Teaching phonics in Reception by Katie Paynter

Phonics in Reception

Katie Paynter, Head of Pre-Prep at St Nicholas Preparatory School in South Kensington shares her knowledge about teaching children phonics, and how parents can support their children at home.
Many parents find supporting their child’s phonics learning quite a daunting prospect. Regardless of the way you learnt to read, it is still easy to inspire your children and you will probably find you know more about phonics than you think. As adults, you probably use phonics without realising it. If, for example, we see a word we don’t recognise, we automatically fall to chunking the word into syllables to try to decipher and then comprehend it.

Instrumental in phonics is a strong acquisition of the letter sounds. Children need to know and articulate them in their pure form, and that does not include an ‘uh’ sound at the end! The internet has a wealth of video clips and audio resources which demonstrate accurate pronunciation. Do practise regularly with your child. Using flashcards, magnetic letters, modelling the sounds in play dough or drawing them in sand or with shaving foam are ideal activities. The greater a child’s exposure, the more automatic they will become. It is suggested that on average children need to work with something over 80 times before it becomes secure. It is worth highlighting that the separate sounds (phonemes) are not taught in the order of the alphabet. This is so the children can start to read and make whole words very quickly. For example the following sounds are initially met, ‘s, a, t, p, i, n’ because with these 6 letters many smaller words can be made, e.g. sat, pin, pat, pit, tin, sit, it, sip etc. With a child secure in the phonemes, they can begin to sound out and blend (put together) to read the words.

As well as phonemes, children will be steadily introduced to digraphs. A digraph is simply a sound which is represented by two letters. The most common ones which Reception children will begin to learn are th, sh, ch, ee, oo, ng. Again, do engage your child in activities to cement this knowledge. Spotting them in books and magazines, on sign posts, in shops, in recipes and on labels will be invaluable.
As children’s phonic knowledge develops, they will be exposed to alternative ways of representing a sound. So, for example, the sound ‘s’ can be in snake or ceiling. And the sound ‘ai’ as in rain, can also be ‘ae’ as in aeroplane and ‘ay’ as in play.
Without doubt children who learn to decode effectively, will master the fundamentals of reading more quickly. This means they will move on to the actual pleasure of reading much sooner. What is most important is to take an interest in what your child is learning and help them put reading into a wider context of enjoyment and finding out information. This includes reading to, reading with, talking about books and characters along with specific reading where the child can read every word. This gives children a sense of self as a successful reader. Do not be anxious about phonics; it is about supporting your child, and then demonstrating an enthusiasm for reading; it is so influential.