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.

Should I teach my child letters before they start school?

Should I teach my child letters before they start school?

One of the most common questions I get asked as a teacher/ Headteacher when talking about children being ready for school is ‘Do they need to know their letters?’ and many parents worry about their child not ‘knowing enough’ before starting their school journey.

I think you will be pleased to hear that I always answer ‘No!’ There is no requirement for children to start school with any specific knowledge of letters, or numbers or anything else actually.  Schools are ready for children to start at all different levels of knowledge and they teach letters to all children even if they come in knowing some already. Phonics (the method for teaching children to read and write by linking sounds to letters) is taught in Reception classes usually daily. It’s a big part of their first learning at school and it’s normal for children to have very limited prior knowledge of letters.

So the short answer is no, your child doesn’t need to know their letters. However, many children are interested in letter shapes and are keen to learn. If this is the case then there’s no reason to hold your child back from finding out about letters but this blog is about some key information to think about before splurging on a load of letter shaped toys. And just to add here, if your child has no interest at all in letters please don’t worry, that’s very normal. Read on to find some ways you can really help them to be ready for school without a letter in sight.

Before children are really ready for letter recognition there is a huge amount of foundation building that parents and carers (including nurseries, childminders etc) can support with. These foundation skills are vital in getting children ready for their formal phonics teaching. I compare it to building a house, you wouldn’t just start with putting the bricks straight onto the mud, you need to dig out and lay some solid foundations. In order for children to be ready for their phonics learning in school, they need lots of playful experience with sounds which acts as these foundations.

We run workshops in Exeter explaining more about these key foundations and giving ideas for games and play at home. In this Blog post I’m going to give a brief explanation of three key areas which will really help to get children ready for phonics including some easy ideas to try at home. If you are interested to find out more check out our instagram and facebook pages for more ideas and info about workshops.

Listening skills are the first key piece in the phonics foundations jigsaw. This learning starts from the moment our precious little ones are born and we are always being told how important talking to our children, playing music and interacting with noises is for their development. Children need to be able to hear sounds and interpret them to later be able to hear words and unpick the individual sounds in them. 

There are loads of fun things to do with listening;

  • play music
  • make animal noises
  • play listening games when you are out and about
  • use household items to make sounds – bash pots and pans, boxes etc
  • make funny noises with your voices or bodies – clap, stomp, gargle, yawn and see if your child can copy you, apparently Alexa can make animal noises if you ask her!

Rhyming is another piece of the foundation puzzle and an important aspect of early phonics learning. Children don’t need to be able to make up rhymes but to be able to recognise when words sound similar or the same sets them up well for reading and writing skills later on. There is a huge selection of children’s rhyming books out there. Some of our favourites include the ‘Oi Cat’ series by Kes Gray and Jim Field, ‘Rhyme Crime’ by Jon Burgerman and anything by Quentin Blake or Julia Donaldson. Getting audio versions is really lovely especially if you can have them on in the car. Pointing out rhyming words to your children will really help them to distinguish rhyming and non-rhyming words even if they can’t hear the rhyme yet.

Some easy rhyming ideas for at home or on the go:

  • make up little rhyming phrases – let’s go to the park in the dark!
  • find objects/ toys which rhyme around the house and make a collection together (cat, hat, mat, rat etc, you can draw pictures if you don’t have all of the objects!)
  • sing nursery rhymes and childrens song’s as loads of these rhyme. See if you can change the words to make them funny while still rhyming. We often try new versions of ‘Twinkle twinkle’ and the current favourite is “twinkle twinkle little giraffe, how I wonder why you wear a scarf!!” There are much easier words to rhyme than giraffe, my tip is don’t choose giraffe!

Hearing Sounds in words is the third area I’m going to give a few tips on. Being able to hear individual sounds in words is key, it’s the most important skill children can grasp to help them be ready for learning letters. In order to read children need to link sounds to letters or groups of letters. Children who can hear the sounds in words and say individual sounds are really well prepared to start seeing how letters link to them. Making the sounds can be a challenge for adults, we often feel like we didn’t learn in this way and that it’s unnatural to us. We’re working on a page with sounds support and will link here when it’s done, watch this space. Until then there’s a little link to a helpful video under these ideas.

Ideas to practise at home:

  • focus on the first sounds in words and see if children can guess the word. Try “can you put on your sssssssss……..’ and see if you child guesses you mean socks.
  • Go on a treasure hunt around the house for items beginning with one sound eg ‘p’ you could find a pan, pen, pig some pasta etc.
  • Play I spy but use just sounds rather than letter names so say “I spy with my little eye something beginning with ‘ch’ for chair, ‘mmmmm’ for mummy or ‘ffffff’ for frog etc
  • Make up funny lists of words or names for people… magical, musical Mummy! Lovely, lively Lily!

These are just a few ways to support early phonics learning and to give your child some strong foundations of sounds knowledge. If your child is really keen to learn letters or you feel like they are ready then there are lots of ways to do this too. We would always advise learning letter sounds first rather than letter names as this is how children will learn in school. If you do want to introduce letters here are a few ideas:

  • use letter shapes in play – cookie cutters, magnetic letters, stencils etc
  • recognising the letters in children’s name and others in your family
  • looking at letters, they’re everywhere – books, posters, newspapers, road signs etc
  • cutting and sticking letter shapes from magazines or papers – see if you can find lots of the same letter shape
  • messy play – drawing letter shapes in shaving foam, sand, mud etc

If you are able to get out to playgroups and local classes then these will offer great experiences for listening, communicating and getting ready for more formal phonics in school. We go to a great class specifically designed to support children with early phonics learning. It’s called ‘Sounds Right Phonics’ and they are nationwide, offering sessions for babies right up to aged four. The classes are loads of fun, they cover lots of the foundation skills, early letter recognition and even gross and fine motor development. If you are in Exeter/ Exmouth area check out Jess via the link below.

Check out our instagram and facebook pages for more ideas and tips for early learning with your little ones and let us know if you have any comments or questions! 

Making Sense of Reports

Making Sense of Reports

As we are edging closer to the end of the academic year, we thought it would be a wise idea to talk about reports. Reports, do exactly what they say on the tin, tell you (report to you) what your child has achieved (attained) throughout the year. Every school has a unique way of reporting back to you this information, but hopefully by deciphering the key terms, this blog post should help you understand how your child is doing academically. 

If your child is in Reception, then you are likely to have seen these terms in your child’s report. The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) curriculum is slightly different to the rest of the school and therefore it is assessed in a different manner. Throughout the year your child’s teacher will be assessing your child’s development and attainment against 7 key areas:

  • Personal, Social and Emotional Development
  • Communication and Language
  • Physical Development
  • Literacy
  • Mathematics
  • Understanding the World
  • Expressive Arts and Design

Alongside these areas of learning, your child’s learning behaviours will also be reported upon. In reception we call these the ‘characteristics of effective learning’ (CoEL) and they focus on HOW the children learn rather than what they know. There are 3 characteristics that have been identified by the EYFS: playing and exploring, active learning and creating and thinking critically

At the end of the year, in your child’s report, you may also notice the term ‘Good Level of Development‘ (GLD). If your child has met the expectations for the end of the year across 5 of the 7 key areas they will have achieved a ‘good level of development’. 

The 7 key areas (listed above) have three end of year outcomes:

  • Expected – your child has made expected progress throughout the year
  • Emerging–  your child has not quite met the expectations (is working below the expected level)
  • Exceeding–  your child is working above the expected level

For your child to achieve a GLD during their foundation school year that must have achieved an expected or exceeding judgment in the three prime areas of learning (personal, social and emotional development; communication and language; and physical development) as well in Literacy and Mathematics. 

For a more in depth read on the EYFS framework and it’s assessment during the Foundation year; click on the button.

To read the Department of Education’s publication on the Early Years Outcomes; click on the button.

If your child is in Year 1-6 then you may see the term ‘ARE’ in their report. ARE stands for Age Related Expectations and these are a set of objectives that the National Curriculum has set out for each year group. Your child’s teacher will assess whether your child has met these objectives for the year group and will state this in their report using the following terms:

  • Working Towards – not yet met the objectives for that year group
  • Working At – meeting the objectives for that year group
  • Working at Greater Depth – mastered the objectives for that year group

This school’s website lists the ARE for each year group for reading, writing and maths. 

If you have a spare 5 hours (!!) here is the National Curriculum for Primary Schools (KS1 & 2).

Phonics

During the summer term, your child will have taken part in a Phonics Screening assessment. This is a tool used to help teachers assess how well your child can blend the sounds that they have learnt across Foundation and Year 1. There is a total of 40 real words and non words that you child will have had to read and in order to pass this assessment they will have had to read 32 of them accurately.

SATS

Just a little note about SATS here as you may be getting these results too in a letter or separate section on the school report. SATs (Standard Assessment Tests or End of Key Stage Assessments) are tests which children sit in Year 2 and 6. The results are given using the same language as we have talked about above; Working Towards, Working At and Greater Depth for Reading, Maths and SPAG which is spelling grammar and punctuation. These are tests that children will have taken in school during May. Teachers give an assessment for Writing as there are no writing tests. 

Year 2 tests work slightly differently to Year 6 as they inform teachers decisions about your child’s assessment and they are marked in school. If your child is Working Towards, don’t panic. There may be many reasons for this and we would advise popping into school if you have any concerns. Your teachers will be able to talk you through any areas which your child found difficult and give you ideas to help at home or explain how they can offer extra support in school.

Year 6 SATs are sent off to be marked and the results are given as scaled scores. Don’t let this confuse you, I’ll give you the basic version beacuse it is, in fact, very confusing!! Basically if your child scores 100 or more then they have passed and get ARE (Age related expectation for year 6) and if they score lower than this then they are Working Towards. The score helps you to see how far off they were, for example 98 is very close to 100 and your child is probably very ready for Secondary School. As with the above comments please don’t panic if your child hasn’t passed or got a low score, pop into school and have a chat to their teacher if you would like to find out how to help them at home. The tests only measure part of your child’s knowledge on one particular day and there is so much they miss; sporting ability, kindness, loyalty, empathy, listening skills, artistic creativity and the list goes on. There is lots of controversy about the testing of children at a young age, but that’s for a whole other blog post at another time!!

For now, we hope you have received a report which, with these little jargon busters, makes sense and is a true reflection of your child’s unique personality and values all of their qualities. Any questions, as always contact us via social media or in the comment section below.

Trigraphs

Trigraphs

So we are back to the world of phonics this week and delving into the concept of trigraphs.

If you have already read our blog post on digraphs (see here) you will know that they are simply two letters that make one sound. So, yes, you’ve got it trigraphs are three letters that, when placed side by side, will make one sound. The mind boggles!

If we look at the word ‘sigh‘ it is made up of two sounds; the initial s making this sound…..

and the igh is making the final sound……

Easy peasy! The tricky part is getting your child to spot them within words whilst reading. Typically, your child will begin learning their trigraphs during Year 1 and will be taught to include them in their writing as well as spotting them whilst reading. 

(If you would like to see the full episode of Alphablocks that focuses on the igh trigraph click here )

Supporting Your Child At Home

Listed below are some words containing the 4 trigraphs your child will initially learn during their phonics sessions (this number will increase as they learn their alternatives-we will touch more on that later…) This is nowhere near a comprehensive list- just a few words containing the trigraphs to help you get started at home. 

As always, we will be providing examples of ways of supporting your child with learning these trigraphs over on our Instagram page (if you haven’t already, go and give us a follow here). 

  • Ear
  • Gear
  • Hear
  • Tear
  • Rear
  • Dear
  • Near
  • Fear
  • Year
  • Beard

  • Fair
  • Pair
  • Chair
  • Lair
  • Hair
  • Stair(s)

  • Lure
  • Pure
  • Cure
  • Secure
  • Manure

  • Sigh
  • High
  • Light
  • Night
  • Right
  • Sight
  • Fight
  • Tight
  • Might

BUT FOR NOW………

Click on the button to link you to online magnetic letters. You could ask your child to write words containing one of the trigraphs (using the list above). Or you could write words that have a missing trigraph and ask your child to fill in the blanks. This is by no means a replacement for the real life alternative, but just in case you don’t have these at home.

If you hadn’t noticed already; we are huge fans of Alphablocks on CBBC. As well as providing accurate sounds they also have some fantastic online resources. Click on the button to discover more!

Finally, go and visit our Pinterest board dedicated to all things trigraphs for some inspiration for games and activities. You can find us here cool

 

Thanks for taking the time to read our posts; we do hope that they are useful to you as parents. As always, let us know if you have any questions or concerns. Happy trigraph-ing (most definitely made that up).

Handwriting

Handwriting

Handwriting takes a very long time to develop and as with lots of other learning how quickly children pick it up and how ‘easy’ they find it to learn is dependent on their strengths and interests. Children aren’t expected to develop their own style of handwriting until they are in year 5 of Primary school, so no need to panic, but the sooner they feel confident to write neatly and at a reasonable speed then the more time they will have to be able to focus on what it is they are writing. It is a very personal thing, I’m sure you know lots of adults who have beautifully neat writing or those whose writing you can hardly read! Handwriting is a process and it’s learning begins from the baby years. Before even thinking about forming letters or numbers for writing, it’s about developing strength and co-ordination in their hands.

Strength and co-ordination –

All of the activities that babies do to develop grip strength and co-ordination will help them with their handwriting as they grow up. Practising big movements such as grabbing, throwing, catching, arm movements are called ‘gross motor’ skills. ‘Fine motor’ skills are things like pinching sequins and pom poms, using pegs, posting and lacing activities which focus more on the smaller and more detailed movements. Lots of pre-schools and schools especially in Foundation/ Reception class will have daily sessions or activities out all the time for this practise. The learning comes into the ‘Physical development’ part of the curriculum. You might hear the phrases ‘finger gym,’ or ‘funky fingers’which will be fun and playful activities set up to help your child develop strength in their hands and what we call ‘pencil grip’ – where they are able to hold a pencil, pen or painbrush effectively.

Pencil grip –

Pencil grip will develop at different times for children. Some will have mastered a ‘tripod grip or grasp’ where they use three fingers when they are around 3-4 years old and for some children this takes much longer. All of the above strength and co-rdination learning will help to get ready for developing pencil grip. 

Below is an idea of the stages which your child may go through when developing their pencil grip. As you can see a good tripod grasp can take until they are 7 years old. Schools may offer extra help for your child to develop this, they might call it an ‘intervention’ and should talk to you so you know how you can help at home.

Here’s a little video idea to help develop the tripod grasp. Lots more ideas on our instagram, facebook and pinterest pages.

Writing Letters or ‘Letter formation’

Children will learn to write lower case letters first. Often this happens alongside phonics teaching so they might not learn the order a,b,c,d they might start with s,a,t,p,i and n. 

Schools and pre-schools will have different methods for teaching letter formation. I will go into cursive and pre-cursive a little bit but I don’t want to bore you to tears! Many children will learn letter formation in the same way you and I probably did. Some letters start from the middle and some at the top. You might have learnt ‘one armed robot letters’ and ‘caterpillar letters’ or something totally different. I would advise asking your school or pre-school which method or ‘scheme’ they use so you can copy this if you want to help your child at home.

What is pre-cursive/ cursive writing?

Below are two ways to form letters. The top row is probably how you learnt to write them and it is still how lots of schools and pre-schools teach. Children writing in this way won’t join their letters until they can form them all, usually in year 2 or later. The letters start in different places, some at the top and some in the middle. In the picture the coloured dots show the starting position for forming the letter.

The second row of letters shows ‘pre-cursive’ formation. This is where all of the letters start in the same place (see the dots again.) Some schools will use this way of writing and it can seem really alien if you haven’t used it before. There is lots of research to say this way of writing is helpful. It means children don’t have to learn another way of forming letters when you start to join letters together because when you join you have to start all letters from the end of the last letter which is mostly on the line. It also means all letters start from the same place and this can be helpful for children who get letters the wrong way around. To counteract this, there is lots of research to say this way of writing isn’t helpful for very young children. I know that’s a bit of a pain and we’re not advising either way is better. Teachers will do what they believe to be best in each setting so really it depends on what your school has chosen but hopefully it’s useful to know the different ways.

The video below shows a being written in pre-cursive first and then in print.

Want to practise at home?

Some children will love mark making, drawing, writing, developing find motor skills and all of the activities involved. But as with everything some might hate it or find it really challenging and need some help. Our advice for practising at home is to keep it fun and low pressure. Children are always likely to do more and learn if they don’t realise it’s learning, if it’s packaged as play! Practise those gross and fine motor skills with everyday items:

  • string penne pasta or beads onto spagetti (dried!) or onto laces 
  • pegging activities – helping to put the washing out gets two jobs done at once!
  • using squeezy bottles with water, make shapes and letters on a patio if it’s sunny
  • playdoh – great for developing strength
  • Anything arty with sequins, stickers pom poms etc helps the fine motor development
  • Mark make or write with loads of different objects – this can really help children who don’t want to write. Try feathers dipped in paint, chalks, novelty pens, sticks, anthing you can think of that isn’t a pencil or pen but that can be held like one!

Here are a few resources and apps that you could use to help at home too if you fancy it!

Apps:

Singalong Cursive Handwriting

A fun little tracing app with catchy songs and different levels – this is for teaching pre-cursive letter formation.

Writing Wizard

This is a really funky app with very engaging visuals. Lots of settings to practise letters and words. They do a cursive version too.

Alphablocks

No letter formation practise but great for recognition and hearing sounds. There are loads of other paid for alphablocks apps and the TV programmes are fab if you want some help with phonics.

Resources:

If you do want to buy some letters and numbers to use at home here are some we like. Lots of shops sell letter and number formation wipe clean books which can be great if your child likes these. Remember to check which sort of letter formation the school teaches so you can match this.

Tactile letters

A great little set to use in everyday play. Check our our instagram videos for some ideas!

Lowecase Sand Moulds

A lovely little set to use in sand, soil, playdough etc. Trace the shapes, fill the moulds, great for indoors and out!

Playfoam numbers set

I love playfoam, heres a little set to form numbers which is really practical. They do a letters set too which is capitals.

Hopefully this has helped out with some knowledge about handwriting development and ideas to help at home. Check us out on instagram, facebook and pinterest for more!

Blending and Segmenting

Blending and Segmenting

Simply……

Breaking down words into their sounds (segmenting)

Combining sounds to read words (blending)

Blending is a technical term used by teachers when they are teaching your child early reading skills. During a phonics session, your child will initially learn single sounds relating to a single letter (or grapheme). They will learn, according to what phonics scheme your child’s school follows, a sequence of sounds and when they have learnt enough of these sounds, will be taught to combine them or push them together in order to read short words. Sounds tricky hey? It’s painful! Blending can take a while for a child to master and the key to success is to encourage your child to keep practising their sounds and slowly they will learn to blend them. The trick is, again, to feel confident with the sounds that the children are reading so you can help them blend or combine them to read a word. Watch out for those tricky words though!!

Our top tip with blending with your child when you are reading at home is just to be extremely patient. Let them have a go before you tell them the correct pronunciation! It can take a while to even read a page when children are learning this skill but just doing a little at home can help boost your child’s confidence.  If your child has made a mistake or is struggling with a word- perhaps read the sounds out for them and ask them to blend them together. Let them get it wrong and let them work out that they’ve done it wrong.

Alphablocks is just fantastic! Check out this video that demonstrates the blending process.

A selection of online games to support Blending

These games work well laptop or desktop but may not be phone or tablet friendly, sorry!

The read with phonics website has some brilliant games and works on your phone and tablet. To play all of them you need to pay an upfront cost (currently £7.99 but I’d say worth it for some great content if you like online games. The ‘build a phonics word’ game models blending really clearly!

Segmenting- funnily enough- is the exact opposite.  Children will need to learn how to do this in order to spell and subsequently write sentences. Your child will need to hear the sounds within a word and then break these sounds down and put them in the right order. Again, sounds outrageously complicated and it is really tricky, but through practise your child will grasp this quite easily. 

 During my daily phonics sessions I often say a CVC word and then ask the children to break it down into the first sound that they can hear when the word is said out loud, then the last sound that they can hear in the word and then – when they are ready- the middle sound. It is a gradual process and for those children that are new to reception you might want to just focus on the first sounds that they can hear when you say words. Have a practise when you are out and about; spot animals and see if you can work together to find out what sound is at the beginning of their name.

Towards the end of the reception your child will be asked to segment words when they are writing and match these sounds to their corresponding graphemes and this is the strategy that they will learn as they move through the school.

 

Here is a selection of online games to support Segmenting

Forest Phonics is mobile friendly!

The ‘teach your monster to read’ website (links below) has some great content too. Free access to a certain amount is in the teacher area. The songs are really catchy and help with remembering those letter sounds. The mini games have several options for blending and segmenting and it’s all mobile friendly!