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 in stage 8 of 10 of a child’s phonological awareness development.
Stage 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.
Stage 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.
In our ‘The Ten Stages of Phonological Awareness’ section of our website (https://www.teachphonics.co.uk/phonological-development.html ), 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.
With the new school year under way some of you will have been introduced to phonics for the first time.
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:
- Identify the letter or letter combination, in a word, that represent a sound
- Associate the letter or letter combination to one of the 44 sounds
- Blend each of the sounds together to form the word
- 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.
Back in September we explained that Phonics is very useful as a decoding tool used for developing reading skills and an encoding tool for spelling. It is the simple process of linking sounds to letters, its complexity comes from how many sound (phonemes) to letter combinations (graphemes) there are.
Some letter and sound associations just don’t follow the normal phonics rule of a single sound being associated to a letter or letter combination. A few letters represent two sounds, such as the letter ‘u’ which in the word ‘cupid’ represents the two sounds /y,(j)/ and /oo,(uː)/.
A more common one letter two sound relation is that of the letter ‘x’ representing the two sounds /k,(k)/ and /s,(s)/ as in the words: six and box.
Here are some other examples of single letters and split digraphs making two sounds instead of the usual phonics rule of only making one sound:
Some words, such as homonyms and homophones, need to be heard or read within a specific context if we are to understand what the word means.
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 ‘pair’ and ‘pear’, ‘their’ and ‘there’ or ‘two’, ‘to’ and ‘too’.
To view more examples, follow this link: http://bit.ly/2BcUa8N
Yesterday I shared a link to an article “Language unlocks reading: supporting early language and reading for every child” (https://literacytrust.org.uk/…/al…/language-unlocks-reading/) which highlights the importance of developing a child’s vocabulary.
Here at Teach Phonics we are always saying how important speaking, listening and vocabulary building is for all children. As I commented yesterday if a child does not hear or use a wide range of words they cannot develop their phonics skills. A child needs to experience a wide variety of word so they can learn how to make and use all the sounds required in the English language. This doesn’t happen by chance it has to be experienced and taught.
Spring and all that we often associate with this time of year is upon us: lambs, chicks and new life. This in turn prompted memories of singing ‘Old MacDonald had a Farm’, with my own children. A strange connection; maybe!
But, maybe not! Through the making of animal noises and the repetition of the ‘e i e i o’ refrain the girls were learning to play with sounds. Through the song they were learning how to make sounds through changing their mouth shape, the position of their tongue and controlling their breathing.
When they couldn’t make a particular animal noise we just moved to the next animal on the farm, because it is a fun song, so no pressure. Next time we sang the song, the animals were still all included and over time they learnt to make all the animal sounds. Which, by happy coincidence, are the same sounds (phonemes) needed in our everyday speech.
The great thing about Old MacDonald and his farm is that he also has tractors, a quad bike and depending on where he lives even a helicopter. The list of vehicles and additional animals is endless, especially if he opens up his own zoo next to the farm!
Old MacDonald and other nursery rhymes/songs all help to build and teach a child how to make the sounds required for pronouncing words. They offer a child the opportunity to practice making sounds which they may otherwise have no experience of in their normal everyday life. They will store this sound making information for later use as they mature and extend their vocabulary, which in turn supports their phonics knowledge, which impacts on their reading ability.
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
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 transposes 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 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):