We all want our children to have success, joy and opportunities. You may have learnt that the ability to read helps to make this happen. Then you hear about this thing called phonics. Once you have an idea about what it is, you ask: when should I start doing phonics with my child?
The short answer? Never. And also from birth.
Don’t panic! Let me explain.
Your child will have phonics lessons at school. They will learn how to hear the separate sounds in a word and the letters that are used to represent them on paper. With a bit of memorisation of common words, practise and a sprinkle of magic this will help them to learn to read.
You don’t need to give them phonics lessons at home. Unless your child’s teacher has recommended that you do specific activities at home, please don’t worry about it.
Buying phonics work books and making your child complete them is not a good use of your money and time. Your child may well really enjoy completing worksheets and filling things in. In which case, let them get on with it. It won’t do them any harm.
[Actually, I would argue that if they spend a lot of time getting a dopamine hit from getting the ‘right’ answer, this could be training their brain into some bad habits. But I’ve noted that down for a blog post for another day!]
That’s why I’m saying that you never have to ‘do’ phonics with your child.
However, there are things you can do from birth and even before birth that will help them get to grips with phonics and learn to read. The great news is that you’ve probably done most of them without realising!
Talking to your baby is of vital importance. If they were with you in pregnancy, they started listening to your voice as soon as they had ears. Great start!
Learning to read and write can only make sense once a child can talk and listen.
If you chat to your child and listen to what they have to say you’re doing a great job. Talking about your day, answering questions, pointing out things you notice and sharing jokes are all building your child’s vocabulary and ability to express themselves.
As well as talking, singing and rhyming are useful and joyful too. As I said, I suspect you already do this. Keep it up!
Do you read aloud to your babies and children? Do they see you reading for yourself, too?
If they don’t experience and enjoy stories, they won’t see the value in learning to read. If they don’t see adults reading, they will be confused about why the adults in their life want them to do it.
Reading supports the same area of development as talking. It also introduces your child to narrative structure, to new experiences, to culture, to new ideas and alternate worlds.
There are games you can play that strengthen the skills your child needs in order to learn to read. Anything that involves careful listening, rhyming and alliteration is helpful.
Playing I Spy, learning nursery rhymes and listening to music are easy places to start.
Follow me on Instagram for more game and activity ideas.
Find out more in my online course, which is called What the Ph*** is Phonics? After just over an hour you will have an understanding of what phonics actually is and what the jargon means. You will know what to do with the reading book your child brings home from school and how to support them throughout their journey of learning to read.