8 tips for teaching phonics to your child

How to teach phonics

Teaching phonics is easier than most people think.

After almost six years of teaching Jolly Phonics to our children (find out more about Jolly Phonics here), I’ve found that having a fun programme helps. However, equally if not more important is how I approach my child and the entire learning procress.

Here are 8 lessons I’ve learned:

1) Follow a routine.  

Have a regular learning sequence as young children find comfort in a predictable routine. For instance, teach the letter sounds first, then follow up with hands on activities like singing and related crafts.

2) Vary learning activities.

Vary the activities to maintain interest. Use flashcards, tell stories using Finger Phonics books, sing some Jolly Songs, spend some time tracing letters and writing, play blending and segmenting games, do cut-and-paste activities. You can do so much in 30 minutes, the time will simply fly.

You can also combine phonics learning with reading aloud, such as pointing out tricky words in story books or asking your child to blend an easy CVC word along the way. Don’t do it too often though as that will spoil the story!

3) Multi-sensory learning.

Have a mental checklist of all the senses used in learning so that the process is effective and enjoyable. Jolly Phonics flashcards and Jolly Songs engage the visual and auditory senses. Doing the actions involves gross motor skills so there’s a kinesthetic element too. Piglet always likes to get up from the table and run around flapping his hands like a bee when he says “zzzzz”. I say “Go, go! Buzz!” He’s a boy!

4) Kinesthetic learning.  

With respect to boys especially, the kinesthetic element is very important. Boys between 2-4 years old are very active and it is unrealistic to expect them to sit still for long. Many early childhood environments do boys a great disservice in this area.

Encourage your child to move around after 5-8 minutes of sitting down. Get him to use his arms and legs, make big sweeping actions and dramatic noises together with him when you review letter sounds. He will love it and you will be more relaxed too!

5) Focus on the child.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is focusing on the activity and ignoring the child. That can be easy to do if you’re an A type personality! What happens when you’ve spent lots of time preparing a lesson the night before and your child doesn’t seem interested? Think of yourself as a partner and less of a teacher in your child’s learning. Be flexible and willing to follow his interests. He may not want to write today, but he could love writing letters on your back using his finger and having fun seeing you guess the letter.

Sometimes, offering a choice helps your child to take ownership of his own learning. For instance, “Which would you like to do first, colour the picture or write the letters?”

6) Talk through letter formation.

Right from the beginning, it helps to guide your child verbally as he forms the letters. For example with “W”, I say “Start at the top, down, up, down, up”. We repeat that aloud as Piglet traces or writes and this helps him remember how to do it properly.

7) Facilitate self-discovery.

Sometimes we just have to hold our tongues and trust the process. Being impatient can sabotage a child’s opportunity to learn.

I’ve learned it’s important for me to wait and allow Piglet time to look at the letters, recall and say the sounds he’s learned, join them together and actually hear himself reading the word. That is, give him a chance to blend a word on his own without jumping in too early to help. Then see his face light up when he discovers a word that he’s known verbally, but is now reading on his own for the first time! This facilitates his self-esteem and motivates him to learn so much more.

8) Play games.

When Piglet first started Blending Cards, I suggested he stack them up and count them one by one to see how many he’s done. He’s always happy to see how many words he’s read. This builds his confidence and is math practice too.

 

Upcoming post: Games that make learning phonics fun!

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How we learn phonics at home

One of the things I like best about teaching Piglet at home is the simple enjoyment of being together.

We sit, together.

We listen, together.

We trace and write, together.

We celebrate his successes, together.

And we also celebrate, together, my amazement at how a little four year old guy can be so motivated, and figure things out on his own.

We’re six months into the year and I thought it’s time for a phonics update. In the series of phonics posts to follow, I’ll be sharing:

  • How we learn phonics at home
  • Tips on teaching your child phonics at home (yes, you can!)
  • Games you can play to bring phonics to life.

If you want to know more about the programme we’re using, read about Jolly Phonics and my last post on making a Sound Book with Jolly Phonics.

How often do we do phonics? Well, apart from other literacy activities like reading aloud and having conversations about everything you can think of (seriously!), we do 20-30 minutes of phonics every day. That may sound like a long time but the activities are varied so there’s no time for boredom to set in.

Here’s what we’ve been doing and how we’re learning phonics at home:

1) Letter recognition.   Since January we’ve been reviewing all the letter sounds Piglet learned last year.

Twice a week we go through the Jolly Phonics letter sound flashcards. We play games to make the review interesting, like seeing who can remember the actions first. We used to revise the flashcards every day when Piglet started phonics around age 3 but now he doesn’t need more than an occasional review.

Jolly Phonics flashcards (cursive)
Jolly Phonics flashcards (cursive)

We also aren’t singing the Jolly Songs for each sound anymore as we did so much of that last year, but they still come in handy for one or two digraphs Piglet keeps forgetting.

2) Letter formation.  After the flashcards are put away, Piglet traces with his finger some of the letters he’s made.

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Piglet loves the tactile feeling and feels a sense of accomplishment as he reviews his own work. This in itself motivates him to do more. No extrinsic reward (eg. stickers) is needed.

Then we work on the relevant page in the Jolly Phonics Workbook. Piglet colours the picture and practises writing the letters.

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The picture takes some time to colour in if he makes a thorough job of it, so that gives me a few minutes to finish lunch prep in the kitchen. See, it’s hit and run sometimes – that’s how we roll here!

Occasionally Piglet wants me to colour together with him (read: spend one-on-one bonding time with him) so I do that and postpone kitchen work awhile. When the picture’s done, I make sure I’m back to show him how to form the letters with the pencil before he gets into it himself.

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Piglet works quite independently most of the time. He’s fast and I have only a few minutes before he calls out “Finished!” and we move on to the next thing. I’m not too particular about whether he’s traced the letters with 100% precision as it’s more important for now that he gets the strokes right generally.

We’ve completed all the Workbooks (1-7) minus some of the more complex exercises like finding words in the dictionary. These I plan to continue later in the year when his blending and segmenting skills are more established.

3) Blending.   After colouring the picture and forming the letters, we blend the words in the Workbook, taking care to fill in the sounds in the missing spaces.

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We also use the Blending Cards. I absolutely love these cards because of the grey dot below each letter sound.

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Piglet points to each dot as he says the sounds one by one. The dots remind him that digraphs are two letters that make only one sound. That helps him to blend the sounds and pronounce the word without getting confused with the number of letters.

The best thing about using these Blending Cards is that they enable a young child with a basic knowledge of phonics to discover new words on his own, with just a little adult assistance.

There are quite a number of cards in Groups 1 to 7 and Piglet can blend between 20-30 cards in one sitting. We’ve finished blending the words in all 7 groups so we’ll be using Readers next.

After blending, we move on to segmenting.

4) Segmenting.  We’ve been playing this game that I printed and laminated.

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We started with three letter CVC words (consonant-vowel-consonant words) earlier this year before moving on to four letter words.

We divide the consonants and vowels and arrange them right side up before playing.

Piglet names the picture aloud, listens for the first sound, then selects the letter and places it on the chart. He then listens for the second, third and fourth sounds until he has spelt the whole word.

It’s like magic to see him spell!

5) Tricky words.   We haven’t been particularly diligent with tricky words (irregular words). Right now Piglet has learned 15 words and we review these every day so that he knows them well.

When I read aloud to Piglet, I sometimes point out the tricky words he knows. Piglet can now spot easy tricky words like “the” and “was” in books and he is beginning to have a better awareness of the written word in books, on cereal boxes and biscuit tins. Occasionally he will say, “Mama, this is ‘I’. I know ‘I’!”

That’s it for now. Just five areas how we learn phonics at home using Jolly Phonics: Letter recognition, letter formation, blending, segmenting and tricky words. Sometimes half an hour just isn’t enough!

 

If you want to teach your child phonics at home, get some teaching tips, or just see how we’re doing in the Big Circle of Life, follow us on Facebook for updates or just check in once in awhile. Thanks for reading!

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