When teaching children to read and spell in the early years the most effective method, as recommended by all government reports of the last decade, is a ‘systematic phonics’ approach combined with activities combined to promote phonological awareness.
If parents are teaching their own children to read, write and spell at home they can choose an ‘initial speech sound group’ e.g. the sounds chosen in the popular synthetic phonics program Jolly Phonics. These sounds are s,a,t,i,p and n, with the children taught to hear the speech sounds in words, and to recognise these ‘speech sound pics’ as one way to represent this speech sound. For example that ‘s’ is one sound pic for the speech sound ‘sss’ (there are 8)
Why start with this particular group of speech sounds? This is because the word ‘sat’ for example can be ‘sounded out’ for reading and also spelling, enabling children to quickly learn to read, write and spell words using just those letters e.g. tan, tin, pan, pat, sit, sat, at, in. With the introduction of a few ‘tricky’ words the children can be reading, writing and spelling whole sentences in no time- for example I, was, the. Readers can be made so that the children are actually ‘reading’ books with illustrations. Many are available online for free not for profit organisations such as Fantastic Phonics and SPELD SA.
When parents know what their children need to know before they move on to learning new sound pics (letter sounds) the following list can help them, as a ‘check list’. By using this list parents can ensure that the child has understood the important concepts and are able to demonstrate the skills required for early reading and spelling acquisition ie code knowledge, blending, phoneme segmenting and manipulation.
When children can decode a word they can then start to learn its meaning. Fluency, comprehension and vocabulary come after decoding. If a child can’t work out the word (ie read the word) he can’t begin to understand it within sentences. If he cant heard the speech sounds he cant encode (spell new words) easily. So parents should focus first on teaching children how to decode and then expand on their teaching to include fluency, comprehension and vocabulary. However as can be seen from the following list this can happen very quickly, and these additional skills (fluency, vocabulary and comprehension) be incorporated into teaching alongside phonics and phonemic awareness training.
At the end of the initial speech sound group children should be;
* ‘hearing’ speech sounds in words – beginning, middle end
* recognising sound pics in print – and knowing what speech sound they correspond with.
* forming letters correctly (this is arguably less as important as the other concepts, before they start school as they can ‘spell’ words and form sentences using magnetic letters etc.)
* blending speech sounds orally into words- and as they ‘read’ the sound pics in words on paper (knowing they do this from left to right)
* ‘reading’ words by decoding the sound pics from left to right- and blending the sounds into words- also exploring what the word means and how we use it in our language.
* ‘spelling words by listening for speech sounds in order – and (the next step) knowing how to order / blend them on paper (using letters and also by forming the letters themselves – can use a pencil and also keyboard with lower case letters)
* ‘reading’ the words (sat, it, at, in, pin, tin, sit, pat, nip, spin, tan etc) and then comprehending the meaning of the word and sentence if the words are written within a sentence (and in this case knowing that we read the words from left to right)
* learning some ‘tricky’ words eg ‘I’ ‘was’ ‘the’ – to recognise as high frequency sight words
They will also be able to read sentences – using decodable readers in line with this sound groups (also initial sound group in Jolly Phonics.)
If ready they can be moved on to digraphs – learning that 2 or more sounds can make a new sound (s, h and sh- 3 sounds) You could use bolded text to show children where the ‘chunks’ are in words- or ‘Sound Pics’. So shop would be shown as having 3 sounds and 3 sound pics- sh+o+p.
After the first speech sound pics group children can move on to learn that sounds in our spoken language can be represented in several ways ( f could be ff as in gruff, ph as in phone etc)
And that some sounds on paper can represent more than one sound in our language- ow- as in cow or as in tow.
Parents should focus very much on speech sounds at first to develop phonological awareness- rather than the print. When we start with what the children know how to do- ie to speak – then it is easier for them to understand how to crack the code. When encouraged to hear the speech sounds in words, and to know where they are placed then it is easier for children to then learn that there are ‘sound pics’ that are simply pictures of tspeech sounds. So ‘s’ is simply a representation on paper of the sound ‘s’, and why they can be called ‘sound pics’ to make it easier for children to understand the concept. Even early on children can learn to hear how many sounds are in words, even if they have not yet been introduced to the pic. For example to hear that ‘ship’ has 3 speech sounds and therefore would have 3 speech sound pics. You would then draw 3 lines on paper and the children can work out which sound pic sits on which line to build the word.
Teaching your child to read and spell early is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your child. It should be fun and help then to develop a love to learning and of words. The Reading Whisperer is often heard telling parents ‘Being able to read and spell even before they start school will give them increased self-confidence, and they can start to ‘read to learn’ far earlier than most of the other children, who are still ‘learning to read’.”
What parent wouldn’t want that for their child?