If you are a parent chances are you have heard the word ‘phonics’ a lot.

So what is phonics? Why is it important, and how can you support your child’s phonics learning at home?


What is phonics?

Put very simply, phonics is the relationship between written letters and their corresponding sounds.

It is a tool or strategy that we use to decode print- to work out words that we have never seen before.

Ultimately the goal of reading is for comprehension, to understand what we read.

This depends on quick decoding of new words so we don’t lose the meaning, and phonics is a tool for this.

For example if beginning readers know that d makes a 'd sound like in dad', o makes ''o for orange' and g 'g for goat' they can quickly decode this word until a store of sight vocabulary is built up.


Why is phonics important?

Research shows that a systematic phonics programme is a very effective way for children to learn to read.

We only need to look at the steadily increasing reading outcomes of English children since phonics teaching was introduced into schools in 2006 to know it is successful. Recommendations from Otago University research is that New Zealand children are screened on school entry for letter/sound knowledge and instruction is explicitly given to children needing this prior to introduction of the Ready To Read book series at school.

 We use a phonics programme at SomersetSmyth as part of our literacy programme simply because it works. We have seen the effectiveness of this as our children go off to school with awesome phonetical knowledge and skill, kick starting their reading.

NZ reading rates, school entry oral language tests and reading readiness have declined steadily since the turn of the century when compared to other English speaking countries – and not just for poor, under privileged kids. Reading rates for white, middle class pakeha kids have plummeted the most.


 How to support phonics learning at home.

Preschool is one most important times for learning. Young children are like sponges, soaking up ideas and information– so it’s a great time to start them on their reading journey.

  1. Encourage listening and reproduction of sounds. This is very important as phonics relies on children being able to discern and produce different sounds.
  • Use your child’s interests! If they’re into animals,  see how many different animal noises they can make. Can they copy a sound you make, and tell you what the animal is? Or if they love trucks, cars and diggers, encourage them to make the appropriate noises when they are playing.
  • Clap or tap a rhythm. Can your child copy it? Can they clap their own rhythm for you to copy?
  • Listen out for sounds – birds, traffic, the clock etc. Can your child tell you what made the sound? Can they copy it?
  • Sing songs and say rhymes together. Point out words that rhyme or sound the same.
  • Make up silly rhymes. What rhymes with your name?
  • Alphabet soup. Take turns to name animals (fruit, food, peoples names…) staring with an a sound (b, c, d…)  This was a favourite travel game in my household many years ago.

2. Sing the alphabet song over and over – point to each letter as you sing to develop a relationship between the names and how each letter looks in print.

3. If your child's kindergarten uses a phonics programme as we do here, ask what letters the children are currently learning and follow this at home

4. If not, start with introducing sounds of familiar letters– the initial letter of their name, m for Mum and d for Dad

5. Play eye spy– look for other things starting with that sound.

6. Point out known letters in text, on street signs, car number plates, in store windows.. and say this word starts with an m sound.

8. Read, read, read – as you read point out words that start with the m sound – "I wonder what this word might be, it starts with the m sound just like Mum."

9. Revisit loved books over and over, giving your child opportunities to see the same letter, hear the same sounds and have success in predicting words.

If you would like to know more about phonics, ideas to help at home, or about our preschool please call or message us.

We also recommend that you check out our glossary, look out for our up coming posts about reading with your child, and simple activities to support alphabet and phonic knowledge.

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