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

Developing and Supporting Your Child’s Reading Journey – Week 4

Print Awareness to Develop Understanding of Reading Conventions

Print Awareness is knowing that print (words) has meaning, including noticing print around them in the environment (posters & street signs) and understanding how to handle the conventions for reading a book. We can often assume that all young children or pre-readers (as not always young children) will develop print awareness naturally. However, research suggests that 95% of their visual attention is directed towards pictures, which in themselves hold a great deal of meaning and often tell the story very effectively.

Pictures/ illustrations in story books and pure picture books are powerful ways to engage children and adults with books, storytelling and reading. This is not to say that pictures are any easy way to interpret a storyline as they can hold a great deal of meaning, from simple obvious interpretation to more sophisticated symbolic representation.

Young children and pre-readers need opportunities to explore print and be helped to understand that the written word (print) has meaning. Once they start to see print they will begin to notice it everywhere not just in books but on posters, food packets, menus and street signs.

Again we can often assume that a child or pre-reader knows how to handle a book, however this is not always the case and can be due to a lack of experience with books or different cultural reading conventions. So it is important to check and teach these reading conventions for reading English:

  • Front cover opens to the left and we read it from the front to the back.
  • Print on a page is read left to right.
  • Usually print is read from the top of the page across and down (this may differ slightly in some children’s books).

Supporting Print Awareness:

Through Play

  • Use takeaway menus or create your own as part of role playtime, they could have their own café serving up all sorts of interesting dishes for you. A blackboard can be very useful for this, allowing you or your child to write up their own menu for the day. 
  • Travel brochures or leaflets from your local tourist information office are great for role play encouraging new language as well as a different way to explore print as they often have maps and timetables. 
  • Use sticky labels or post it notes to label items or furniture as part of a ‘can you see or find’ game.

Through Drawing/Writing

  • Making lists of things to do or a shopping list. Their version of the list may be just squiggles and dots (so don’t rely on this for your shopping trip) but it is the beginning. I would keep the list and get them to tick off things done or items purchased as part of the experience so that it has a genuine purpose (children really like this).
  • For slightly older children making simple invitations and thank you cards can be fun. Try not to make the messages too long or to write too many as they will get bored and see it as a chore not as fun.
  • Making and drawing their own story book.

Through Songs/Nursery Rhymes

  • Showing the printed words to songs and rhymes.

Through Talk

  • Point out signs, logos and labels when out and about as well as at home.
  • A lot of print awareness skills are developed through the sharing of books and appropriate on-line material.

Through Book Sharing

What books to choose?

  • Books that have writing as part of the story;
  • Books that have writing as part of the picture;
  • Story books; all types;
  • Factual (non-fiction) books; all types;
  • Comics;
  • Children’s magazines and newspapers.

Book Sharing Tips

  • Remember babies will chew and bash the pages of the book as you read. This is normal and part of their learning experience so go with it.
  • Encourage and let your child turn the pages.
  • Point to the words of the title as you say them
  • Explain what the author and illustrator do as you say their names.
  • Point to words or repeated phrases as you say them or as your child says them. This will also help your child to develop the skill of reading from left to right and from the top of the page down (English).
  • Point to words of interest and explain how words have spaces between them and why.
  • To help your child understand how to handle a book use the word ‘front’ and ‘back’ of the book. If you are handed a book upside down or with the ‘back’ cover facing you explain that you have to turn it around or over so that you can read it.
  • Explain that page numbers help you to find things in the book as well as to help make sure you do not miss any part of the story.
  • Explain that content pages in story books show the chapters and in factual (non-fiction) they show different subject areas, as well as giving the page numbers on which to find them.
  • Explain how the index page in non-fiction books work.
  • Explain what a glossary is in a book.

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.

How do we start to working on supporting a child to develop the skill sets needed for learning to read?

PLAY!!!

A couple of weeks ago 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 this helps 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

Different Types of Play and their Importance

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:  http://www.importanceofplay.eu/IMG/pdf/dr_david_whitebread_-_the_importance_of_play.pdf                            

Half-term Fun – Clothes Peg Games

Some fun indoor activities may be the order of the day for this half term as the weather is not so hot.

This is a very simple idea which children love because they can take greater ownership of it. The aim of the activity is to help build up hand and finger strength through using the pegs; however, it can have a dual purpose, helping to keep track of the week by using it as a timetable or for learning spellings or maths activities, as well as supporting the development of language skills.

You do not need anything fancy, just some string (for the washing line), clothes pegs and pieces of paper or card to peg onto the washing line. The washing line can be a permanent fixture or you can just pop it up when you need to use it.

The clothes line needs to be at a height suitable for your child to peg things on to (placed against a wall is a safe option so that no-one can walk into it by accident and hurt themselves).

There are a whole range of games that can be played using this simple washing line and pegs concept:

Memory games – Get your child to peg up 5 to 10 different pictures or items on the line. Then give them 1 minute to remember the items. Once the time is up ask them to look away, or close their eyes, and then you remove one or more of the items. Get them to look back at the line. Can they work out what is missing?

  • You could try just moving one or two of the items around. Can they figure out which ones are in the wrong place and put them back in their correct place?
  • Try swapping an item for something new, which your child did not hang up on the line. Can they work out which is the new item on the line?

Odd One Out – Hang pictures on the line that belong together. Can they pick out the odd item on the line and explain why it is the odd one out.

  • They could all be pictures of fruit with a picture of some clothing
  • They could be shapes with straight sides and one with curves
  • They could all be animals but all are wild with only one being domestic

Sorting – Ask your child to sort all the pictures or items from a selection and to hang all the identical things on the washing line. They could all be the same;

  • Colour
  • Shape
  • Type

Pattern Work – Using pictures, different colour and shaped paper or items create different patterns. The patterns can be based on colour, size or type of object. You can create a pattern sequence on the washing line and then ask your child to try and copy the sequence. Can they explain the pattern and create their own for you to copy and explain?

Pairing or What is the Same? – Hang a range of pictures or items on the line, making sure that some of the items can be paired together because they are exactly the same. They could match because;

  • They are exactly the same e.g., a pair of socks
  • Match numbers to a picture with the same number of items on
  • Match capital to lower-case letters

Or have items that can be put together because they are both from the same set, for example they are types of fruit or are the same

To Play is to Learn!

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.

Activities that help to build these strengths and skills are: Swing Ball, target games and catching games.

Game idea: Goal post skittles

You need: Posts/marker, large plastic drink bottles/skittles and a range of ball sizes.

How to do it:

Place the posts about 2 metres away from the start position and about half a metre apart. Place the skittles about half a metre behind the posts but directly between them. The child starts by rolling a large ball through the posts to knock the skittles over. Before they roll the ball explain to get a maximum score, they need to knock all the skittles over in one roll and that the best way to do this is to look directly ahead through the posts at the skittles, NOT at the ball or their hand.

It may take a little practise, as they improve, they can use a different size ball or move the skittles so that they form different patterns which means they have to be more accurate with the roll.

This game can also be used as a foot and eye activity, the same rules apply, they must look to where they want the ball to end up not at their feet or the ball, tricky!

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.

Games idea: Pattern making

You need: Beads, building blocks, Lego or shapes.

How to do it:

Talk through the process of making the same pattern as shown on a card or already produced; for instance, the red square goes on the right of the blue square and the yellow square is below the blue square. Ask the child to verbalise what they see and are doing to recreate the pattern.

Patterns can be created and copied with all sorts of items – beads, building blocks, Lego and shapes.

As skill levels improve tessellation (a pattern of shapes that fit perfectly together) activities and square or patterned paper for colouring and creating their own pattern designs are enjoyable.

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 games and activities ideas to support and develop this skill use this links: https://teachhandwriting.co.uk/handwriting-motor-skills.html

Developing #Listening & #Speaking Skills – Word Awareness

A good word awareness (receptive and expressive language) is a key phonics skill.

Receptive language is how we take in and understand language; it is what we hear, see and read. This also includes body language and environmental clues. All these elements help us to interpret a situation and give it its meaning, so that we can understand what is being communicated. We do not need to be able to produce language to receive and understand it, so infants and toddlers understand far more than they can express (expressive language).

Expressive language is our ability to put our thoughts, needs and wants into words and sentences in a way that makes sense and is grammatically correct. A baby’s expressive language to begin with is based on cries and gestures and then moves to sound making, gestures and body language signals. We use this expressive language when we speak and write. When babies and toddlers move to speaking words, they have a limited vocabulary which is why they can get frustrated when we do not understand them.

Helping a child build their vocabulary (word awareness – receptive & expressive language) is vital if they are to continue to develop good communication skills. Talking, explaining, sharing and playing are all important as well as making sure that you pronounce words clearly and correctly for a child to hear. A child may not have developed all the skills needed to copy you accurately but they will store the sound pattern information for later use. The more they hear the correct sound patterns the sooner they will start to use them themselves.

Click the link for ‘Tips to Help Develop Word Awareness (Receptive & Expressive Language)’: https://www.teachphonics.co.uk/word-awareness.html

Developing #Listening & Speaking Skills – Games to Develop 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.