Review: Using Jolly Phonics at home

Piglet enjoying Jolly Phonics at 3.1yo
Piglet enjoying Jolly Phonics at 3.1yo

A number of readers have asked me about materials I use to teach our children how to read, particularly Jolly Phonics, so I figured it’s time for a series of posts.

First, let me say I’m not the best person to ask for reviews of the latest reading programmes. I usually research available resources on the market as thoroughly as possible, decide on something and if works well for us, we stick to it.

I study my chosen resource a few times (nerd, yes!) and create or look for supplemental activities to enrich our experience, following the individual learning styles and personal preferences of our children.

At home, we adopt a three prong approach to reading and writing: 1) Jolly Phonics and Jolly Grammar; 2) Reading aloud; and 3) Readers. In this post, I share about Jolly Phonics and why I feel it’s an excellent programme. (I am not affiliated in any way to Jolly Phonics or its distributors.)

What is Jolly Phonics?

Jolly Phonics is an extremely comprehensive one year programme, used in Australian and UK schools with outstanding results. It provides a thorough foundation for reading and writing by using a synthetic phonics method of teaching letter sounds in a fun and multi-sensory way. I love its child-centred approach. There are stories, songs and hand actions for each letter sound, hands-on activities and games to play.

In Jolly Phonics, children learn how to use letter sounds to read and write words. They learn five basic skills:

1) Learning letter sounds – 7 groups of 6 sounds = 42 alphabet sounds, including digraphs.
2) Learning letter formation – how to form and write letters.
3) Blending letter sounds – how to blend the sounds together to read and write new words.
4) Identifying sounds in words – “segmenting”, which improves spelling.
5) Spelling tricky words – words with irregular spellings which must be learned separately.

The Phonics Handbook

The Phonics Handbook is the best starting place. It provides detailed lesson guides to teach the five skills and all the 42 letter sounds. There are over 100 photocopiable sheets, as well as activities and games for reading and spelling. Suitable words are given for dictation and blending activities.

But why phonics?

Unlike programmes which require children to learn words by sight (memorising tons of flashcards or learning the alphabet names that make up words – so boring, in my view), Jolly Phonics teaches children the 42 letter sounds of the alphabet and encourages them to blend the sounds together to read regular words. There are some irregular (“tricky”) words to be learned separately, but they aren’t many.

In fact, just after learning the first group of letter sounds (s, a, t, i, p, n), children are immediately encouraged to blend regular words that use these sounds, such as “sat”. At this stage, they learn the letter by its sound. For instance, for “sat”, they learn “ss-aa-tt” and not the letter names, “ess-ai-tee”. As the next letter sounds are taught, more words can be read.

Learning this “reading code” makes it possible for children to work out unknown words, simply by blending letter sounds. Good readers do this when they encounter a word they haven’t seen before. This is so much easier and more efficient than memorising hundreds of words. The latter approach is much slower as there are only so many words the brain can remember at a given time. Research has shown that the reading and spelling ages of children who have used Jolly Phonics (for one year) are typically 12 months ahead of their actual age.

Lamb’s spelling at 5.7yo (without memorisation)
Lamb’s spelling at 5.7yo (dictation on the spot without previous viewing or memorisation)

What to buy and where?

I bought The Phonics Handbook, Finger Phonics Books 1-7, Jolly Phonics Word Book (useful lists of words, ideal for dictation and blending practice), Jolly Phonics Cards (flashcards), Jolly Songs (book and music CD), Jolly Phonics DVD, Jolly Phonics Workbooks 1-7 and two sets of Jolly Phonics Readers. There are other products in the Jolly Phonics range, but I feel these are sufficient for our needs. We don’t want to spend too much time on phonics as there are so many other things to do in a day!

These materials were bought locally from ExtraZeal Sdn Bhd. If I remember correctly, they cost a total of about RM800 (2010 prices). You could also try sourcing for them online (new or second hand) (eg. Amazon) and compare prices to see which is cheaper, but note additional shipping costs.

Here’s the address for ExtraZeal: 88A, Jalan SS24/2, Taman Megah. Tel: 03-7880 0118. Email: ezeal@tm.net.my. It’s facing the LDP, behind Secret Recipe, on the same row as a car workshop. The shop is located on the first floor, so the signage isn’t obvious. Enter through the glass door and press the buzzer on the inner landing. Cynthia and Ros at ExtraZeal are very helpful and always ready to provide practical information.

ExtraZeal also sells My Jolly Phonics, a kit containing selected resources for home use. In my opinion, this is helpful for parental reinforcement at home provided the child is already learning Jolly Phonics at preschool. However, if you’re planning to homeschool, I would recommend purchasing The Phonics Handbook as a primary resource as the home kit isn’t as technical or informative as the detailed teaching lessons in The Phonics Handbook. Use the Handbook with other individual materials (such as the Cards, Songs, Workbooks).

ExtraZeal runs workshops on how to teach Jolly Phonics once a year. (There is one coming up on 28 June 2014. Call ExtraZeal for more details.) I attended a workshop in 2010. I feel it isn’t absolutely necessary to attend one if you study The Phonics Handbook thoroughly, but a workshop is very helpful you want advanced help with the material and teaching suggestions for classroom application. I benefited from the workshop’s additional teaching ideas and extra hands-on activities to supplement my teaching. At the time, I was already pregnant with Lamb, our second child. My husband and I knew we would be using Jolly Phonics to homeschool more than one child, so we agreed that attending the workshop was a investment.

Is Jolly Phonics worth it?

I have no regrets investing in Jolly Phonics for four reasons. First, it is so enjoyable. Our kids have such fun, learning to read and write. I have fun too, teaching them. It is so pleasurable to see their excitement at being able to figure out words on their own.

Second, we now have four children who will be using Jolly Phonics so the cost is spread out. We also save on kindergarten expenses.

Third, Jolly Phonics is easy to use. Before, I didn’t know a thing about phonics. I learned in the old school system. But I found The Phonics Handbook so easy to understand. It is very systematic and has plenty of teaching ideas to help novices like me. Photostating, laminating and preparing the relevant resources was a bit labour intensive, but only at the beginning. The effort was well worth it.

Finally, Jolly Phonics has outstanding success worldwide in teaching children to read and write independently at a young age. This is also our experience, at home.

My eldest child started with Jolly Phonics in her fourth year, which is the year I am told Jolly Phonics is taught in schools. However, my younger children started at age three and two respectively. I hadn’t planned to start so early with the littler ones as I always feel that very young children should just spend a lot of time playing, be read to and have lots of cuddles! But they saw their older sister enjoying her Jolly lessons and wanted in on the action too. I adapted the lessons and activities to their age, doing just a few minutes each day according to their pace. “Less is more” – we don’t force learning at home and most times, the children usually want to do more than I anticipate. Jolly Phonics is fun, if adults don’t stress about it!

Piglet enjoying Finger Phonics at 3.1yo
Piglet (3.1yo) enjoying a Finger Phonics board book

I suppose I could have just spent a lot of time reading to my children, showing them flashcards and hoping that they would just “get it”, learning how to read. But I felt I needed a programme to guide our learning at home. I was also attracted to the multi-sensory, creative and systematic aspect of Jolly Phonics.

Looking back, I am so happy we chose Jolly Phonics. Using the programme, I was really amazed how many words my children could spell at four years old. These were words they hadn’t seen beforehand. They hadn’t memorised them. They were blending letter sounds together to read those words. Soon, they were reading sentences. Together with reading aloud on a daily basis and going through some Readers, I believe Jolly Phonics (and its follow-up, Jolly Grammar) has played a significant role in helping my children to read and write, and enjoy whole books, independently, by the time they were five to five-and-a-half.

Books like these.

Favourite reads at 5yo
Cherished reads at 5yo

A whole world has opened up to them at an early age, and I’m so glad they can occupy themselves with books in their free time.

A favourite activity - reading new books every week
A favourite activity – reading new books every week

I believe if parents follow the gentle support and guidance that is recommended by Jolly Phonics (no Tiger Moms please!), children won’t feel they are being forced to learn anything and they will in fact learn much more. Piglet, my three year old asks for his “lessons” every day. We spend very little time on phonics, maybe just 10-15 minutes. Often, he wants more. He can now blend sounds together to read some regular words and can also recognise letter sounds in things that he sees. At a café last week, my latte arrived and he said, “ ‘Kuh” for “cup”, Mama!”

Reading Jolly Phonics at park 3yo

This picture almost shames me. A three year old who reads enough at home shouldn’t bring books to the park! But just this one time, Piglet couldn’t be persuaded not to bring his Finger Phonics board book along.

The important thing is not how early our children learn, but that they enjoy the process and build a life-long love of learning. I think Jolly Phonics, together with reading aloud and following several Readers, has helped us achieve both goals.

 

You might also be interested in stories and tips on reading and writing: Reading: Getting it; Learning the alphabet and honing glueing skills; Fun ways to learn writing the alphabet; Another love letter; The Almighty gets a love note; Reading ROCKS!; Reading mania.

Did this post help you? If you have any questions, please ask them in the Comments section (below the title of this post). I’ll do my best to respond, and if it’s a question that begs a long answer you might get another blog post! If you use Jolly Phonics, do share your experience so others can benefit as well. Thank you so much!

 

UPDATE: Since March 2017, I have started running a workshop called Phonics@Home. It is a four-hour workshop that equips parents with basic knowledge and practical skills of how to teach their children using Jolly Phonics. It is a small-group workshop, limited to six participants, so that everyone gets to ask questions, engage in role-playing sessions with personal feedback from me, and participate in hands-on games and activities related to phonics learning. Participants leave with a take-home Parent Kit containing the Jolly Songs CD and useful activity tools to reinforce learning at home.

In our private Facebook group exclusively for post-workshop participants, everyone is invited to share stories about how Jolly Phonics is working for them, or ask a question that might benefit the others. I also share updates of how we continue using Jolly Phonics in our own home and fresh learning ideas that emerge as we do so. 

Please contact me if you’re interested to participate. Thank you!

 

 

 

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15 Comments

  1. Excellent post! I am a grandmother. I wish there was such thing as Jolly Phonics when I was young, then I would be able to read and write better. Thanks for the post.

  2. Hi, I wonder what Jolly Phonics material I should bought for my daughter as she could already read “I can read” level one storybooks.

  3. Hi Erica, so sorry I wasn’t able to reply earlier as I took a 2 month blog break to focus on work.

    Just so I’m able to answer your question, when you say your daughter is able to read “I Can Read” books, did she learn to do so by sight (ie. memorising what she’s heard you read out loud) or by phonics? Can she read words she hasn’t been taught before?

  4. Thank you so much. I understood the important of Phonics and the programme that my children should choose to study phonics.

  5. Hi good day to you.

    My daughter is turning 6yo end of this mth but she in unable to read.

    She has started her year one in an international sch in Feb 2016 – she is doing pretty well in the school except reading.

    However, I’m a working mum and need to know any jolly phonic course available in kl or sgor? Do you think too late to learn for age 6?

    Thank you very much for your kind assistance.

  6. Hello Yommi. Thanks for stopping by! Jolly Phonics is usually taught at ages 3-4 but it’s never too late to learn. However the course will have to be adapted to the needs of a 6 year old. I’m not aware of any JP courses for children of that age in KL or Selangor.

    I do offer parents some guidance on how to teach their own child phonics at home. If you’re interested to explore that option please feel free to email me.

  7. You said you purchased the flashcards. Are these the picture ones or the big pack (4 sets)?
    Also the top picture what product is this? (letter, picture, word cards).

    Thanks

  8. Hi I use jolly phonics and yes its a great choice but can you please tell me how to use the finger phonics book…. The one with pictures and words

  9. Hi Joshua. You could tell a story to introduce the letter sound, show how the letter is formed, and play “hunt the sound” using the pictures. Do some blending and segmenting activities with reference to the pictures and words. I hope this helps.

  10. The flashcards come in a pack with four sets of cards in them. Some of them have dots underneath specific letter sounds, to make blending easier. The product in the top picture is made from photocopiable material in The Phonics Handbook I purchased.

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