The Importance of Using Letter Names for Developing Handwriting, Phonics and Reading Skills

Here at Teach Children we have always promoted the importance and power of teaching the correct letter names to begin with; through our Teach Handwriting website, Schemes and Teach Phonics website. Unfortunately, some schools, teacher and parents still seem to be concerned that this is not consistent with the teaching of phonics, which is just not correct.

A myth which became popular, in the early years of introducing synthetic phonics into schools, is that children should not be taught the alphabet letter names as they find it too confusing. However, in recent years this has started to change as phonics schemes have adjusted some of their approaches to teaching phonics to include the use of letter names.

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 (has a context). 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.

It is important to remember that just because a child can correctly recite the ‘Alphabet’ song it does not mean they know the letters of the alphabet. It is surprising how many children can do this but when shown letters from the alphabet cannot name them at all. They may be able to tell you the sound the letter makes but have no idea of the letters name.

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.

Teaching the correct letter names is important when supporting handwriting as this can in turn affect a child’s phonics understanding later on. For example, it can seem very easy when explaining to a child which letter to write when they ask which one is making a ‘kuh’ sound in a word such as cat to say a ‘curly kuh’. There is no such letter in the alphabet called ‘curly kuh’ it is the letter ‘c’ (cee). By adding the ‘kuh’ sound to the letter it reinforces incorrect phonics knowledge. The letter ‘c’ does not make a ‘kuh’ sound in words such as: city, circle, cycle and centre.

Some children will then only ever refer to the letter ‘c’ as ‘curly kuh’ and the letter ‘k’ as’ kicking kuh’. As I say these are not letter names of the alphabet and also devalue the power of phonics at the same time.

How can the education establishment get hot under the collar about not using the correct terminology in the teaching of English in schools such as: phonemes, graphemes, digraphs, modal verbs etc… yet still refer to the letter’s ‘c’ and ‘k’ as ‘curly or kicking kuh’!

Phonics is a powerful decoding and encoding tool. However, so is the alphabet letter naming system. Both need to working side by side to support our children, especially in those early years of their educational journey.

The English phonic system is very complex but this is why our language is so rich. Young children need to use letter names as an additional tool, as it takes many years for them to be introduced to the more complex phonics coding system.

Alphabet Name animation (scroll to the bottom of the page): https://www.teachphonics.co.uk/phonics-graphemes.html

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

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):  https://www.teachphonics.co.uk/phonics-alphabet-chart.html

Summer Fun – Get Cooking!

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!

Developing Speaking and Listening Skills: Play – the great starting point!

Developing good speaking and listening skills along with a wide vocabulary knowledge is an important part of your child’s phonological awareness development and phonics pre-skills base. So, it is not surprising that if a child has a weakness in these areas, they may struggle in learning to read and write.

The summer holidays are the perfect time to start working on supporting your child to develop the skill sets needed for learning to read.

How do we do this?

PLAY!!!

Last week we looked at the importance of different types of play. By giving your child the opportunity to experience the different types of play you will also be supporting them to build their speaking and listening skills as well as broadening their vocabulary.

Developing these skills is not all about paper and pencil worksheet activities (though these help later on).

For fun game ideas go to our ‘Big to small’ (https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/big-to-small.html) or games (https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/games.html)sections.

All these can be found in our Learning Through Play in the new parents’ area of the website: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/parents.html

Enjoy the summer break with your child and learn to play again.

To Play is to Learn!

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.

Play is often thought of as a frivolous pastime rather than a practical and meaningful one. However, here at Teach Children Ltd 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.

In our update parent section of the Teach Handwriting website we have a new ‘Learning Through Play’ section. Here you will find games and activities ideas to suit all ages.

If you click on the ‘Games’ button or follow the link (https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/games.html) you will find games split into the five types of play, which will help you encourage your child to experience them all.

This wide range of play opportunities will also support your child in developing their gross and fine motor, communication and turn taking skills.

                                                             So, to play is to learn!

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

Why Poor Eye Tracking and Spatial Awareness Skills Affect #Reading

Eye tracking is the ability to control and coordinate the fine eye movements that allows us to:

  • Read a line of print by moving our eyes from left to right, without moving the head.
  • To focus and move the eyes to follow an object, without moving the head, in all directions.
  • To track/follow objects near and far.
  • To focus on one object without moving the eyes.

Eye tracking difficulties can have a dramatic effect on a child’s ability to read fluently and with ease due to the fact that they do not see the print in the same way as people with good eye tracking skills.

Typical problems due to poor eye tracking skills:

  • They lose their place, skip words or transpose them.
  • They use a finger to help keep their place.
  • Some will turn their head sideways to read or write.
  • Others may cover one eye to read.
  • They hold their head close to the table when looking at things, reading, writing and drawing.

Good spatial awareness enables us to be aware of the space around us and our position in that space, as well as the relationship between ourselves and objects. This also includes our ability to see and understand the spacing of text and pictures on a page, to distinguish between paragraphs, sentences, words and individual letters.

Spatial awareness difficulties can have a dramatic effect on a child’s ability to read fluently and with ease due to the fact that they do not see the print in the same way as people with good spatial awareness skills.

Typical problems due to poor spatial awareness skills:

  • They lose their place, skip lines and words or transpose them.
  • They use a finger to help keep their place.
  • Comprehension can be difficult as text is mis-read.

For more information on how to identify eye tracking and spatial awareness difficulties as well as activities to help support and develop these skills use these links (they will take you to the relevant pages on our Teach Handwriting website):

The Impact of Poor Visual Memory Skills on #Reading

Good visual memory skills enable us to recall information that has been previously visually presented.

Visual memory difficulties can hinder a child’s ability to read fluently and with ease due to the fact that they cannot always remember what the word looks like, even though it may be a very common sight word which has been taught to them many times before.

 Typical problems due to poor visual memory skills:

  • Difficulty in recognising some letters and numbers, especially those they may not use very often, for example some of the capital letters.
  • Have problems learning sight words, or remembering what a word is, from one page to another.
  • Reading is slow and stilted, making comprehension difficult.

For more information on how to identify visual memory difficulties see our Other Physical Skills Assessment from our Teach Handwriting website: http://bit.ly/2P5jS44

For games and activities to help support and develop visual memory skills use this links: http://bit.ly/2M350S1

Word Play – Syllable Awareness & Counting

At about the age of 4 years old children start to develop an understanding that words can be split into sound parts (syllables) and that these parts give the word its rhythm.  A syllable is the largest phonological unit (one or a group of sounds) of a word and is like the rhythmic beat of the word.

They should be able to orally blend syllables together to form words and segment words into syllables.

A fun activity to help develop syllable understanding:

How Many Syllables?    

Children love to clap out the number of syllables in a word. It is important to say the word at a normal speed rather than really slowly as this can distort the word and make it difficult to hear the syllables. To start with a child just needs to be able to recognize them by clapping, stamping or jumping for each syllable of a word; they don’t need to be able to count them. It is thought that only about 50% of children can count out the syllables by the age of 4, so you can do the counting for them.

Spoken syllables are organised around the vowel sounds, making counting them easy; as the jaw drops when the vowel sound is spoken in the syllable. Try placing your hand under your jaw with your mouth closed before you say a word. Start with ‘cat’ you will notice the jaw drops once, this is because it is a one syllable (monosyllabic) word.

Most children will find it easier to identify syllables in compound words to start with. A compound word is formed by two words (root words) put together such as: sunset, hotdog, snowman and postman. They find it easier because the jaw tends to drop quite distinctly as we say the vowel sound in each of the root words and because we tend to say these words slowly.

Word Play – Treasure Hunts and Hide & Seek Activities

Treasure hunt and hide & seek games are a great way to teach a child directional and placement (prepositions) language. It is important for a child to learn directional and placement vocabulary so that they can both understand instructions given and share information themselves, such as; ‘put your cup on the table’ or to say ‘teddy in car’.

Through treasure hunts and hide & seek games you can introduce new directional and placement language in a fun and exciting way. There are a number of different ways to approach this:

  • You can give verbal instructions to the hidden treasure.
  • You could create a map for them to follow and ask them to talk through the map, supporting with new language as necessary.
  • You could use a mixture of verbal and map clues.
  • For older children get them to hide the treasure and give you instructions, or draw a map.
  • If you have more than one treasure to find make the most exciting piece more difficult to find.

The important thing is the language shared. Words and phrases to use are: left, right, straight on, forward, backwards, about turn, turn around, up, down, higher, lower, stop, next to, in front, beside, underneath, on top of, behind, on the left of, on the right of, outside, and inside.

Treasure hunts and hide & seek games are a great whole class or family activity and you are never too young or too old to join in!

Rhyme & Alliteration – Word Play

Young children develop their vocabulary and understanding of sound patterns within words through word play.

Rhyme awareness and the enjoyment of alliteration begins early, usually between the ages of 2 and 3 years old (Stage 3 of phonological awareness). This develops in to an important tool, supporting a child in developing an understanding of how words are formed and the sound patterns within them. These are important pre-phonics skills a child needs to develop to support their future ability to succeed with phonics, reading and writing.

This Rhyme awareness is supported and developed through the singing of songs and nursery rhymes and finger chants. Alliteration (words that begin with the same sounds) such as ‘Sammy snake slithers silently’, which children love to hear in rhymes and stories, also supports their word knowledge and understanding of sounds in words.

Being able to repeat, and join in with, short phrases they have anticipated in a story or rhyme, is another important step in a child beginning to understand the use of words in stories and story structure; such as, “I’ll huff and puff and blow your house down!” in the story of The Three Little Pigs.

For more information on this, and other pre-phonics skills (Phonological Awareness) your child develops through from birth to 7 +years old, check out the Pre-phonics section of our website:

https://www.teachphonics.co.uk/phonological-development.html