Are your child’s #phonics skills good for their age?

With more and more expected of our pre-school and 4 to 7 year old children it can be difficult to know what the realistic age appropriate skills are in relation to phonics.

In fact, phonics is only part of the story starting at stage 8 of a child’s phonological awareness development.

Stages 1 to 7 of a child’s phonological awareness, what we refer to as pre-phonics skills, are the continual development of their understanding and knowledge of our spoken language as well as other communication forms, such as gestures, facial expressions, body language and social conventions.

Stages 8 to 10 of a child’s phonological awareness, the phonics reading and writing stages are the continual development of their understanding and knowledge for learning to reading and write.

As a child’s phonological awareness skills build on each stage, the age at which a child reaches them varies making it difficult to know how your child is doing.

We recognise this variation and use age ranges as a rough guide to help you understand where your child is in their phonological awareness skills.

By clicking on the various stages of phonological awareness you will find appropriate age range information, advice and activities to support your child. Try not to jump a stage as each one is important in unlocking the knowledge and skills for the stage above.

Stages 1 to 7 (Pre-phonics skills): https://www.teachphonics.co.uk/phonological-development.html

Stages 8 to 10 (Phonics): https://www.teachphonics.co.uk/phonological-development-phonics.html

What is #phonics and #phonemic awareness?

With the new school year well under way many new parents are being introduced to the world of phonics and all the technical language associated with it. So, we thought we would take this opportunity to demystify some of that technical language.

Phonics is the association of sounds (phonemes) to written alphabet letters (graphemes). For reading (decoding) the phonics coding system is used to convert the written word into sounds. For spelling (encoding) the same phonics coding system is used to covert sounds heard into letters to form written words.

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

Good phonemic awareness is the vital skill required before phonics can be introduced successfully as a tool for learning to read and spell.

  • Segmentation – being able to split words into their individual sounds, for example ‘cat’ into c-a-t.
  • Blending – being able to blend individual sounds together to say a word, for example d-o-g into dog.
  • Substitution – being able to swap one sound for another in a word, for example swapping the /k,(k)/ sound in the word ‘cat’ with a /h,(h)/ sound to say the word ‘hat’.
  • Reordering – being able to swap the sounds around to create a new word, for example changing the order of the letters in the word ‘cat’ to form the new word ‘act’.
  • Deletion (omission) – being able to remove a sound from a word to create a new word, for example removing the /t,(t)/ sound from the word ‘cart’ to say the new word ‘car’.

These are developed further when phonics is introduced, sound to letter association.

Watch our ‘Single Word Reading’ animation to see these manipulation skills in action: bit.ly/20JAHSa

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 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.

Developing and Supporting Your Child’s Reading Journey – Week 6

Letter Knowledge

Letter knowledge is understanding;

  • That the same letter can look different, for example, a lower-case letter ‘b’ looks different from a capital letter ‘B’. Letters will also look different depending on which font type is being used or if it is handwritten, for example, an Arial font letter ‘g’ looks different from a Calibri font ‘g’.
  • That letters have names and the same name is used for that letter even when they look different, so the lower-case letter ‘a’ and its capital letter form ‘A’ are both called ‘ay’.
  • That letters (graphemes) are used to represent sounds (phonemes) in words. Teaching the unique letter names of the alphabet is an important pre-phonics skill. A letter or combination of letters can represent more than one sound and so the only way of identifying alphabet letters when we talk about them is to use their unique names.

Developing Letter Knowledge:

Through Play:

  • Sorting and Matching Games- use plastic or wooden letters, alphabet letter flash cards; can they group all the lower-case letters together, or all the capital letters or all the different letter ‘ay’s’ together.
  • Kim’s Games – use plastic or wooden letters, alphabet letter flash cards. Using a few letters at a time, place 5 to 10 on a tray and let your child look at them and talk through which letters are there. Cover with a tea towel and ask your child to look away, then remove 1 or 2 of the letters. Then ask your child to look back and remove the tea towel. Can they spot which letters are missing.
  • Detective Games– focus on identifying individual letters of the alphabet and naming them, this can be played at home or when out and about.
  • Leap Frog – use the letters of the alphabet on home-made paper lily pads. Use the letter names to identify the target lily pad for your child to either jump onto or to throw a bean bag/soft toy on to.
  • Skittles and Throwing Games – use letters of the alphabet on the targets and use the letter names as a way of identifying which of the targets your child is aiming for.

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).
  • Making and drawing their own story book.
  • Learning to write letters correctly (see our Teach Handwriting Website: http://bit.ly/2F9P7cI)

Through Songs/Nursery Rhymes:

  • Singing Alphabet Songs, try singing it to different tunes.
  • Make up Your Own Rap – point to the letters as the rap is said.

Through Talk:

  • Talk about letters as being shapes made up of straight, curves and diagonal lines.
  • Look at the letters in your child’s name, talk about the fact that the first letter in their name is always a capital letter and that normally the other letters are lower-case letters.
  • Point out, especially for slightly older children, that lower-case letters are about half the size of the capital letters.
  • Compare letters looking at what is the same and different about them.
  • When taking about letters use the letter name as well as the sound it is making in the word, remember a letter is often used to represent more than one sound. The letter ‘a’ can be used to represent different sounds in the following words: ant, apron, was, and any (just 4 of the eight sounds it is used to represent).

Through Book Sharing:

What books to choose?

  • Books with shapes
  • Books where you have to find things (like I spy)
  • Alphabet books
  • Books which use different font styles in the pictures and text.

Book Sharing Tips:

  • Alphabet books do not need to be read from cover to cover. Let your child choose which letters they want to look at.
  • Trace the letters with your finger or let your child trace it (make sure you trace the letter using the correct formation orientation, encourage your child to do the same).
  • Talk about the pictures in alphabet books before focusing on the letter, its name and the sound it can make.
  • Show your child the first letter in their name and then look for that letter in the book.
  • Show and talk about how some letters are in their capital form and others in their lower-case form. Can they find other examples of the letters?
  • Choose two letters to talk about: How do they look alike? How do they look different? What shapes/line styles are they made up of?

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

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. 

What is Phase 1 Phonics?

Phase 1 Phonics 1

Phase 1 Phonics is the first phase of the Department of Education’s ‘Letter and Sounds’ program. This is designed to focus on developing a child’s speaking and listening skills (phonological awareness).

It focuses on developing their:

  • Ability to listen attentively
  • Vocabulary knowledge
  • Confidence in speaking to adults and other children
  • Ability to hear the difference between phonemes (sounds)
  • Ability to say/repeat clearly the phonemes they hear
  • To hear a word and then split that word up and say the individual sound (phonemes) that make up that word (segmentation)

This is all about developing their skills through what they hear and say only (phonemic awareness).

To be honest it is all about playing with sounds and words and having fun.

The 7 areas Phase 1 focuses on; what is referred to as the pre-phonics stages 2 to 7 of a child’s phonological awareness development (https://www.teachphonics.co.uk/phonological-development.html):

  1. Environmental Sound Discrimination
  2. Instrumental Sound Discrimination
  3. Body Percussion Sound Discrimination
  4. Rhythm and Rhyme
  5. Alliteration
  6. Voice Sounds
  7. Oral Blending and Segmenting

Our 6 weeks blog ‘Speaking and Listening’ series focuses on areas 1 to 4, providing practical games and activities to help build your child’s skills.

Week 1. The Importance of Small Talk – https://teachphonics.blog/2020/01/23/the-importance-of-small-talk-week-1-2/

Week 2. Conversational Turn Taking Skills – https://teachphonics.blog/2019/06/20/conversational-turn-taking-skills-part-2/

Week 3. What is Listening? https://teachphonics.blog/2020/02/06/what-is-listening-part-3-2/

Week 4. Games to Develop Listening Skills – Sound Screen Games https://teachphonics.blog/2020/02/13/sound-screen-barrier-games-part-4-2/

Week 5. Games to Develop Listening Skills – Sound Scanning Games https://teachphonics.blog/2020/02/20/sound-scanning-games-to-develop-listening-skills-part-5-2/

Week 6. Games to develop Listening Skills – Music Fun https://teachphonics.blog/2020/02/27/games-to-develop-listening-skills-part-6-2/

Developing and Supporting Your Child’s Reading Journey – Week 6

Letter Knowledge

Phonics Assessment Pages

Letter knowledge is understanding;

  • That the same letter can look different, for example, a lower-case letter ‘b’ looks different from a capital letter ‘B’. Letters will also look different depending on which font type is being used or if it is handwritten, for example, an Arial font letter ‘g’ looks different from a Calibri font ‘g’.
  • That letters have names and the same name is used for that letter even when they look different, so the lower-case letter ‘a’ and its capital letter form ‘A’ are both called ‘ay’.
  • That letters (graphemes) are used to represent sounds (phonemes) in words. Teaching the unique letter names of the alphabet is an important pre-phonics skill. A letter or combination of letters can represent more than one sound and so the only way of identifying alphabet letters when we talk about them is to use their unique names.

Developing Letter Knowledge:

Through Play:

  • Sorting and Matching Games – use plastic or wooden letters, alphabet letter flash cards; can they group all the lower-case letters together, or all the capital letters or all the different letter ‘ay’s’ together.
  • Kim’s Games – use plastic or wooden letters, alphabet letter flash cards. Using a few letters at a time, place 5 to 10 on a tray and let your child look at them and talk through which letters are there. Cover with a tea towel and ask your child to look away, then remove 1 or 2 of the letters. Then ask your child to look back and remove the tea towel. Can they spot which letters are missing.
  • Detective Games – focus on identifying individual letters of the alphabet and naming them, this can be played at home or when out and about.
  • Leap Frog – use the letters of the alphabet on home-made paper lily pads. Use the letter names to identify the target lily pad for your child to either jump onto or to throw a bean bag/soft toy on to.
  • Skittles and Throwing Games – use letters of the alphabet on the targets and use the letter names as a way of identifying which of the targets your child is aiming for.

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).
  • Making and drawing their own story book.
  • Learning to write letters correctly (see our Teach handwriting Website: http://bit.ly/2F9P7cI)

Through Songs/Nursery Rhymes:

  • Singing Alphabet Song, try singing it to different tunes.
  • Make up Your Own Rap – point to the letters as the rap is said.

Through Talk:

  • Talk about letters as being shapes made up of straight, curves and diagonal lines.
  • Look at the letters in your child’s name, talk about the fact that the first letter in their name is always a capital letter and that normally the other letters are lower-case letters.
  • Point out, especially for slightly older children, that lower-case letters are about half the size of the capital letters.
  • Compare letters looking at what is the same and different about them.
  • When taking about letters use the letter name as well as the sound it is making in the word, remember a letter is often used to represent more than one sound. The letter ‘a’ can be used to represent different sounds in the following words: ant, apron, was, and any (just 4 of the eight sounds it is used to represent).

Through Book Sharing:

What Books to choose?

  • Books with shapes
  • Books where you have to find things (like I spy)
  • Alphabet books
  • Books which use different font styles in the pictures and text.

Book Sharing Tips:

  • Alphabet books do not need to be read from cover to cover. Let your child choose which letters they want to look at.
  • Trace the letters with your finger or let your child trace it (make sure you trace the letter using the correct formation orientation, encourage your child to do the same).
  • Talk about the pictures in alphabet books before focusing on the letter, its name and the sound it can make.
  • Show your child the first letter in their name and then look for that letter in the book.
  • Show and talk about how some letters are in their capital form and others in their lower-case form. Can they find other examples of the letters?
  • Choose two letters to talk about: How do they look alike? How do they look different? What shapes/line styles are they made up of?

Word Play – Treasure Hunts and Hide & Seek Activities

treasure hunts 2

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!