When I first started teaching back in 2010, I was in Year 6. Then, when I got a new job I was put into Year 1. My biggest worry? Snot. My second biggest worry? Teaching phonics. Turns out, once you start, it’s pretty straightforward. In fact, lockdown happened just after Finley had started nursery so we ended up doing our own phonics lessons at home. Now, I don’t want to be that parent but… he is a fantastic reader. So, here are five easy steps to help your child begin their reading journey too!
1. Start with one sound.
The reason that I started teaching Finley phonics at home to begin with was because I was reading his diary from the childminder one day and he pointed to the letter ‘o’ and said, ‘The paper has a hole in it!’ That’s when I first explained that it was how we write down sounds.
So, which sounds are best to start with? Opinions on the exact sounds vary but I wouldn’t worry too much about the specifics. Choose a common sound like ‘s’ or ‘t’, rather than something like ‘x’ or ‘z’ obviously.
2. Pronounce it correctly
As a teacher, this is by far the biggest the biggest issue that faces parents. Basically what we don’t want to say is ‘suh’ when we are making the sound for the letter ‘s’. Instead it should be pronounced ‘sssss’ like a snake! This is because, when they come to read whole words they will be able to blend the sounds together far more easily without the ‘uh’ sound in the middle of a word. (By the way, we call that ‘uh’ sound a schwa – I don’t know why and it won’t really help you to know that but there you go). I still see phonics being mispronounced on TV however Alphablocks on CBeebies is spot on (as is the app Teach Your Monster to Read). Some sounds you can’t help but add a small ‘uh’ to the end of, like ‘d’ so here is a little chart I’ve made that may help.
3. Point it out whenever you see it
Wherever you are, home or out and about, there will be opportunities to spot your sound: street signs, bedtime books, cereal packets, on TV etc. Start pointing it out and fairly soon, they will start doing the same.
4. Play some games
If you want to, you could play some games together. Online games, such as the ones on www.phonicsplay.co.uk are free and useful. Or you could say different words and they could identify which ones begin with your sound. Another game could be them sorting pictures (you could print them or buy some flashcards). A game Finley and I liked to play was where I would write words or put pictures on the floor and then I would get him to go and touch the correct card with his toe or his big thumb or elbow, or one of his toys etc.
When first teaching phonics, I started off with a couple of simple games and by doing this it gave me a lot of ideas for ways in which I could adapt them or invent new ones.
Once you feel they can recognise that sound confidently/independently, choose another simple sound. Once they start to build up a few sounds you can adapt the games in Step 4 to sorting words or pictures into the sounds that they know.
So, I hope this helps you with where to start. And remember, don’t worry about how much you have time to do: anything you can get done will help. Steps 1 – 3 require no preparation at all and just completing any of these will help your child.
A couple of extra tips:
Be opportunistic. Don’t worry too much about pre-planning activities if you don’t have time. Look at items around you – can they spot anything that might begin with the sound you’ve been learning? Or could you spot two things and ask them which one begins with the sound you’ve been learning, e.g. trees and sky. Which one begins with ‘s’?
Don’t worry about teaching the names of the letters at this stage. Just concentrate on the sounds. That bit will come later on.