In a recent BBC news article, Save the Children’s chief executive, Justin Forsyth, said that children who are behind at 7-years-old are unlikely to catch up. He also pointed out that some children start school with the odds stacked against them because they lack the ability to follow instructions and have poor social skills. In my opinion, this is why preschools are so important for children especially, as some parents believe that children should not be taught letter sounds or numbers before they start school at all. Research suggests that children who enter school with a good knowledge of the alphabet and letter sounds become better readers and that it is beneficial to teach pre-schoolers phonics in a fun way (Phillips et al. 2008).
Most preschools teach letter sounds but a parent can help their child become more familiar with them at home. If you are not sure how to say the letter sounds, there are DVDs that go through letter sounds for children in a fun way. CBeebies also has a programme called ‘Alpha blocks’ which teaches letter sounds and how to blend sounds together to make word.
Children who become good readers at school often have good phonological and phonemic awareness. So what is phonological and phonemic awareness?
Children who have phonological awareness can: identify and make up rhymes; they can clap out the number of syllables in a word and they can recognize words with the same initial sounds like ‘money’ and ‘mother.’
Children with phonemic awareness can recognise individual sounds (phonemes) in words. For example, the word ‘mat’ has three phonemes m/a/t. Phonemic awareness is one of the best predictors of how well children will learn to read during the first two years of school instruction.
So how can parents develop their child’s phonological and phonemic awareness? Here are some ideas:
1) Show two cards with the word ‘mice’ on one and ‘ice’ on the other. Ask your child ‘if you take away ‘m’ from the word mice, what is left then?’ The cards could have pictures on to enhance the learning.
2) Say a single speech sound such as ‘t’ and show six pictured words. Your child then has to pick the picture that begins with ‘t’.
3) Present two pictures of similar sounding words to your child such as ‘cat’ and ‘hat’. You then say such just one of the words and your child has to pick the correct picture.
4) Change the letter ‘c’ in the word ‘cat’ to ‘m’, and ask the child what the word becomes.
5) Get your child to think of as many words as they can that rhyme with ‘fox’.
6) Get your child to clap out the syllables in a word so that they recognise how words are made up of different sounds e.g. you could clap the three syllables in ted-dy-bear.
7)Play ‘I spy’ to help your child focus on the letter sounds at the beginning of words.
Children often know when they are behind and this affects their self-esteem. So don’t get frustrated with your child if they don’t get how to blend letter sounds together even after a number of attempts. Go away and think of a way to make the learning fun. Remember that children (and adults) have different learning styles. Some children are visual learners and take things in by reading and looking at pictures, some children are auditory learners and learn through listening, and some children are kinaesthetic learners and learn through movement. Kinaesthetic learners may only get phonics, if they learn it in other ways than on paper.
Here are some ideas to make phonics learning creative and fun:
1) Chalk out letters on your garden patio. Get a children’s golf club and ball. Your child then has to hit the ball onto a letter, say the letter sound and think of a word beginning with it to score.
2) Chalk out words on your garden patio. When you say a word, your child has to kick a football onto the word/hop to it/throw a disc onto it/hit a tennis ball onto it/skip to it etc.
3) Chalk out letters on your garden patio. Show your child pictures of certain words, your child then has to think of the letter sound the word begins with and spray out the letter with a water gun.
4) Put lots of foam letter sounds or words in the bath and get your child to find them as you say them.
5) Put white stickers on Duplo with different letters on and put the Duplo together to make different words.
6) Make letters and words out of play dough.
7) Make biscuits in the shape of letters and form words with them.
8) Write letters on ping-pong balls and place them in a water play basin. Get your child to bat certain letters across the water or pick them up with a water jug.
Some of these ideas come from a blog ‘Train up a child’, which I really recommend.
So should parents be pushing their child to read as early as possible?
Research suggests that children who are taught to read early do not have an advantage (Sharp, 2002). Children in some countries do not start formal learning until 7-years-old but it does not seem to be a disadvantage. However, these children have been taught reading skills such as a good understanding of letter sounds and rhymes at kindergarten so they are ready to read when they start school. This research suggests that there is no need to push a child to read early. On the other hand, if your child is interested in letters and blending them together then don’t hold them back. Every child is different. All parents need to remember, is to keep learning fun. So don’t push your child to do anything they don’t want to do and make sure your child is in the right mood.