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  • Kate Papageorgiou

Some notes for parents

This is for parents who's children are just starting school and you want to help them learn to read.

Supporting your early learner.

The following advice is also applicable for anyone who is struggling with learning to read or spell and is in later year groups. It will also work for parents who are struggling themselves but often are afraid to admit they may have a problem.

Now our children are starting school and they are beginning to learn to read, parents often worry about how they are going to support them at home. Some of us also worry about how they will be doing maths and how to support this aspect too.

Children are currently learning to read using the systematic or blended phonics method. This method is grounded in scientific research into how children learn to read best. The method is based on teaching the basic spelling code with the short vowel sounds first and the basic sounds single consonants make. This then give a small subset of words that the children can read and spell and learn before they move onto the more complex code in phase 3, 4, 5 and 6.

Phase 1 is the ability to listen and hear different sounds and make noises. This is good practice for making some of the more complex sounds such as th, z and r. It includes listening to and sharing stories, joining in discussing stories and events, being able to sequence events and being able to tell a story that they see in pictures. This phase introduces the children to the idea of sounds within words as well as what a word is. By looking at the first sound in words and then gradually introducing the understanding of rhyme at the end, the children gradually learn to pick out the phonemes in the words, which is the basic unit of spelling in the English language.

Other languages have different spelling structures as they use different numbers of syllables to us so can use a syllabary instead of an alphabet. Or they may use other ways of representing speech on the page.

If you want some ideas of how to support your children in this area then look at the booklet by the government; https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/190599/Letters_and_Sounds_-_DFES-00281-2007.pdf

Phase 2 is delivered by teaching the letters in a set order based on how many useful words they will be able to produce with them. Your children will start to learn these about now. They are delivered quite quickly once they start on them.

The sets of letters are delivered at a rate of one set per week and then the following week, as well as learning the new set of letters, they also learn to spell the words that they can make so far with the previous weeks sets. Letters are presented as one phoneme (sound) per letter.

The sound we give the phoneme is like trying to say the letter in or at the start of the word, but forgetting to say the rest of the word. There is a group of letters, for which, this is very difficult. These are; b, d, q (where we always say /kw/), g as in gap, j as in jug, k and c which are as in kilo and cat, x (which is the sound at the end of box). Never add a vowel sound onto the end of the consonants, always try to bring them up short ie no uhs.

The sets are as follows (where I have put / either side of a letter(s) or symbol this indicates the sound which is taught)

1; s (a soft sound like at the end of hiss) a (as in the middle of cat) t (short tongue against top teeth no uh at the end) p (put lips together and push air out, no uh)

2; i (as in the word tin) n (as at the end of tin) m (press lips together and make the sound you make when it tastes nice) d (tongue behind the teeth, try hard not to say uh at the end)

3: g (as at the start of got) o (as in the middle of got) c /k/ (as at the start of cat) k (as at the start of kilo)

4 ck (as at the end of deck) e (in the middle of deck) u (as in the middle of duck) r (at the start of rat, curl your tongue back to the top of your mouth)

5 h (this is a huff, as if you are cleaning your glasses) b (as at the start of bat) f ff (teeth over top lip and huff, beginning and end of fluff) l ll (leg and bell, tongue behind top teeth and push air out) ss (like at the end of hiss)

This will probably take up to half term. If you can keep pace at home and back up the learning they do during the day this will benefit their learning greatly.

Spelling should be and is taught by the school at the same time as the letters are being introduced. This should be backed up at home, but don’t get them to spell out loud, except by the sounds in the words. Only use words with basic spelling such as consonant, vowel, consonant (CVC) or vowel consonant (VC) such as; sat, at, pat, tap, as and a in the first week. It is preferable to get them to spell by writing it down with them and getting them to trace over your letters.

You can get them to use a small tray with sand in it to draw the letters in and perhaps a chalk or white board if you have one. If you have magnetic letters you can also use them, they don’t need to be stuck to a board. You can also buy wooden letters which you can work together to colour (blue for consonants and red for vowels) as the letters are learned. Try cutting the letter shapes out of sand paper and tracking them with a finger as the child spells a word with them.

Keep to the short vowel sounds as described above only, other spellings, vowel pairs (digraphs) and vowel+r phonemes are much more problematic.

You can write short sentences for them to read and get them to compose silly sentences using the word they can currently spell. You can help them write them down, dictate them back to the child for the child to write and get them to draw a picture to go with it.

To support your child further you may want to use an app. A good free app that will allow your child to play games with the letters and sounds in the same order as the school is teaching them is ‘Teach Your Monster to Read’ You can go on line and sign up to a parent account, make sure the your child is not racing ahead by playing the games with them once a day for a few minutes.

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