All in the Context
Phonics. Feel the fear?
I’ve seen a lot of changes in the curriculum over the years. As a child of the ‘80’s, grammar was something you absorbed through reading. You might’ve stuck an expanded noun phrase in a sentence, but I wouldn’t have known one at six, unless it slapped me in the face and shouted its name. As for my conjunctions, I wouldn’t have known my subordinating from my coordinating… but interestingly it didn’t make me any less of a writer. I credit this to avidly devouring books for as long as I can remember.
Now there’s an entire lexicon in grammar needed by pupils from Year 1 and above and they’re only blinking tested on it at seven! These days it’s all about knowing your sentence syntax as well as finding a love for words and text.
I learned to read through ‘Roger Redhat’ books and the teacher wheeling out the TV once a week for ‘Look and Read’ – I can still sing you the theme tune to ‘Dark Towers’. So, imagine my fear in 2005ish, when the government, as a result of the Rose Review, decreed that synthetic phonics would be be adopted as the key strategy for teaching reading. What was this new-fangled phoneme blending, consonant digraph malarkey? Thank the lord I was in my ivory tower teaching Year 6, where we didn’t much need to dabble in dipthongs (yep, google that one) and the like!
Back then, there was very little in the way of resources. I was clunky and unnatural in my delivery But over the years I’ve become more comfortable with the process of delivering phonics to little people, much helped by the multitude of YouTube videos, books, websites and apps to support this essential skill.
So having my own little learning sponge has made me revisit my rusty skills.
At 40 months Harry should be dabbling with the relationship between letters and sounds. It’s far more important that he can hear. Hear the sounds that start words. Hear the sounds within words. Hear rhyming words.
There will be some children at this age who can recite the alphabet and know their schwa from their consonant blend. But this is why the bands overlap. It’s by no means a perfect science but a guide.
However, in the current EYFS curriculum (changes are being adopted in 2021), Harry has only just dipped in to the 40-60 month band. A massive band which takes him to the end of his Reception year, where I know his learning will be exponential. So dabbling is all that is necessary in my eyes.
What’s key to me is that he enjoys language. That he loves story and the sound of words. That he sees the symbols of sounds as fun and doesn’t wince when the magnetic letters are presented.
Hence yesterday, when I bust out the flash cards, I had a moment of quiet reflection. He had fun. It was a short snappy play with the pictures and associated words. But how did I learn best? Roger Redhat is not the one that sticks in my head – but I can still sing you “Magic, magic eeeeeee”. Wordee, from back in 1983, taught me that tricky little rule of the split digraph through engagement and bringing it to life.
So what are Harry’s passions? What engages him. Trains. And more trains. He can literally identify everything from a funicular to a Maglev, with all the diesel/steam locomotives in between. How could I capture this passion and sneak in a little bit of sound play?
Today’s win was getting Thomas to teach his some sounds. I set up the simplest tray play involving: train-track tape, three egg boxes, a train-turntable, three letters and three most useful engines.
All Harry had to do was park his engines in the correct shed. We had Percy, Spencer and Thomas. Using his turntable he had to make sure that they either drove up the track to the P, S or T.
We practised the sound first: “p-p-p Percy, t-t-t Thomas and s-s-s Spencer” and matched the letter to the sound and engine.
He had a go. He got it wrong. I prompted. He self-corrected. I changed the letters on the shed. He got a couple right. And then he drove them on the sofa and around the playroom. We are done here mum.
And that was fine. We dabbled. There was some success and he began to make a bit of a relationship between the symbol and sound. Will I do this everyday? Nope. Will I read to him every day? Most certainly. Will I sing nursery rhymes? That’s one I was a bit rubbish with, but since he started preschool we’ve upped our game.
We’ve registered to take part in this year’s World Nursery Rhyme Week and are proud to be Nursery Rhyme Ambassadors . This wonderful initiative supports early literacy and language development skills for our little ones. All of the resources are free and you can register and access them at: www.worldnurseryrhymeweek.com
I want Harry to have the same sense of freedom and escapism as me through reading. He will be completely forgiven for not spotting a subjunctive… although poor use apostrophe will always be reprimanded!
How I Won Today: put sounds in to context to help engage the little person on his reading adventure.
Any links or resources you’ve used to bring language and reading to life please share. There’s so much out there – sharing is most certainly caring!