Tag Archives: Jolly Phonics

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!

You might be interested in previous related posts:

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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!

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 haven’t studied the Handbook and want a good introduction to the programme. I benefited from the workshop’s additional teaching suggestions 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!