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A parents’ guide to phonics

What is phonics? 

Phonics is a way of teaching children how to read and write. It helps children hear, identify and use different sounds that distinguish one word from another. If you imagine written words are a bit like a secret code and it is only when you know the sound of each individual letter and how those letters sound when they are combined that you can crack the code aka read, and ultimately write and spell. 


How is phonics taught? 

There are 44 phonic sounds and children will first learn single sounds and then blend the sounds to make up words. Unlike how many parents were taught to read and write via the alphabet, phonics is not taught in alphabetical order but rather in phonetic groups. 

Given that the alphabet only has 26 letters, this helps children work out all those sounds that have more than one possible spelling!  

Children focus on how words break down into their own component sounds before later recombining them to read the whole word. This process is known as segmenting and blending. 

For example, when faced with the word cat, a student might run their finger under the first letter and make the initial /k/ sound, then /a/, and, finally, /t/.

Once they have successfully segmented these individual sounds, they then blend them together to say the word /kat/.

With practice, the speed with which students can look at a word, segment the sounds, and then blend these sounds together to read the word rapidly increases. This makes learning to read through the phonics method the most efficient way for most children to learn not just to read but ultimately to write too.

5 ways to support your child’s phonics learning at home

  1. It is crucial that you don’t confuse your child between the names of the letters of the English alphabet and the sounds, these are two very different things. For example, the letter c is called /see/ but the letter itself usually denotes either a /k/ or /s/ sound. Make sure that you are aware of this distinction yourself and when you are reading with your child you are using the correct sound and not the alphabet name. 

2. When you practice with your child it’s important you say the sounds correctly.  Try  not to add an “uh” sound on the end of the letter sound like “t-uh” . Instead use  a soft “tt” as you would hear at the end of mat.

3. Phonics at this early stage isn’t about sitting still – keep things moving and active and follow your child’s lead by making the associated movement with the sound and or writing the letter in the air as you sound it out.

4. Look for letters wherever you go such as signs, cereal boxes, book covers. Say the letter name, say the letter sound, then say a word that begins with that sound.

5. Read aloud with your child as much as you can. Don’t reserve these cosy moments just for bedtime. This is THE best way to introduce your child to words and create a life-long love and curiosity for reading.