What are phonics? and 4 ideas on how you can support your child to read

Can you remember how you learnt to read?

Many of us can't remember exactly how we learned to read, yet we all know how important this skill is in our daily lives.  From reading our social media messages on our phone, to being able to read the instructions that come with our children’s medicine, we often take for granted the fact we can interpret and understand the black and white symbols of text. Then there are all the mentions of phonics in the media...info overload.

Children who have difficulty saying some of their speech sounds may also find learning to read more tricky.  However, if everyone is aware of the common link between speech sound difficulties and literacy difficulties, there is a lot we can do to help.  Many parents find that learning to read helps their children learn about the sounds in words, which can in turn help their speech.

Build their sound awareness

The phonics teaching method is based on children learning to break words up into their individual sounds, and learn the letters that match each of the sounds. Children need good ‘sound awareness’ in order to succeed with phonics, and this is where some games at home with you can really help:

  • Rhyme games are great for building children's awareness of the sounds in words. Without realising it, to be able to match rhyming words they're breaking the words down into smaller chunks (e.g. c-at and h-at to work out that cat and hat rhyme).
  • Syllable clapping (or drumming or stamping or tapping) helps children break words up into smaller chunks.
  • I spy helps children identify the first sounds of words. Remember to use the sound of the start of the word, rather than the letter name, with younger children (e.g. ‘sofa’ starts with ‘sss’ rather than ‘ess’ or ‘suh’)

Talk to your child's teacher about how you can help them at home

Schools follow different phonics packages (such as Read Write Inc (http://www.ruthmiskin.com/en/) or Jolly Phonics(http://jollylearning.co.uk/overview-about-jolly-phonics/)).  They will be able to tell you which sounds your child is learning, and give you some ideas for activities you can do at home to help.  Your school may talk about 'graphemes' (the letter in written form, e.g. 'A/a') and 'phonemes' (the sound the letter makes, e.g. 'ah'); speak to your child's teacher so you use the same words when talking about sounds with your child.

Read regularly with your child

Your child's school will send home books at the right level for your child, and advise you on how often to read with your child.  Find a quiet, unrushed time to read together.  Praise your child's attempts and give opportunities for lots of repetition.  Provide your child with time to think of the word/letter sound - children with language difficulties may take longer to think of the word, so try counting to 5 slowly in your head before asking them again.

Read to your child

Books can bring such pleasure to children - looking at the pictures, hearing the exciting stories, the comfort of the familiar bedtime story they've heard hundreds of times... when your child starts learning to read you want to keep them loving books just as much, and children learn lots of  vocabulary by listening to stories.  The Department for Education has published a research summary highlighting all the benefits reading for pleasure can bring, if you are interested in finding out more (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/research-evidence-on-reading-for-pleasure).

It’s magical watching a child learn to read and love books, and although it may take some practice early on, the end result is well worth it!

Written by Alys Mathers, Speech and Language Therapist

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