It’s a word that can strike fear into the hearts of parents with infant school-aged kids across the country, (nay, the globe!). Gone are the days of Janet and John and the Kicking King and Annie Apple. Instead, our kids are learning to read with Phonics. It’s a concept that can feel totally alien and a little bit alarming to us when it’s totally different to the way we learned to read, but it needn’t be. It’s actually a really straight forward concept when you get your head around it. So, here’s Everything You Need to Know About…Phonics.
So what is Phonics?
It’s a way of learning to read, by transforming words into voice sounds, rather than just memorising the words themselves. When learning using Phonics, kids will learn that the letter C will have a name, but also a sound, like cat or car. Rather than learning a word as a whole, it’s broken up into smaller bits of sound. These smaller units of sound are called “phonemes”, and learners will be taught the different ways of representing these sounds. So while you might learn that the sound “t” might appear in toe or tap, you’ll also learn that the sound ‘ai’ will be heard in rain but also ‘ae’ as in aeroplane, ‘ay’ as in play, ‘aigh’ as in straight, and so on. Still with us?
What’s this about blending?
Once your child has been taught to read letters or groups of letters by saying the sound (or sounds they represent), they’ll start blending the sounds together to make words. You might hear this referred to as synthesising, sounding our or Fred Talk depending on which Phonics scheme your school is using, but it’s all based on the same idea that sounds can be added together to make words – so the sounds of the letters ‘c-a-t’ blend together to make the word ‘cat’.
What will they be taught first?
Children aren’t really taught the alphabet in alphabetical order any more (RIP to the alphabet song). Most Phonics programmes start by teaching the letters S, A, T, P, I and N because there are so many words made up of these letters. Sat, pin, pit, pat – we could go on, but you can spell, so you don’t really need us to. Using these letters means you’re able to get kids spelling loads of words really quickly, helping them increase their confidence really quickly too. Then they move onto tricky words – or words that might be a bit more irregular. These are words like “the” or “you”, where the sound doesn’t really match up with the spelling.
How can I help?
There are loads of ways you can help – even if this wasn’t the way you learned to read and write. Making a game of it is a great place to start. Next time you’re on a walk or in the car with your kids, spot objects and practice listing out the sounds in their names. There are also loads of Phonics flashcards that can help you and your child work together to learn sounds and figure out how to blend words. But most importantly, reading together, even for just 10 minutes a day can make a massive difference. Want some inspiration on what to read? Check out our list of diverse books for your child’s library.
What about Phonics and kids with additional needs?
Children with additional needs can have more of a challenge when it comes to mastering reading, but the combination of repetitive learning and the use of visuals in each of the programmes should help those with additional needs engage with Phonics. Many schools will be able to adapt the Phonics learning process for those with more complex needs too. Check out Phonics for Pupils with Special Educational Needs, Active Phonics and TES for more information on this.
What is the Phonics Screening Check?
The Phonics Screening Check is a way to check how well your child can use the phonics skills they’ve learned up to the end of Year 1, and to identify any students who might need a bit of extra help or support. The checks are defined by the Department for Education as “short, light-touch assessments” and they take about four to nine minutes to complete.
Students are asked to read a list, made up of 40 words and non-words in a 1:1 setting with a teacher. The non-words are absolute nonsense, but give your little ‘un the chance to demonstrate they understand the rules behind the way the words are structured. You can help your child prepare by running through their regular phonics work, but it’s important not to stress about this. It’s a chance for your child’s teachers to see how they’re doing and see if they need any extra help. It’s not a judgement or a reflection on them, or you.
Despite the fact that the Kicking King may be ancient history, you can take solace in the fact that Biff, Chip and Kipper are still very prevalent in most schools. And if they didn’t form part of your reading education, hopefully this guide to Phonics will have you feeling less stressed about the whole concept. It’s much more straightforward than it first seems. Once you all get into it, you’ll be flying, mastering tricky words in no time. We have no doubts.