Educational Insights | Phonics: Are they important?

Phonics are the essential reading instructions that teach children the systematic and predictable relationships between written letters and spoken sounds. Through phonics, pupils acquire and apply the knowledge and skills to accurately read familiar words, decode and sound out new words.

At Wellington, we have implemented a six-phase course for nursery to year 2, from identifying sounds in words, learning to read and write 44 sounds, to alternative spelling – different spellings that are pronounced the same way. Our Pre-Prep teachers teach phonics through a range of fun and multi-sensory activities to help pupils remember the sounds and to combine them to make age-appropriate words. Our aim is to help them develop their confidence in reading unknown words and in writing words they have not learnt how to write, so that they can become more independent learners.

When moving to Wellington, most families are not familiar with the learning concept of phonics. Children need many opportunities to apply phonetics to functional and interesting reading and writing activities inside and outside the classroom.

Here are a few tips for supporting your child with their phonics at home:

1. Play fun phonics games at home. In the game ‘I Spy a Sound ’, ask your child to spy words that begin with a certain sound, rather than a letter. For example, “I spy something that begins with the sound /t/.” This is a fun way to build phonics skills and phonemic awareness.

2. Try to read with your child every day. Set aside a regular time to read to your children every day. Make reading a special event, one your child looks forward to everyday. Look for opportunities for your child to join in with parts that rhyme and phrases or sentences that are repeated.  Showing enthusiasm for your children’s reading has a great influence on them.

3. Encourage your child to talk. If your child can’t read, ask him or her to find out the words they know. You can also encourage the child to tell you the story using the pictures. When your child is encountering difficulties, encourage him or her to blend the sounds in the word, and to use the picture clues before telling them. Ask them questions about what they are reading, what do they think will happen next? What have they found out? Can they tell you what a word means? Predicting, inferring and explaining will help them to pronounce too.

4. When your child asks you how to spell a word don’t just tell them how to spell it. Say to your child ‘Use your phonics!’, or tell them the sounds in the word for example, ‘sh-o-p’, ‘e-l-e-ph-a-n-t’, so that they can use their phonics to write it. Even if they have not spelt a word ‘correctly’, if they have used their phonics well their writing will be able to be read, and their confidence at being able to write independently will increase. In phase 5, pupils learn alternative spelling rules; before this, using the phonics they know is perfect.

At school we teach children letter formation stories to go with each letter, for example for ‘a’, ‘around the apple, don’t forget the stalk’. When your child is learning to write letters ask them to tell you the story, it will help them to remember how to form the letter correctly.

If your child has been given sight words to learn, try to practice these every day. Can they read them, write them, use them in a sentence, explain to you what the words mean? Sight words are the most common words children will come across in their reading – learning these makes reading easier.

And finally, ask them to teach you – it will help them to remember what they have learnt.

Stephanie Hopkinson, Year 2 teacher at Wellington College International Shanghai