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Phonics at Home

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Supporting children at home with phonics
By Sheila O'Reilly
@Rascals_and_rainbows on Instagram
Phonics is based on the fact that man spoke before he wrote! Phonological skills refers to hearing sounds in words. When we are teaching phonics to children, we teach them to 'Segment' - The ability to access the individual sounds in words; and 'Blend' - The ability to push sounds together in words; and 'Phoneme Manipulation' - Changing sounds in words. For example, say 'Stop' without the 's'. Say 'ten'. Say it again and change the 't' to 'p'.
When exploring phonics with our little ones, we need to be very careful in how we sound out letters as overemphasising distorts the sound, making it virtually impossible for children to blend sounds together to make words.
Following the DfE's Letters and Sounds program, children are taught phonics in six phases. Phase 1 focuses on developing their speaking and listening skills. They focus on listening to the sounds around them. Some activities I have used with my children include using sounds in storytelling, listening to different percussion instruments, singing songs and rhymes and introducing rhyming words (beginning to develop phonological awareness).
In Phase 2, we show children how sounds are represented in print. Children are introduced to the letters and corresponding sounds, starting with SATPIN and working through all the letters, including double letters like 'ff' and 'll'.
From Phase 3 onwards, children are practising blending and should have a good knowledge of all phonemes ( individual letter sounds). Phase 5 explores how a sound in English can be represented in different ways. For example, the long e sound can be spelt 'ee' or 'ea' or 'y'. And phase 6 aims to increase children's vocabulary and fluency in reading.
In preparation for pre-school and beginning phonics, I have incorporated lots of bookish play into our home activities. It is the perfect way to explore phase 1! So many children's books are written in rhyme and my girls' know their favourite's off by heart. We have used percussion instruments, body and vocal sounds to create sound effects and one of our recent books was a variation on 'The Wheels on the bus' and they made up lots of different rhyming lines to make their own version. They both also love going on a sound hunt around the house or garden, looking for objects beginning with a specific sound. For my six year old, I encourage her to look for print code on every day items. For example, when she was exploring the long e sound, she found lots of variations while looking at the Cheerios box at breakfast time- free, Cheerios, honey.
Working (playing!) with two children at different ages/phonics level can work very well depending on the activity. When we are exploring stories/rhymes orally, I find opportunities to encourage my six year old to write, while her sister is only exploring orally. To keep it fun for her, I provide her with a variety of media including dry wipe markers on her wooden writing board, chalk to write on her chalk houses, tracing letters on her alphabet board and using loose parts to fill letters to reinforce letter formation. She also uses her phonics pebbles and trays for word building activities.
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I hope you have found this overview of phonics useful. Check out my Instagram for lots of activities and bookish play set ups to develop phonological awareness and help your child on their journey to reading and writing independently.
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