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  • Writer's pictureHello Happy Learner

What is Phonics?

Initial Sound Match

Phonics is the understanding that the English language is broken down into individual sounds (called phonemes). These are matched with graphemes (written letters or groups of letters). A wonderful introduction into the world of phonics, the sounds and how they are pronounced is through 'Alphablocks' which, at the time of writing, can be viewed on BBC iPlayer catch up for free.


Phonics can be a helpful way to help your child learn to read. Once children can identify the different graphemes and the sounds they make they can begin to 'sound out' decodable words such as 'mum' m-u-m. It is important to realise that in the English language there are many commonly used words which do not follow the rules of phonics and are not decodable such as the word 'said'. As children progress to writing, phonetical knowledge can aid them in spelling words, however again in English this does not always work, as some phonemes have more than one corresponding grapheme. Children may write a word which although spelt incorrectly, is phonetically correct such as 'cat' as 'kat' or 'ckat'; or 'fish' as 'phish' or 'ffish'.


The first step in achieving good phonetic knowledge is to develop good listening skills and sound identification. This can be done through games and activities. Have a go at going on a sound walk. This could be around the house or outside. Try walking as quietly as you can, listening for different sounds and where they are coming from. Can they hear anything you can't? Do they sound familiar or different? Can they hear something they wouldn't normally notice such as a bee buzzing when they stop and listen at the park?


Listening to stories being read is a great way to develop children's listening skills and concentration. As they get used to this their stamina should improve. With young children you may find they will only sit and listen if they have something to see and do at the same time such as play with a flap book. With time and familiarity, children will develop to listening to picture books where they can see the images. You can extend this skill further by trying to retell events you have experienced together or stories from memory or make short ones up for them to listen to without anything to see.


When you are busy, such as in the car, why not listen to audio books of familiar and new stories or to the radio. CBeebies radio on the BBC Sounds app has a variety of different programmes designed for young listeners. If you find it hard to capture and maintain your child's interest start with the CBeebies radio shows which are the audio from the programme on TV such as JoJo & Gran Gran. Watch the visual version first and then listen to the radio version. Your child may find this as an easier introduction to stories without pictures as they can see some of the scenes from their memory.


Let's Play


Eye Spy

  • Introduce the game by describing what you spy. For example: 'Eye spy with my little eye something tall with green at the top'.

  • Develop the game by introducing the initial sound. Make sure to use the sound not the letter name. For example: 'Eye spy with my little eye something beginning with 't' tall with green at the top'.

  • Remove the description but sound out what you spy. Note this will only work with decodable words. For example: 'Eye spy with my little eye a c-a-t'.


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