Reading together at home is one of the most effective and important ways in which you can help your child to read. Children should be encouraged to enjoy sharing books and read independently, as well as reading with an adult. This not only supports children’s progression in reading but leads to them seeing reading as a source of pleasure and interest and I have written this phonics guide for parents to help you understand the basics of reading.
To support your child in becoming an effective and confident reader I hope that this guide will help you to develop their knowledge of phonics (letter sounds) to enable them to decode different words they may come across.
Throughout this guide I hope to give you an overview of phonics teaching with your child, and some ideas for how you can support your child at home.
What is Phonics?
The alphabet contains 26 letters. Spoken English uses about 44 sounds (phonemes). These phonemes are represented by letters (graphemes). In other words, a sound can be represented by a letter (e.g. ‘s’ or ‘h’) or a group of letters (e.g. ‘th’ or ‘ear’).
Once children begin learning sounds, they are used quickly to read and spell words and for this reason, the letters are not taught in alphabetical order. The first set of letters s, a, t, p, i, n instantly allows children to play with letters and words without needing to know the whole alphabet first. For example sat, pin, mat, at.
This is the order in which they are taught.
A letter consists of: a sound, a shape and it has a capital form and a lower case form.
The letter sound is the first thing that children need to recognise.
Use lower case letters for all other writing.
Only use capital letters for names and, when children are ready, at the beginning of sentences.
Letter shape= grapheme. Letter sound= phoneme.
So what do all the technical words mean?
What is a phoneme?
It is the smallest unit of sound and a piece of terminology that children like to use and should be taught. At first it will equate with a letter sound but later on will include the digraphs. For example `rain’ has three phonemes, / r / ai / n.
What is a grapheme?
A grapheme is a letter or a number of letters that represent a sound (phoneme) in a word. Another way to explain it is to say that a grapheme is a letter or letters that spell a sound in a word. E.g. /ee/,/ ea/, /ey/ all make the same phoneme but are spelt differently.
What is a digraph/trigraph?
This is when two or three letters come together to make a phoneme. /oa/ makes the sound in boat. The children learn these as special friends.
What is blending?
Blending is the process that is involved in bringing the sounds together to make a word or a syllable and is how /c/ /a/ /t/ becomes cat.
To learn to read well children must be able to smoothly blend sounds together. Blending sounds fluidly helps to improve fluency when reading. Blending is more difficult to do with longer words so learning how to blend accurately from an early age is imperative.
Showing your child how to blend is important. Model how to ‘push’ sounds smoothly together without stopping at each individual sound.
What is segmenting?
Segmenting is a skill used in spelling. In order to spell the word cat, it is necessary to segment the word into its constituent sounds; c-a-t.
Before writing a word young children need time to think about it, say the word several times, ‘Talk’ the word and then write it. Once children have written the same word several times they won’t need to use these four steps as frequently.
Children will enjoy spelling if it feels like fun and if they feel good about themselves as spellers. We need, therefore, to be playful and positive in our approach – noticing and praising what children can do as well as helping them to correct their mistakes.
Children need to identify each sound in a word. Oral blending is taught by pushing individual sounds together to pronounce a word, e.g. s-n-a-p, blended together, reads snap.
Children also need to think carefully about how to pronounce each individual sound and have to be careful not to add ‘uh’ to the sounds in order to keep them pure. For example to say ‘c’ and not ‘cuh’.
What are CVC words?
CVC stands for consonant- vowel- consonant, so and word such as map, cat is CVC. We also talk about CCVC words such as clip, stop.
What are tricky words?
Tricky words are words that cannot be ‘sounded-out’ but need to be learned by heart. They don’t fit into the usual spelling patterns. In order to read simple sentences, it is necessary for children to know some words that have unusual or untaught spellings. It should be noted that, when teaching these words, it is important to always start with sounds already known in the word, then focus on the ‘tricky’ part. Examples of red words are – the, to, because, said, was
What are high frequency words?
These are words that recur frequently in much of the written materials young children read and need to write.
Blending for Reading
To learn to read and spell children must be able to smoothly blend sounds together. Blending sounds fluidly helps to improve fluency when reading. Blending is more difficult to do with longer words so learning how to blend accurately at an early age is imperative. Showing your child how to blend is important. Model how to ‘sound talk’ sounds and blend them smoothly together without stopping at each individual sound. We use our fingers to support this.
Remember some sounds (digraphs) are resented by two letters, such as ee or oi. Children should sound out the di- graph not the individual letters (e.g. oi not o-i). Some words may also have trigraphs, three letters to represent one sound, (.e.g. h-ear or p-air.).
Try these words:
Plant p-l-a-n-t Sheep sh– ee-p Explain e-x-p-l-ai-n
Segmenting to Spell
Segmenting is a skill used in spelling. In order to spell the word it is necessary to segment the word into its constituent sounds. E.g. ran r-a-n.
Start by having your child listen for the first sound in a word (games like i-spy are ideal). Next try listening for the end sounds and then the middle sounds (middle sounds are hardest to hear). Begin with simple three letters words (e.g. tap or hot) and build it up. Take care with digraphs, the word fish, for example, has four letters but only three sounds f-i-sh. Rhyming games and poems also help tune the ears to the sounds in words.
Strategy for spelling
Encourage children to think the word, say it several times and then write it.
Get 2 hoops, trays or plates and place a letter card on each of them e.g. s and a. Have a variety of objects beginning with these 2 sounds. Ask your child to select an object and say the name of it. Repeat it several times and then ask your child to place it on the correct tray.
Encourage children to hunt around the house or garden for objects beginning with a certain sound. This can also be done with words hidden around the house.
Rogue Sound Game
Show a variety of objects to your child. All of the objects have the same initial sound except one. Ask them to identify the rogue item.
Letters/graphemes in the mud
Encourage children to write letters/graphemes in different ways. Write them with a stick in the mud, with their finger in sand, a straw in paint. This is not only great for their sound/ letter correspondence but also for handwriting.
Make some word cards with real and non-sense words using a variety of graphemes. Decode the word together, blend and decide if it is a real ‘treasure’ word or a ‘trash’ non-sense word (which can go in the bin).
I hope you have found this phonics guide for parents useful, you may also be interested to read why I have decided to delay the twins school entry so they stay home for another year. There is also information on how to do it if you too have summer born children.
GO ON, PIN IT