My experience of teaching phonics to young children
There are a number of excellent schemes around to support the teaching of phonics, which I believe to be the route of learning to read and write. These are available to both teachers and parents.
Cat Phonics has an online book available which teaches the synthetic phonic method. (See below for explanation of different strategies for teaching phonics.)
A time ago, it was felt that children should learn to read, by reading good books, and learn to write by writing, which is of course an important part of the equation. Still, my own experience is that children need to be taught skills, particularly phonic skills in order to facilitate their learning.
My own son began to learn his letter sounds at the age of two. I did not actually use any scheme, which shows it can be done without a lot of expense.
What I did have was a number of plastic, bendy letters, and I told stories with them as characters that represented their name sounds. (Much like the Letterland Scheme) For instance, Gus the Gorilla ‘g’ and Sammy snake ‘s’ would meet each other and have lots of adventures. Sammy had an ssssssssssss voice, and Gus had a ‘gruff’ voice. My son loved it! Believe it or not, now my son is just four, he seems to have transferred his phonic knowledge quite easily and without any encouragement from me, into writing and spelling. His teacher was quite taken aback, when he wrote a sentence for her, which was mostly phonically correct. Since his name is Joshua, he also knows the ‘sh’ sound, as well as the ‘th’ sound, which he seems to have picked up through direct teaching.
Of course, our English language is sufficiently illogical and confusing to ensure that all this is just the beginning. Apparently, our English spelling system, a baffling, muddled one, which causes SO many problems. Has its origin in the fact that the English language itself, in the Middle Ages, was seen as the language of the serf and peasant. A common language with no Class! So the French and Latin speakers decided to make the words either more Latin, or Greek, or French, or German depending on the supposed word source. Oh dear. Well, we are just left to pick up the pieces. All the bad spellers (and readers) out there should take comfort in the fact that Shakespeare would probably not have achieved Level 3 in the English National Curriculum, when it came to spelling. Neither would my husband for that matter. Despite the fact that he has a Master’s degree, he spelt Saturday – Saterday. Still, it provides me with endless laughs. And he has a computer spell checker to do most of the work for him, (as I do!).
I have very quickly found with my son, that a ‘whole word’ approach is also very important. This is because a great number of words do not fit into the ‘can be spelt phonically i.e, as they sound’ category. A good school (such as the one he is in) should provide details on the most commonly read and spelt words. These are available for download on the Internet also. I have made them into flash cards, and we play a game where he gets to keep and count the ones he has learned. Look at ‘come’ for instance; does it make any sense that it is spelt like that? No. It just is. Even simple words like ‘he’, and ‘the’, and ‘me’, should really be pronounced ‘theh’ ‘heh’ and ‘meh’ if using the logic of letter sounds alone. There are patterns that can be remembered however, even though they don’t make sense. So, if a child remembers ‘ball’ (which you cannot work out phonically with ease. It would come out as ‘ba’ as in bad, and luh, luh!), it is helpful to learn tall, call, fall, wall, at the same time. That is why it is so important to play those lovely rhyming games with children. At some point they should become aware of rhyme, (alliteration comes in handy too – Sammy snake slipped on a sock). It all helps, and can be done in a fun, relaxed way. I must stress, that at no time, do I force him into these types of activities. If he wants to do it, or suggests it, then I’m there like a shot, helping him out. If he wants to do other things then I leave him to it. The last thing I want to do is stifle his enthusiasm, and it is important to remember that there are lots of other incredibly important things for him to do.
Useful Links (other than those above)