tire of finding new ways to play with water (but then again neither do many adults)!

Homework has never been so much FUN!

Summer Fun – Part 1 – Indoor/Outdoor Summer Circuits Ideas

Play 1

Well, true to form, the Summer Holiday weather is a mixed bag, sunny one minute then pouring with rain the next!

So, here are a couple of ideas to help your child burn off some of that pent-up energy. Best of all you can class it as handwriting homework (working on gross and fine motor skills).

An indoor/outdoor circuit training course does not have to take up much space or be messy (but it might be a good idea if indoors to move ornaments a little further out of the way).

Simple activities can be fun if they are done for short periods of time and children do love a time challenge. Make each activity last anything from 30 seconds to 1 minute.

You could record how many they did in the time and see if they have improved when you try it again.

Why not try:

  • Hopping on one leg and then the other (balance & coordination)
  • Use the bottom step of the stairs for step ups (bi-lateral coordination)
  • Curl ups (Core strength -see our games page)
  • With a cushion balanced on their head can they touch their toes without dropping the cushion (balance, coordination, bi-lateral coordination and core strength)
  • Star Jumps (balance & coordination)

For more fun, simple activity ideas check out our games pages, it is amazing how much fun you can have just hopping, jumping, skipping and dancing on the spot: http://bit.ly/2FhFkR7

If you are feeling really brave why not try building an obstacle course, a lot of the fun is in the designing and making. It is amazing how much communication and language skills are required as well.

Let go and have fun!!!

The Five Common Stages of Play Development

Stage of play 1

Last week we discussed the five types of play necessary to support your children’s physical, intellectual, social and emotional growth and well-being. Here we explain the five common stages of play so that you can better understand your child’s play development and how best to support them through play.

The Five Common Stages of Play:

  1. Watching – A child watches what others are doing but does not join in, they are purely an onlooker.
  2. Solitary Play – They play on their own without regard, or need for others, and enjoy independent activities that do not require others to participate.
  3. Parallel Play– This is when they play near others but do not interact with them, even if they are using the same play materials.
  4. Associative Play – When children play in small groups with no defined rules or assigned roles.
  5. Co-operative Play – Is when children work together in building projects, or pretend play, assigning roles for each member of the group.

Children are all so different and because of this the length of time they spend at each stage varies greatly; but they all find their way in time.

You are your child’s first, and most important, playmate. They just love it when you are silly and play games with them; become a pilot, rally car diver or fairy princess for 10 minutes. Can’t remember how? Then let your child show you!

To Play is to Learn

To Play 2

The summer holidays are here!

So, it is the perfect time to go out and play or, as is often the case, stay indoors and play.

We are always being shown how important play is in the development of young animals’ survival and hunting skills. How many times have you thought how cute or lovely when watching kittens, puppies or polar bears playing.

Humans are also animals which thrive and develop through play; in fact, play is so important the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights state it as a right for every child (Ginsburg, 2013).

We often think of play as a frivolous pastime rather than a practical and meaningful one. However, here at Teach Children we see play as a vital part of a child’s physical, emotional, social and intellectual growth and well-being.

There has been considerable research over the years on play, which supports our point of view, with the consensus being that children need to experience five different types of play (Dr.D Whitebread, 2012). These five types of play are roughly based on the developmental opportunities they provide, especially if it is child driven rather than adult lead:

Physical Play – active exercise (running, jumping, skipping etc..), rough & tumble and fine motor skills activities to develop whole body and hand and eye co-ordination strength and endurance. The outdoor element of such play develops independence, resourcefulness and self-regulation while the fine motor skills activities support the development of concentration and perseverance.

Play with Objects – starts as soon as a child can grasp and hold an object; mouthing, biting, turning, stroking, hitting and dropping. It’s how we all learn through the exploration of our senses (sensory-motor play). This type of play develops our abilities to; physically manipulate items, think, reason and problem solve, to set challenges and goals as well as to monitor our own progress.

Symbolic Play – refers to the development of spoken language, visual symbols such as letters and numbers, music, painting, drawing and other media used for communication of thought and ideas. This type of play allows children to develop the abilities to express and reflect on experiences, ideas and emotions. Sound and language play develops phonological awareness required for literacy, while number play that relates to real life situations supports numeracy skills.

Pretence/socio-dramatic Play – Pretend play provides the opportunity to develop cognitive, social, self-regulatory and academic skills. This kind of play means children have to learn and pick up on unspoken rules of interaction, taking on the role of a character and playing within the expected confines of that role.

Games with Rules – physical games such as chase, hide & seek, sport, board and computer games. Develop social skills and the emotional skills of taking turns, winning and losing as well as other people’s perspectives.

                                                             So, to play is to learn!

Bibliography

Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MSEd, 25/07/2013; ‘The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds’: THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/119/1/182.full

Dr.D. Whitebread, April 2012: ‘The Importance of Play’; Commissioned for the Toy Industries of Europe:  originally sourced from: http://www.importanceofplay.eu/IMG/pdf/dr_david_whitebread_-_the_importance_of_play.pdf

What are CVC Words?

VC Letters 1

The letter C means a consonant letter is required.

The letter V means that a vowel letter is required.

So, a CVC word is one that has a consonant letter followed by a vowel and then a consonant as in the following examples:

cat    dog    mat

There are 26 letters in the English alphabet and these can be split in to two categories:

Vowels – ‘a’, ‘e’, ‘i’, ‘o’, ‘u’ and the letter ‘y’, when it is used as a semi-vowel, in words such as by, my and fly.

Consonants – ‘b’, ‘c’, ‘d’, ‘f’, ‘g’, ‘h’, ‘j’, ‘k’, ‘l’, ‘m’, ‘n’, ‘p’, ‘q’, ‘r’, ‘s’, ‘t’, ‘v’, ‘w’, ‘x’, ‘z’ and the letter ‘y’ when it is being used as a consonant, in words such as yak, yam and yellow.

Schools will often use the abbreviation CV, CVC, CVCC words when sending home phonics work or suggestions for phonics games. It is also used by many phonics computer games, activity programs and schemes.

Here are some examples for:

CV & VC CVC CVCC
as bat lamp
at cat milk
be dog tent
by fog hump
he hot band
if pig tilt
in peg want
is lap pond
it mop jump
me net just
my put nest
no but send
on set went
so tap wind
to zig bend