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The Tiny Toes guide to teaching phonics

Posted in: Blog | October 23, 2020

‘…now I know my ABCs, next time sing-a-long with me!’ Actually, please don’t!

We’ve all found ourselves singing mindlessly along to this, at the request of the children. There is no point in singing this song, especially for nursery children, and only leads to literary confusion. They don’t understand it, and they are unable to identify the letters at random. Teaching the names of letters doesn’t help teach children letter recognition. Teaching letter sounds, however, provides the foundation for secure letter and word recognition.

Currently, we have several children who get very excited when they see the initial letter of their name. For example, a child sees an upper-case ‘A’, and cries, ‘ That’s my name.’ At this point, we should praise them for recognising the first letter of their name, but also explain that it is not their name.

Phonics is a fun, effective, and child-centred approach to teaching literacy. Here at TinyToes, we are committed to teaching our children in the best possible ways. ‘Jolly Phonics’ is one of these ways, and we have an abundance of resources with which to teach phonics, using this, and other methods.

Phonics teaching is not simply about teaching the alphabet, in fact, that is only a very minor part. Phase 1, we we all should be teaching on a daily basis, can be started in the baby room, and at that stage, involves no letter recognition at all. Activities in phase 1 promote the children’s ability to recognise differences in sounds. Phase 1 also supports the development of speaking and listening. In phase 1 we aim to teach the important basic elements of letters and sounds, such as oral segmenting, and blending of familiar words.

In the baby/toddler room, using instruments, recordings of environmental sounds, songs and rhymes, stories and general conversation, lays firm foundations for success in phase 1.

Phase 1 falls within the  Communication, Language and Literacy area of the EYFS. It also promotes other areas of learning; PSED, CD and Mathematics. Each group in nursery should spend a dedicated period of time each day, teaching phase 1 phonics. This period of time may be divided into small, ‘bite-sized’ pieces, to keep it interesting for staff, and children.

Sometimes we may ask, ‘What sounds can you hear in cat?’ The answer is often, ‘Miaow.’ It may make us smile, but it is indicative of the children’s inability to distinguish between sounds and meaning. By teaching listening skills from the very earliest time in TinyToes, helps the children to make these distinctions.

We have touched on suitable activities for the younger children, here are some for the older ones.

A mixed topic activity, covering listening skills and numeracy, is dropping pebbles in a tin, and asking the children to count them as they fall. As they become more confident, ask them not to count out loud, but to tell you how many you have dropped in the tin when you have finished. Put objects on a tray, ask the children to find one starting with a chosen sound. Talk about colours, ‘Who is wearing something that is r-ed?’ Say, ‘Can g-ray-s, pass me the c-up, please?’

Another great activity, is to write letters on index cards. Bury them in rice or sand. Children dig one out and identify it. The  children who have grasped the concept of letter sound recognition, dig one out, then match it to corresponding letters set out on a table. For example, find a ‘c’ and match it to ‘at.’ Write initial letters in chalk on the ground. The children then call out a letter sound and jump on it.

The children who are in their final year of preschool, should have 15-20 minutes sessions of phase 1 everyday, preferably in the morning. These activities can be carried out anywhere in the setting. Using the ideas here, and also the Jolly Phonics resources will ensure our children leave us the strongest of foundations in literacy.

We mustn’t forget the importance of reading to the children in all stages of the nursery. Ask questions. Even the babies can point to things in a picture book, as you say the name of the object. As they get older, ask, ‘What is this?’ ‘Where is the cat?’ ( This can be developed with the older children, by asking, ‘Where is the c-at?’ Ask what might happen next in the story, encourage the children to re-tell the story. Don’t be afraid to ask questions at the end of each page. This builds confidence in answering questions, as well as in speaking and listening.

There are record sheets available to use in preschool, which support the teaching of phonics, and are very useful for tracking children’s progress.

If anyone would like more information, or support, don’t hesitate to ask!

Most importantly, enjoy watching the children grow in literary confidence!