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A Guide to Phase One Phonics

My 2 1/2 year old started singing the alphabet today. I was so excited because it's one of those milestones isn't it? I wanted to video it and sent it to his Grandma. But really, it's just a song, and one that he only knows some of the lyrics to! It doesn't mean he is ready to start reading yet but I can still be proud, right?

Phase One is taught in nursery and is all about developing the skills needed for reading and writing.

How and when should we introduce letters?

If children show an interest in letters they see around them on signs, packets or in books it is fine to explore them. We focus on the sounds that letters make first but you can introduce letters by telling the children this letter is called... and it makes a ... sound. There is no expectation that children should be introduced to letters or know them before they start school.

One of the best way to prepare children for learning to read is to expose them to books from a young age. Books that they are interested in, and books that spark an interest or fire their imagination. Sitting on an adult's lap and being read to as well as having the opportunity to look at books themselves shows children that books are a source of pleasure and will help them to value reading. We don't want to make reading hard, or switch children off before they have even started school.

Phonics begins even before we start to introduce letters. Phase One is split into seven aspects, where children listen carefully and talk about what they hear, see and do. The first 6 aspects are not progressive and teachers dip in and out of them throughout the year. As they become confident with discriminating sounds, they start Aspect 7 where they develop their oral blending skills, merging sounds to make a word and segmenting skills, sounding out words. This gets them ready for Phase 2 which is taught in Reception, where they are introduced to letters and begin to read and spell words.

Aspect One: General Sound Discrimination - Environmental Sounds

This phase is about helping children to become aware of the sounds around them and to develop good listening skills. They need this skill to be able to listen to a word and sound it out for spelling later on.

How to help at home:

  • Explore the sounds that different animals make including imaginary animals e.g. dragons.

  • Experiment with the sound that different objects make.

  • Check my blog for activities to support this every Monday.

Aspect Two: General Sound Discrimination - Instrumental Sounds

These activities develop speaking and listening skills through the use of musical instruments. Children begin to notice the difference between sounds which helps them when they start to learn different letter sounds. When they begin to spell words in Phase 2, they will need to be able to identify what letter sounds they can hear.

How to help at home:

  • Play with musical instruments and explore how sounds can be changed by using the instrument differently.

  • Use instruments to create simple rhythms. You can use home made instruments.

Aspect Three: General Sound Discrimination - Body Percussion

This phase helps children to develop an awareness of sounds and rhythm. Being able to tune into rhythm and sounds allows children to have a better understanding of how language works, for example that sentences are made up of separate words and that words can be made up of more than one syllable which helps children with spelling and writing later on.

How to help at home:

  • Put some music on and get your child to march, stamp or dance to the beat.

  • Listen to your child re-enact familiar stories, perhaps adding sound effects using their bodies e.g. tapping their knees to make it sound like rain.

Aspect Four: Rhythm and Rhyme

This aspect aims to develop children's experiences of rhythm and rhyme in speech. They will begin to identify and produce rhyming words. Generating rhymes is a difficult skill to master and there is no need to delay starting Phase Two if they haven't mastered it.

How to help at home:

  • Sing nursery rhymes over and over so they learn them off by heart. Start by keeping the songs slow and emphasising the rhyming patterns.

  • Share rhyming books together so that your child gets a sense joy from reading.

  • Invent rhymes with your child and encourage them to invent their own.

  • Play with the words in nursery rhymes to create new versions.

Aspect Five: Alliteration

This aspect develops children's understanding of alliteration, where words start with the same letter or sound. They listen to the beginning of words and hear the difference or similarity between them. They begin to explore how different sounds are articulated and practise making them. This helps when they start to listen to the sounds in words to help spell during Phase Two.

How to help at home:

  • Sing songs with alliterative lines e.g. Sing a Song of Sixpence.

  • Read alliterative rhymes or tongue twisters.

  • Take care when modelling sounds. Do not add an 'uh' to the end of sounds e.g. 'ssss' not 'suh'.

  • As you introduce letter sounds, your children may be aware of the letter shapes that represent some sounds. If so, encourage their curiosity and interest but don't worry if they aren't aware or interested as there is no expectation to introduce letters until Phase Two (Reception).

Apsect Six: Voice Sounds

The aim is to distinguish between different vocal sounds, explore speech sounds and to begin oral blending and segmenting. This means children will begin to merge sounds to make words or sound out words out loud. They don't need to recognise letters and read them or be able to write down the sounds that they can hear.

How to help at home:

  • Encourage your child to say 'wheee!' as they go down the slide.

  • Encourage them to replicate noises that they can hear.

  • Act out stories, adding sound effects. Going on a Bear Hunt is a brilliant book for this.

Aspect Seven: Oral Blending and Segmenting

Teachers dip in an out of the other 6 aspects throughout the year, but this aspect tends to come later. The children begin to orally blend and segment sounds in words focusing on what they can hear. The will sound out words and try to remember the order of the sounds. This will help when they begin to read and spell in Recpetion when they begin Phase Two.

How to help at home:

  • Model how to sound out the last word in a sentence, immediately saying the whole word afterwards e.g. Get your c-oa-t, coat.

Phase One is really important and lays the foundations for the rest of the phases. Children who can hear letter sounds and sound out accurately are well placed to make a good start in reading and writing. Reception teachers are able to teach children the Phase Two sounds, but it's the children with a good understanding of Phase One and of oral blending and segmenting that make really good progress with reading and writing. If the foundation isn't there we have to spend the first term building it.




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