If, like me, you remember learning to read as a series of flashcards and Peter and Jane books, you may be forgiven for thinking WTF (What The Fonics?) when your children start learning to read.
Children now learn to read and write by way of ‘Synthetic Phonics’.
This means that they are taught the sounds that make up the English language and are then taught how to blend (synthesise) the sounds back together to read and segment words into individual sounds to write.
Research showed that this was the most effective way to improve reading standards but the fact that most parents learned to read in a different way, leaves a lot of us feeling clueless and lacking in confidence when it comes to supporting your own children.
Here are five things you should know about phonics to get your started:
1. There are 44 sounds in the English language
Yes more than 26! There are 26 letters in the alphabet but these single letters do not cover all of the sounds in the English language. Therefore some sounds are made through pairs of letters or groups of letters. These are known as digraphs and trigraphs. Not only do children have to learn the 44 sounds but also how to write those sounds. There are in fact over 1000 ways of writing the 44 sounds for example the ‘or’ sound is spelt differently in all of these words: four, paw, autumn, ought, more, door, taught, walk. No wonder children find it so hard to nail reading and writing English!
2. M says ‘mmm’ not ‘muh’
This is the most common mistake made by parents. The letter M makes a mmm sound, not a muh sound. Imagine sounding out the word man. If you sounded it as muh- a- nuh and then pushed those sounds back together, it would make the word muhanuh. The correct way would be mmmm-a-nnnnn. This can be very confusing for children so help them by getting the sounds right.
3. Not all words are phonetic
Obviously! In fact it is estimated that only 87% of english words are phonetic. This means that more than 1 in 10 words cannot be sounded out. The words which are not phonetic are often known as ‘tricky’ words or common exception words. These have to be taught as whole words (get those flash cards out!). If you come across one in your child’s reading, don’t attempt to sound it out. Explain that it is a tricky word, and if they don’t know what it says, tell them. You can even analyse the word with your child e.g. which part of the word ‘said’ makes it tricky (the middle sound is ‘e’ not ‘ai’) as this will help them remember it for next time.
4. Phonetic spellings of new words are OK
When children first start writing, they use the sounds that they have learned to write unfamiliar words. A phonetic attempt at a new word shows that a child is using their phonics knowledge well. This can lead to some amusing spelling mistakes in their work for example cum for come and wee for we (cue sniggering from teachers!). The beauty of phonics is that once a child knows their sounds, longer words may be attempted so you may see dinosaur as dighnoasor, volcano as volcainoa. As children learn common exception words through explicit teaching or exposure through reading, they should begin to spell the words correctly.
5. Phonics has its own language!
By that I mean that there is lots of terminology attached to phonics. For example digraph= two letters which make one sound, segment= the skill of breaking a word down into individual sounds.
Children are often taught to use and understand these terms which can leave you feeling a bit clueless if you don’t!
- If you would like to find out more about Pop Up Phonics workshops, please visit www.popupphonics.com or email email@example.com
- Helen Fox is a primary school teacher, private tutor and mother of two. Having seen her (very intelligent) friends feeling a bit lost when it came to supporting their children learn to read, she set up Pop Up Phonics, organising private and group workshops for parents on the subject of phonics and early reading skills.