Phonics SOS

Phonics SOS

 We’ve all heard of it…but does anyone actually know what it is? Ever wondered what the heck teachers are talking about in your child’s report or during parent’s evening when they mention phonics? Well, quite simply, phonics is HOW children are taught to read and write. Children learn the sounds that single letters and groups of letters make then use this information to read words and spell words. Simple, hey? Well….in principle it is! But I was never taught like that’, I hear you cry!! No and it can feel confusing so we’re here to help. Learning sounds helps children spell and read by breaking down each word rather than just learning spelling rules.

During the course of the first few years of school, your child will learn all of the sounds that are needed to help them spell and read words. Phonics is grouped into levels of difficulty and these groups are called Phases. Your child will be taught the letters and sounds in each Phase and taught rules that apply to these sounds. There are, of course, a few words that we cannot apply these rules to and these are called Tricky Words or Common Exception Words. Children learn to recognise and remember these as whole words.

Here’s a brief overview of the Phases:

Phase 1: This is focused on listening skills, hearing sounds and making sounds in different ways. It also includes rhyming, syllables and hearing sounds in words. Phase 1 is taught at nursery and pre-school. It is such a vital part of phonics learning that is sometimes overlooked in a rush for children to learn letters.

Phase 2: This is taught in the first year of school. Children will learn the most commonly used sounds, the letters which make these sounds and how to read and write them. They also learn some Tricky Words which don’t follow the sound patterns they have learnt. Some pre-schools will start to teach some sounds but this is always recapped at school.

Phase 3: Also taught in the first year of school, phase 3 includes more sounds, tricky words and also where two or three letters are used to make one sound (digraphs and trigraphs, for more on these see our jargon buster info at the end of this blog)

Phase 4: Sometimes taught in children’s first year at school and recapped in Year 1, sometimes started in Year 1. Phase 4 does not include new sounds, instead children learn longer words and where we blend consonants together e.g lamp, crisp, frog, step. They also learn lots of new tricky words.

Phase 5: Phase 5 is taught in Year 1. Using previously learnt sounds, children learn where the same sounds are written with different letters and groups of letters. For example, they will learn the ‘ai’ sound in rain can also be written like ‘ay’ as in day or like ‘a_e’ as in cake. They also learn some new Tricky Words.

Phase 6: Taught in Year 2 this is the last phase of formal phonics learning. All of the sounds have been learnt and this phase includes understanding the past tense, word endings, using apostrophes and more to help children become more fluent with reading and spelling.

There are a wealth of resources to help support your child’s learning of sounds on the internet but sometimes it can feel like too much. All schools teach phonics but they will use a range of different methods for doing this. It is a really good idea to ask your child’s teacher what scheme they use at school. Then, you can then have a little google to see if there are helpful videos/ resources which match how your child is learning in school. Many schemes will have recognisable pictures, songs and actions to help your child remember the sounds and letter shapes. When your child starts bringing books home to read most schools try to select books which only feature words that they have been taught during their phonics and literacy sessions. 

Phonics can include so many jargon terms which makes it even scarier. You might hear words like digraph, trigraph, blending, segmenting and phoneme to name just a few. If you’d like to know what all of these mean just pop to our jargon buster where we give you simple definitions that won’t hurt your brain!

We hope this is a useful overview and hasn’t been phonics overwhelm! We have lots of ways to help you more with your own knowledge and to support your child learning at home including two brilliant new online courses which you can access and learn in your own time. Check out the links below to learn more.

As always we would love you to get in touch to tell us if you found this helpful or if you have any questions at all.

Em and Vix xx

All About Sounds Online Workshop

If you have a child aged 2 – 4 this workshop gives you the tools to help them learn the first steps in phonics. 

First Year Phonics

Your ultimate guide to phonics in the first year of school!

Our All About Sounds kit has everything you need to support your child to learn Phase 1 phonics. Full of handy tips, game ideas and resources, this kit is your one stop shop to ensuring your child is prepared for phonics when they start school.

Small Business Buys for September

Small Business Buys for September

Whether you have a child who is starting school or going back to school in September, here are four small businesses that we recommend.

Going back to school in September, or starting for the first time this year is going to be a big deal after so much change and chaos. We know we have to buy the uniform and the shoes and the book bag, which I would always recommend buying early, in fact if you haven’t bought these bits yet then invest now if you can. No-one wants to be stressed out in September trawling online shops and maybe even the high street looking for uniform and shoes in the right size! It’s also really lovely to think about the extra’s that go alongside the uniform to prepare children and us as parents for School. We love supporting fellow small businesses and so here are the things which I’ve bought for Lily so far. I may have to add to the blog before September (don’t tell my husband!)

Tales of Me Books

For school starters, The Tale of Starting School is such a beautiful book and for those going back to school there is a free download version. As soon as I caught sight of the book on an Instagram feed a few months ago I just knew I would love it. All of their designs use gorgeous illustrations packed with bright visuals to help personalise the stories for your child. Written by a Primary School Teacher they are brilliantly thought out and include so much information to support your child in being prepared for school. The Tale of Starting School includes everything you will need to think of from uniform, to teachers names and lunchtime to toilets. They even have space for you to add pieces of work and notes from their first parents evening. 

Lily absolutely loves her book and even before we started adding pictures to it she was asking me to read through it over and over and was explaining to me what she would be doing at school. I know this book will be something we treasure forever and it absolutely had to be number one on the list!

Stamptastic

There are so many ways you can label your child’s uniform; stickers, labels, stamps and pens. I’ve chosen a personalised stamp from Stamptastic because I can’t sew and I know Lily would be determined to peel stickers off! A sharpie works well, that’s what I’ve used for the last four years of labelling nursery clothes but I wanted something special. The stamps are great quality, you choose the lettering style and an image. The image idea is great to help children locate their items quickly. As Reception teachers Vix and I would have been eternally grateful for anything that saved us the stressful 15 minute job at the end of every school day trying to reunite lost clothing with their rightful owners! Lily chose a mermaid and and although she can recognise her name I know this will make it a bit easier for her to see hers amongst up to 59 other cardigans or jumpers! You get an ink pad with the stamp and you can use the stamp on most materials and even some plastics (we tested a picnic box and it’s stayed on despite several runs through the dishwasher already!)

Nannas Manners

 

Being independent with lots of different things is really important for children at school. There are lots of adults to help with doing up zips, putting shoes on the right feet and cutting up their jacket potatoes but if they can do these things themselves then they don’t have to wait. That means more time to play and learn with their friends! I don’t know about you but some table manners rules have slipped over lockdown and the summer in our house so I was keen to find something to encourage her to use her cutlery properly.

Nanas manners stage 3+ independence cutlery is great. It is designed to give children the correct grip and to learn to cut up their food independently. You can get them in 6 different colours, we’ve got a pink set (because everything Lily chooses is pink!) We were having some mealtime battles especially around using a knife and fork which I now think was because she found it tricky. They have really helped her to become more confident with using cutlery and I’m so pleased that she will be able to eat her lunch more independently in September and then get out playing with her buddies!

Peggy Pip

Peggy Pip makes gorgeous peg dolls in a huge number of shapes and styles. I’ve bought Lily a personalised school doll which has blonde curly hair like hers and wears a school uniform just like the one for her school. They are a really lovely idea as a keepsake, or a worry doll idea to support children in feeling safe about starting or returning to school. The compant also do name dolls, families, occupations and more. Sets can be culturally diverse too which I think is fantastic, I’ve ordered Lottie a name set!

The delivery time is long at the moment because they are so popular but I couldn’t not include them. Definitely worth a look as something to look forward to arriving during the first few weeks.

We hope you love this list and have a great time with some online shopping. I really need to curb mine now! We would love to hear what you think or any other recommendations that you have. Drop us a comment to tell us!

Em x

Transition to Reception during a pandemic.

Transition to Reception during a pandemic.

Starting School can be a scary time at the best of times let alone during a global pandemic! We understand that the whole process can seem overwhelming but it can also be really exciting even during the current situation. We’re here to take some of the guessing and stressing away and to give you some ideas about how schools might be planning to support and your child to get ready. Here I am just going to explain the possible processes for those whose children are starting school in September and give some information about what is likely to in the next few months before they start.

By now you should know which school your child has been allocated a place in a Reception class in a Primary School near to you. Hopefully this is a school you are really happy with and was one of your top choices. Unfortunately this isn’t always the case. If you haven’t been given the school of your choice or you are unhappy with the decision you will need to contact your Local Authority to find out about their appeals process for admissions.

Schools will have a list of children who are joining them in September and should now be sending out information about start dates and possible transition opportunities. Every school is different and so you will need to wait to find out what will be on offer to you and your child. Bear with schools, things are really manic right now trying to plan how to support children returning to school before the end of term. Of course you could always give them a call if you are impatient like me!

As I have mentioned all schools are different and what they offer to prepare both you and your child for school will differ massively. Below I have listed a few things that might be available this year to replace the ‘normal’ arrangements.

 

1. Dates and times for school in September.

Schools will tell you the first day of term and what time school starts and finished for your child. They will also tell you whether your child starts full time or on a staggered start. Full time means they go for the whole school day right from the get go. Some schools do a staggered start where children may go to school just for mornings in the first week, then for mornings and lunch in week two and build up to full time. As with everything in life people’s preferences for this will differ but staggered starts can be quite difficult for working families. If this will cause you a problem talk to your school as all children are entitled to start school in the September after their fourth birthday and therefore schools will have options for full time if you need it. Equally, if you want a staggered start for any reason and it is not the school policy just give them a call to talk things over.

What’s different?

These dates and times will be subject to change. Schools will probably let you know a plan A but rest assured they will have plans B,C,D,and maybe E ready for any problems with getting children into school. Schools are very good at planning for things to not always go to plan! There may be a more staggered start this year to enable smaller groups of children to be in the space – for distancing measures but also to have a more gentle start as many children are likely to have missed pre-school and nursery time.

2.Transition meetings

Normally schools will arrange and invite you to meetings before you child starts school. These are usually in July and are really useful.

What’s Different?

These meetings may be postponed until September or be delivered in a range of ways. Some schools are offering live broadcast sessions, others recorded videos, presentations or a long letter which may be available on their website or emailed to you.

During these ‘sessions’ or via this correspondence you will get the chance to ‘meet’ or see the teachers and normally the Headteacher too. You will find out really important stuff about uniform, lunches, what your child will learn, after school clubs and more. It is normally a great opportunity to meet the parents’ of all the other children in your child’s class who are all in the same position as you (nervous, petrified, excited, scared…..). The social aspect won’t be available this year so it’s a good idea to search on facebook etc for a parents page. Many schools will have a dedicated page for parents of September starters often set up by a lovely parent! These will be so valuable this year to make links with others, ask questions, find out about second hand uniform etc!

You are likely to be sent tonnes of paperwork from these sessions/ afterwards. You will probably receive this in the post this year. Some will need completing and returning so don’t be tempted to chuck it in the paperwork draw (or similar void like area in your house where paperwork is put and never found again!)

3. Transition sessions

Most schools offer transition or ‘settling’ sessions. These are opportunities for your child to spend some time in school to get to know their classroom, teacher/s and new friends. There are often a few sessions put on which you may be able to choose from. Some schools ask parents to stay but most expect you will leave your child there for the sessions.

What’s Different?

Many schools have postponed these sessions until further notice. Some schools are planning sessions in the first few weeks in September and others are offering ‘virtual’ sessions using platforms like zoom or Seesaw. The teachers may send videos about themselves, the classroom and school in an attempt to give your child an experience of the setting before they start. Hopefully your school will soon be explaining to you what they are offering this year.

If there is a visit, do make sure they have any information about medical needs etc before you leave your child.

4. Home and pre-school visits

Most years schools will offer visits to see your child in a setting where they are already comfortable. If they are in pre-school or nursery then teachers will come and see your child and chat to their key worker before they start school. This is a really useful way for them to gather important information about how your child is getting on, what they like and don’t like and if possible spend some time getting to know your child.

What’s different?

Schools will still have these conversations via phone or skype call, but it is very unlikely that they will visit in person this year. They will also gather information from the nursery or pre-school about your child’s abilities and progress. These are often called transition documents or records and are a bit like a little school report for their new teacher.

Before the current situation lots of schools would also offer home visits which are very unlikely to be offered this year. Teachers like to have an opportunity to meet you and your child in a setting where you are relaxed and give you chance to ask questions or share concerns 1 to 1. These may be done via a skype or Zoom call this year or may be postponed until September. It’s a great way for them to bond with your child so that when they start school the experience isn’t so daunting. If you teacher has seen your cat, your basketball net, had a 1:1 conversation with your child even if it is via Zoom etc, then you know she/he is actually a normal and very lovely person and day 1 of school just seems so much more exciting! With this in mind I really encourage you to book a home visit or call if you can.

5. Others

There might be lots of other events/ information that your school shares with you before September. Some set up buddy systems so your child has a friend in an older class when they start and some will give you booklets of ‘homework’ which your children can bring to school to share with their peers. Whatever is on offer try to get involved and find out as much as you can before the September mayhem begins!

 

Hopefully this has given you some useful information about what might be happening around this time for you and your child as you begin the journey into school life. The current situation can sometimes feel like everything has changed and while the methods of communication will be different, there will still be a huge amount which is the same. In our experience Reception teachers are wonderful humans, they have magical abilities to make children and parents feel welcomed and rest assured they will be doing all they can to make your child’s start to school the very best it can be no matter what.

 

Why does my child say they’ve done ‘nothing’ every day?

Why does my child say they’ve done ‘nothing’ every day?

Hands up if your child has ever told you they did ‘nothing’ at school or pre-school? I’m fairly sure this happens 99% of the time to everyone who asks the question. It’s true in our household despite having a super chatty three year old and it happens in all of my friend’s houses with a wide range of children’s ages. It’s not true, school isn’t some sort of magic void where they go for six hours, float about doing nothing and then come home completely starving and still full of energy! 

So why does it happen?

The truth is that actually every day is action packed, and it’s so full that children feel quite overwhelmed by the end of the day and actually don’t really want to talk you through every part of it. Certainly not straight after they have walked out of the gates! Let’s be honest, when you arrive home after a day at work or out being busy do you really want to tell your partner or family member all about it? And can you actually remember all of the things you have done? Chances are no, very often I answer my husband’s routine “How was your day?” question with ‘fine’ or ‘good’ or another single adjective that really gives him no idea what actually happened. Children are no different and they often just don’t want to talk about it at that point.

What have they been doing?

Children in all settings will have done loads. In Primary School they will have probably had four lessons or more, register, break time, lunch, a story, group work, independent work and I could go on. On average they might have been expected to sit and listen to an adult for two hours of their day (not all in one go) which is heavy going especially if you’re only four! They might have had a disagreement with a friend, they might have found something too hard or too easy, they might have learnt something completely mind blowing for them and what they are really looking forward to is seeing you and allowing the day to mellow in their minds a little.

But I want to know, what can I do?

I’m not suggesting that you never ask how your child’s day was or look for information about what they have been doing. I’m just suggesting trying to get the answers in a different way. Here are my three top tips:

 Don’t ask straight away: Try not asking your child a question as soon as you see them. Instead say “I’ve missed you,” or “It’s been such a sunny day today,” basically anything that doesn’t require an answer. Give you child time to talk to you or not. Then ask them about their day later on, maybe when they are at home having a snack, playing or in the bath. Dinner time often works really well if you are able to sit with them. Find a time which suits you and make it part of your routine to talk about their day at a certain time as long as it’s not on your way home!

Tell them about your day first: This is great for two reasons. Firstly, you are modelling the talk. You can show your child how to talk about their day. Tell them what you did, what you ate, who made you laugh, what parts were hard or easy. That way when it is their turn to talk, they will have some ideas about what to say. Secondly, you are sharing the questions so all of the pressure isn’t on them and you are showing them that it’s good to be interested in everyone’s day, not just the Spanish inquisition about theirs!

Ask interesting questions: How was your day? Is fairly boring, is it any wonder we get answers like ok, fine, yeah etc? Try mixing it up with things that make them think: What was your favourite part about today? Did you help anyone today? What was the funniest/ most interesting thing your teacher said today? Did you solve any problems? Who did you sit next to at lunchtime?

The good thing about these questions is that they require full answers and are likely to spark discussion. Try to keep them positive, especially if your child is finding school or pre-school hard. If you lead with ‘How was your day’ and they say bad. You get into a ‘what was bad and why’ spiral. There may indeed have been one small part that wasn’t great and it’s good to talk about that but try to highlight the positives by asking interesting questions and helping them to see the good bits too.

Good luck finding the key to your little one’s needs when talking about their day and I hope you find a way to feed your curiosity to know all of the wonderful details about what they have done for a whole day without you. 

Em x

I’ve applied for Primary School, but I don’t think we’re ready!

I’ve applied for Primary School, but I don’t think we’re ready!

If you have a child born between 1st September 2015 – 31st August 2016 then you (hopefully) have applied for their Primary School place. In just 6 short months your precious little baby will be starting their Education journey. If the thought of this in some way terrifies you then you are certainly not alone. For me the fear is mostly because I’m realising how quickly time is flying by and how much my eldest daughter has grown. The leap into starting school for her is exciting but for me marks the end of an era and although I am confident she will love it, I will be needing the tissues and a hug after that first drop off. Part of me is definitely in denial about how close it is!

Despite partly dreading September, and pretending it’s still years away, I feel lucky that I know what school will be like for her. I have worked in and seen lots of Reception classes and I understand how the start of school works; what the routines will be, what the expectations are and what she needs to know. But, I understand that this is not true for most of the population who will be dropping off their little ones in September and I know this sparks very understandable anxiety and worry for many.

Anticipation of the unknown is always difficult to manage. I would love to reassure you that their first day will be fab but to really know, you will have to wait until your little one skips back out of school from their first session and tells you all about it (which actually never happens, they say they have done nothing, but that’s a whole other blog!!) Because I’m a serial organiser, we always have a ‘plan’ in our household and I truly believe that ‘forewarned is forearmed.’ So I have been thinking more about the expectations of school and whether my little one will really be ready for what is expected of her in September.  I’ve also been thinking about what I need to do to get ready. There is so much focus on getting children ready for school that I think parents are often forgotten in the whole process. Parent’s emotions have a sneaky way of flowing over into children’s own feelings and behaviour. We need to feel confident and as positive as possible in order to support our children and to get started on the best foot. 

I think developing confidence often comes when you know what they are going to encounter at school and what the expectations are. Here are the top two elements to think about in the moments that you’re not pretending they’re still tiny toddlers!

Developing Independence:

Think about independence and giving your child opportunities which are similar to school. At school they will be expected to find their way around including finding belongings, make choices about what to play with and be able to do this without an adult and also do things like put their coat on, go to the toilet and eat their lunch independently. 

There is lots of time to practise these things and you can do it in a fun way and reward independence: have dressing races, make treasure hunts for items to find, have picnics

To work on playing independently try to set up play situations which they can find and start by themselves. You could set up a tea party with teddies, lay out part of a train track to be completed or put playdough rolled out with toy animal footprints in to explore.

If children start playing alone they are likely to be able to continue, you can dip in and out and praise them for great independence. Try not to feel guilty about letting them get on alone, fostering their independence and getting used to not always being with them is good for both of you and you might even get an uninterrupted coffee if you’re lucky!

Listening Skills

Think about how well you both can listen and I don’t just mean listen to music or stories. At school, your child will be expected to listen to these things but in a large group which can make concentrating more challenging. They will also be expected to listen to and follow instructions which involve more than one part for example ‘go to the toilet, wash your hands and line up by the door.’ This can be difficult for children and requires some practise for them to remember key parts. Many children will use other strategies when in school to help them, teaching them to ask an adult to repeat the instructions or following others’ lead can be really useful. 

When you give instructions at home try asking them to repeat back to you the things you have asked. Maybe they could count on their fingers and then check at the end if everything has been done. Bedtimes or the dreaded ‘trying to get out of the house’ routines are great for practising these skills and also sending us parents running to the wine rack!

 If your child really finds several instructions difficult try using pictures of the routine, just draw a quick picture of each thing in a line. For example getting up, having breakfast, putting on clothes, brushing teeth. It acts like a map so they can follow what to do next. You could keep key ones to use each day for regular routines.

Your listening skills will be really important when they start school too. These are more about tuning in to your child’s emotions than always listening to their words. Starting school is a hugely overwhelming experience even though it’s an exciting one and often children can’t communicate their feelings with words. They will need you to be in tune to offer hugs, chill out time, physical activity to run off frustrations or a trailer load of after school snacks! 

We are passionate about supporting parents and children with everything relating to school. School readiness is a cause of anxiety and worry for many families and so we are launching some brilliantly fun and cleverly planned classes to dispel the fears and give families a window into a Reception class. Developing Independence and listening skills are a key part of the sessions. ‘’Ready Teddy Go’ classes for parents and children in Exeter focus on getting ready for school and start in April. Check out the website or find us on instagram or facebook for more information.

Em x