A couple of weeks ago we started to explain some of the technical language associated with the teaching of phonics, which some new parents may have little or no knowledge of. So, we thought it would be a good idea to continue with this over next couple of weeks to further support you in helping your child.
Graphemes are the alphabet letters, or letter combinations, that represent a single sound (phoneme) in a written word.
An example of a single letter (grapheme) representing a single sound (a phoneme) can be seen in the following words: sat, pat and dog.
Some sounds are represented by two letters and are called digraphs such as the ‘ch’ in ‘chip’ or ‘sh’ in ‘shop’ or ‘ea’ in ‘head’ and the ‘ai’ in ‘rain’.
Other sounds can be represented by 3 (trigraphs) or 4 (quadgraphs) letter combinations such as ‘igh’ in ‘light’ and ‘eigh’ in ‘eight’.
Phonemes are the smallest units of sound of a language; which we blend together to form words.
The English Language has 44 phonemes, 24 consonants and 20 vowels, represented by the unique symbols of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).
The 44 phonemes of English (UK) are represented by more than 280 letter or letter combinations. Most letters therefore never make just one sound and that sound can be made by more than one letter or letter combination.
We have created over 1,000 videos that split words into their individual phonemes, showing which letters are making which sound in each word. You can access these videos in two ways:
Homonyms and homophones need to be heard or read within a specific context if we are to understand what the word means, for instance, if I say the word ‘bank’ and do not give any other verbal or written clues what do I mean?
The word on its own could mean a couple of things the bank of a river or sand bank or a bank where I can collect money. If it is not put into a context its meaning is unclear. The word ‘bank’ is classed as a homonym.
Homonyms are words which are pronounced and spelt the same; therefore, their meaning can only be truly understood when the context in which the word is being used is made clear. For instance, the word ‘bark’ can be used to mean the bark on a tree or the noise a dog makes.
Homophones are words which are pronounced (sound) the same but have a different meaning and are spelt differently such as, ‘their’ and ‘there’, ‘one’ and ‘won’ or ‘two’, ‘to’ and ‘too’.
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?
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).
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.
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:
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.
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.
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;
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.
Phonological Awareness Games and Book Sharing Ideas
Phonological awareness relates to our sensitivity and understanding of the sound structures of our oral language. It enables us to progress from our awareness of large sound units (words in sentences) to smaller sound units (phonemes in words).
Our phonological awareness develops over time and the depth of that awareness is based on the range of experiences we have. Research suggests that our phonological awareness begins in the womb at about 24 weeks and is continually built upon throughout our lives. We tend to think of children going through ten distinct phonological stages; the later stages being related to phonics.
Children are taught to read in schools through phonics; the association between sounds (phonemes) to written alphabet letters (graphemes).
Phonics reading is the process of firstly segmenting the written word into letters, or letter combinations, then associating known sounds to those letters and finally blending the sounds together to form words (decoding). If a child is weak in any of the phonological awareness stages before those relating to phonics, then they will struggle with learning to read.
Because of the nature of how we develop our phonological awareness games and activities cannot easily be split into categories. Playing, drawing, writing, singing and book sharing all require you to talk with your child highlighting sounds, words and rhythms of language.
Here are some games and activities to help you:
Singing and sharing nursery rhymes is a great way to help children hear sounds in words because the words are drawn out and the sounds highlighted or exaggerated.
Clapping, bouncing or tapping to songs and rhymes helps to highlight the syllables of the words. 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.
Pointing out the sounds you hear, such as animal or environmental noises, and explaining what is making that noise.
Playing games or singing songs where you and your child can make noises such as animal sounds (Old MacDonald had a farm) or vehicle noises (The Wheels on the Bus).
Drawing animals or other everyday objects that have a distinct sound, naming them and making the sound they produce.
What books should you choose?
Books with sounds of animals and other objects that make sounds
Books formatted from songs
Books with rhyme and alliteration
Any book really, remember your local library can help you to choose a good range of books to share with your child if you are not sure.
Book Sharing Tips
Don’t be shy, make animal and object noises. If you are self-conscious about it your child will pick up on this. No one thinks twice about an adult making what may appear to be strange noises if they are sharing them with a child (it’s when you forget they are not with you and you do it that they tend to look at a you a bit funny).
Talk about whether the words in a book rhyme or not. Point out the rhyming words, make up other rhyming words for any of the words in the book. Remember they do not have to be real words they can be silly funny words that pick up the rhyming sounds in the original word.
It is important to remember for some children saying a word that rhymes with one you have given can be very difficult, if not impossible. So, don’t stress them out with this, it is often easier for them to recognise a rhyme than to make one. You could ask them to tell you if two words you give rhyme or not. If they find this easy try giving them three words with only two that rhyme and ask them to identify the rhyming words.
After sharing the book pick out words that you can clap out the syllables for. You could make this into a jumping or hopping game instead. With older children ask then to tell you how many syllables the word has and then to check their answer by counting the number of claps or jumps they make.
Play an ‘I Spy’ game using the pictures in the book looking for rhyming words for instance by giving clues such as; “It is red and rhymes with the word sock.” The answer is clock.
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.
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:
These games are designed to help a child learn about the different levels of sound, pitch, tone and volume.
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!
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.
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.