Phonics in the Foundation Stage: A Guide for Parents

Letters and Sounds is a fun and interactive way to support children in learning how to read and write in the Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1. . At St. Mary of the Angels we use a programme called Jolly Phonics in Nursery and Reception to help the children learn their sounds. Jolly Phonics represents each sound with an action helping children to remember both more easily. An explanation of each action will be sent home as the new sounds are introduced.

The alphabet contains only 26 letters. Spoken English uses about 42 sounds (phonemes). These phonemes are represented by letters (graphemes). In other words, a sound can be represented by a letter (e.g. ‘s’ or ‘h’) or a group of letters (e.g. ‘th’ or ‘ear’. Once children begin learning sounds, they are used quickly to read and spell words. Children can then see the purpose of learning sounds. For this reason, the first six letters that are taught are ‘s’, ‘a’, ‘t’, ‘p’, ‘i’, ‘n’. These can immediately be used to make a number of words such as ‘sat’, ‘pin’, ‘pat’, ‘tap’, ‘nap’ As a parent, your involvement in supporting your child’s learning will be a vital factor in determining their success in learning to read.

Below is on an overview of how we teach phonics in Nursery and Reception and how can support your child at home.

Phase 1: Nursery

This paves the way for systematic learning of phonics and usually starts in nursery.

Teachers plan activities that will help children to listen attentively to sounds around them, such as the sounds of their toys and to sounds in spoken language. Teachers teach a wide range of nursery rhymes and songs. They read good books to and with the children. This helps to increase the number of words they know – their vocabulary – and helps them talk confidently about books.

Ways you can support your child at home

Play ‘What do we have in here?’ Put some toys or objects in a bag and pull one out at a time. Emphasise the first sound of the name of the toy or object by repeating it, for example, ‘c c c c – car’, ‘b b b b – box’, ‘ch ch ch ch – chip’.

Say: ‘A tall tin of tomatoes!’ ‘Tommy, the ticklish teddy!’ ‘A lovely little lemon!’ This is called alliteration. Use names, for example, ‘Gurpreet gets the giggles’, ‘Milo makes music’, ‘Naheema’s nose’.

Teach them ‘Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers’.

Learning how to ‘sound-talk’

The teacher shows children how to do this – c-a-t = cat. The separate sounds (phonemes) are spoken aloud, in order, all through the word, and are then merged together into the whole word. The merging together is called blending and is a vital skill for reading.

Children will also learn to do this the other way around – cat = c-a-t. The whole word is spoken aloud and then broken up into its sounds (phonemes) in order, all through the word. This is called segmenting and is a vital skill for spelling.

This is all oral (spoken). Your child will not be expected to match the letter to the sound at this stage. The emphasis is on helping children to hear the separate sounds in words and to create spoken sounds.

Ways you can support your child at home

Sound-talking

Find real objects around your home that have three phonemes (sounds) and practise ‘sound talk’. First, just let them listen, then see if they will join in, for example, saying:

‘I spy a p-e-g – peg.’

‘I spy a c-u-p – cup.’

‘Where’s your other s-o-ck – sock?’

‘Simon says – put your hands on your h-ea-d.’

‘Simon says – touch your ch-i-n.’

‘Simon says – pick up your b-a-g.

Phases 2 to 4: Reception

Phase 2

In this phase children will continue practising what they have learned from phase 1, including ‘sound-talk’. They will also be taught the phonemes (sounds) for a number of letters (graphemes), which phoneme is represented by which grapheme and that a phoneme can be represented by more than one letter, for example, /ll/ as in b-e-ll. They may be using pictures or hand movements to help them remember these.

VC and CVC words

C and V are abbreviations for ‘consonant’ and ‘vowel’. VC words are words consisting of a vowel then a consonant (e.g. am, at, it) and CVC words are words consisting of a consonant then a vowel then a consonant (e.g. cat, rug, sun). Words such as tick and bell also count as CVC words – although they have four letters, they have only three sounds. For example, in the word bell, b = consonant, e = vowel, ll = consonant.

Now the children will be seeing letters and words, as well as hearing them. They will be shown how to make whole words by pushing magnetic or wooden letters together to form little words, reading little words on the interactive whiteboard and breaking up words into individual sounds, which will help their spelling. These will be simple words made up of two phonemes, for example, am, at, it, or three phonemes, for example, cat, rug, sun, tick, bell.

Tricky words

They will also learn several tricky words: the, to, I, go, no.

Children will still be practising oral blending and segmenting skills daily. They need plenty of practice at doing this.

Saying the sounds

Your child will be taught how to pronounce the sounds (phonemes) correctly to make blending easier.

Sounds should be sustained where possible (e.g. sss, fff, mmm) and, where this is not possible, ‘uh’ sounds after consonants should be reduced as far as possible (e.g. try to avoid saying ‘buh’, ‘cuh’). Teachers help children to look at different letters and say the right sounds for them.

Ways you can support your child at home

Magnetic letters
Buy magnetic letters for your fridge, or for use with a tin tray. Find out which letters have been taught – have fun finding these with your child and place them on the magnetic surface.

Making little words together
Make little words together, for example, it, up, am, and, top, dig, run, met, pick. As you select the letters, say them aloud: ‘a-m – am’, ‘m-e-t – met’.

Breaking words up
Now do it the other way around: read the word, break the word up and move the letters away, saying: ‘met – m-e-t’.

Both these activities help children to see that reading and spelling are reversible processes.

Spelling
Spelling is harder than reading words – praise, don’t criticise. Little whiteboards and pens, and magic boards, are a good way for children to try out spellings and practise their handwriting.

Your child might be trying to use letters from their name to write; this shows that they know that writing needs real alphabet letters.

Make or buy an alphabet poster.

Getting ready for writing

Teachers will model how to form letters (graphemes) correctly, so that children can eventually acquire a fluent and legible handwriting style. These skills develop over a long period of time. A child’s ability to form a letter correctly is a separate skill from phonics. Holding a pen or pencil needs considerable co-ordination and practice in making small movements with hands and fingers.

In the early phonic phases children can use letter cards or magnetic letters to demonstrate their knowledge of phonics.

Writing in lower-case letters

We shall be teaching lower-case letters, as well as capital letters. As most writing will be in lower-case letters it is useful if you can use these at home. A good start is for your child to write their name correctly, starting with a capital letter followed by lower-case letters.

Your child’s teacher can advise on the handwriting style that is taught and how you can help at home.

Ways you can support your child at home

Using their whole body
For handwriting children need to be well co-ordinated through their whole body, not just their hands and fingers. Games that help co-ordination include throwing balls at a target, under-arm and over-arm, and bouncing balls – also skipping on the spot, throwing a Frisbee, picking up pebbles from the beach and throwing them into the sea. Have fun!

Hand and finger play
Action rhymes such as ‘Incy wincy spider’, ‘One potato, two potato’ and ‘Tommy Thumb’ are great fun and get their hands and fingers moving. Playing with salt dough or clay really helps strengthen little fingers, as does cookery and using simple toolkits.

Hand–eye co-ordination
Pouring water into jugs and cups of different sizes, sweeping up with a dustpan and brush, cutting, sticking, tracing, threading beads, completing puzzles, peeling off stickers and sticking them in the right place – these all help hand–eye co-ordination.

Pencil hold
The ‘pincer’ movement needs to be practised. This is important as it enables children to hold a pencil properly as they write. Provide them with kitchen tongs and see if they can pick up small objects. Move on to challenging them to pick up smaller things, for example, little cubes, sugar lumps, dried peas, lentils, first with chopsticks, then with tweezers.

Ask children to peg objects to a washing line.
Provide plenty or different types of pen and pencil; hold their hand to practise the correct grip.

Phase 3

The purpose of this phase is to:

  • teach more graphemes, most of which are made of two letters, for example, ‘oa’ as in boat
  • practise blending and segmenting a wider set of CVC words, for example, fizz, chip, sheep, light
  • learn all letter names and begin to form them correctly
  • read more tricky words and begin to spell some of them
  • read and write words in phrases and sentences.

CVC words containing graphemes made of two or more letters

Here are some examples of words your children will be reading: tail, week, right, soap, food, park, burn, cord, town, soil

Their confidence from the daily experience of practising and applying their phonic knowledge to reading and writing is really paying off!

Tricky words

The number of tricky words is growing. These are so important for reading and spelling: he, she, we, me, be, was, my, you, her, they, all.

Ways you can support your child at home

  • Sing an alphabet song together.
    Play ‘I spy’, using letter names as well as sounds
    Continue to play with magnetic letters, using some of the two grapheme (letter) combinations:
    r-ai-n = rain blending for reading rain = r-ai-n – segmenting for spelling;
  • b-oa-t = boat blending for reading boat = b-oa-t – segmenting for spelling;
  • h-ur-t = hurt blending for reading hurt = h-ur-t – segmenting for spelling
  • Praise your child for trying out words.
  • Ask teachers for a list of the tricky words.
  • Set a timer. Call out one word at a time and get your child to spell it on a magic board or a small whiteboard, against the timer – remember, they can use magnetic letters.
  • Play ‘Pairs’, turning over two words at a time trying to find a matching pair. This is especially helpful with the tricky words: the the, to to, no no, go go, I I
  • Don’t worry if they get some wrong! These are hard to remember – they need plenty of practice.

Phase 4

Children continue to practise previously learned graphemes and phonemes and learn how to read and write:

CVCC words: tent, damp, toast, chimp

For example, in the word ‘toast’, t = consonant, oa = vowel, s = consonant, t = consonant.and CCVC words: swim, plum, sport, cream, spoon

For example, in the word ‘cream’, c = consonant, r = consonant, ea = vowel, m = consonant.

They will be learning more tricky words and continuing to read and write sentences together.

Tricky words

said, so, do, have, like, some, come, were, there, little, one, when, out, what

Ways you can support your child at home

  • Practise reading and spelling some CVCC and CCVC words but continue to play around with CVC words. Children like reading and spelling words that they have previously worked with, as this makes them feel successful.
  • Make up captions and phrases for your child to read and write, for example, a silver star, clear the pond, crunch crisps. Write some simple sentences and leave them around the house for your child to find and read. After they have found and read three, give them a treat!
  • Look out for words in the environment, such as on food packaging, which your child will find easy to read, for example, lunch, fresh milk, drink, fish and chips, jam.
  • Work on reading words together, for example, a street name such as Park Road, captions on buses and lorries, street signs such as bus stop.

Moving on

As the children make even more progress, they will be introduced to the remaining phonemes, and given time to practise and consolidate their new learning. They will move on to Letters and Sounds Phase 5 in Year 1 and move onto Phase 6 in Year 2.

Obviously, the more children are exposed to activities involving letters and sounds, the quicker they will consolidate their newly acquired skills.

Parents and carers involvement in this new learning is vital, and we ask that whenever possible you take time to encourage them to use their new knowledge through the activities outlined above.

Websites

The following interactive websites have a range of fun and engaging activities to support your child’s learning:

www.phonicsplay.co.uk

www.letters-and-sounds.com

Please see your child’s class teacher if you have questions or advice on how to support your child at home.