Helping Your Child With Phonics
Helping Your Child With Phonics

As a parent you can do many things at home to help your children become good readers. Are there books and other reading material in your home? Do your children see you read frequently and that you enjoy reading for pleasure? Do they hear you talk about things you read in magazines or newspapers? These are ways that you can set a good example which will encourage your children to develop a love of reading.

There are also some specific things you can do to help your child succeed in a Phonics-based reading programme.

Early Development

Because phonics focuses on the connection between spoken sounds and written letters, children need to develop a keen awareness of the sounds and rhythms of speech. It is never too early to begin helping your child develop this sound awareness.

Singing lullabies and nursery rhymes to babies as you rock them will help them to develop a sense of rhythm and rhyme.

Toddlers can enjoy rhythm with simple musical activities such as marching with a drum or shaking a tambourine, and as you talk to your toddler, you can talk about different everyday sounds around you. You can encourage your nursery school aged child to clap and sing along to recordings of their favourite rhymes and action songs, talk about the noises that different animals make, and sing favorite children's songs like "Old MacDonald" together.

Because young readers need to tell the difference between the shapes of letters, shape recognition is also an essential pre-reading skill. Activities which help to develop shape recognition include jigsaw puzzles and shape matching games.

When you read to your child, you can not only enjoy stories together, but you can also use reading as an opportunity to focus on the specific phonics skill of segmenting, or breaking words down into individual sounds. Rhyming picture books are fun way to introduce children to rhyming word pairs and to help them to recognise that a slight sound difference can change the meaning of a word. There are lots of great rhyming books for little ones. You could check with your local library or bookshop, but here are some favorites to get you started:

Starting School

Many parents think it is a good idea to teach children the letters of the alphabet when they start school. However, in a phonics programme this is not necessary because pupils learn the sounds of the letters before they learn their names.

You can, however, help your child with the phonics skills of letter recognition, sounding out and blending. When you read you can run your finger along under the words you are reading to show your child what letters you are sounding out. Your child will then hear how those sounds blend together to make words.

Another crucial phonics skill is segmentation, which is the ability to pick out individual sounds that make up the words we hear. You can help children with this by playing I-Spy using the letter sounds rather than the letter names. Teaching children tongue twisters is another amusing way to make them aware of sounds at the beginning of words.

Playing games like Snap and Happy Families will help children improve their shape recognition skills.

Year One

When children are familiar with the sounds of the letters, you can teach them to sing the names of the letters with the Alphabet Song. You should also continue to read to your child, sometimes encouraging them to read short, easy sections of their books aloud to you to give them more practice in sounding out and blending.

At this stage you should encourage your child without placing high expectations on them. When they read aloud, they will do so very slowly at first but will gradually get better as their sounding out and blending skills improve. When children write, they should be able to identify and write the sounds they hear. Because they are just writing sounds at this stage, just encourage them to write without expecting that their spelling will always be correct.

Year Two

By Year Two, children should know most of the phonemes. Your job as a parent is now to encourage your child to read as much as possible in order to improve their reading speed and accuracy.

The important things to focus on are to give your child as much positive encouragement as possible.

Now is a good time to get your child their own library card. Some parents are concerned that their children should be reading only educational material or "good" children's literature - but the important thing as this stage is to let children choose their own books so that they can pick out ones that interest them. This will encourage them to be independent and enthusiastic readers. Your role as a parent should be simply to encourage them to read as much as possible including fiction, non-fiction, magazines, and even joke books and comic books.

Spelling becomes a challenge in Year Two because children are learning that there are different ways to write the same sound, and that the same sound can sometimes be written in different ways. You can help them with this by telling them jokes that focus on puns and wordplay. You can also help their spelling by playing word games with them like Boggle or Junior Scrabble.

The important things to focus on are to give your child as much positive encouragement as possible. Be careful not to put any pressure on them, but let them learn at their own pace. And most important of all, make learning fun by teaching them through play activities and games which are suitable for their age.

Continue reading: When Phonics Doesn't Work