Learning to read is the most important thing your child will do during their primary years. It is a complex process that takes considerable practice. We are not hardwired to read in the same way we are to speak. It all comes down to deciphering a picture like code and fitting the pieces together to make meaning.
Children need to know both the letter sounds and the letter names (a-z) to begin the journey of learning to read. Always start with lower case sounds and move on to upper case as to not confused. I always introduce letter sounds and then letter names as there is so much to learn that it can feel like information overload. If you think about it – if you take just the 26 single letters (a-z) a young child has to learn and memorize both the sounds and names of both upper and lower case to progress further than simple 3 letter words.
At home I started with the letters of my children’s own names as they have ownership of those sounds and writing their name soon followed. Next we looked at other significant sounds that make words, such as mum, dad, gran etc. Starting with letters that are personal to your child helps with meaning and puts learning in context.
At school on the other hand, I taught the letter sounds to all my students in a set order so as to maximize the words that could be generated each week. The actual order differs slightly to what is recommended in the guidance. I use 6 letters to begin with /satpin/ yet the guidance calls for just 4 /satp/ The 6 letters does make it easier to generate many words and I have never found adding 6 letters to begin with a problem. The 6 letters actually come from Jolly phonics – confusing isn’t it?
The first 6 letters are s a t p i n
20 words can be made from these 6 letters
- i n m d
- g o c k
- ck e u r
- h b f, ff l, ll ss
- j v w x
- y z, zz qu I have always differed slightly from the guidance, maybe because I have taught a lot of children with reading difficulties who struggled in mainstream. I do teach /ck/ as in duck but also go over /c/ and /k/ as individual letters also. The same with double consonants like /ll/ and /qu/
This order is not mine it comes from the UK government Letters and sounds policy. For more information Click here. This order helps to generate lots of CVC words ( consonant vowel consonant) words. There are different orders around though, Sounds Write another synthetic program use 5 letters to begin with and moves on from there. The order they begin with is a i m s t followed by :
- n, p, o
- b, c, g, h
- d, e, f, v
- k, l, r, u
- j, w, z
- x, y, ff, ll, ss
I am not a huge fan of letter of the week as it can stagnate learning and playing with 6 or so sounds a week that can be manipulated and played with, really adds context to learning. Letters fit together like a jigsaw to make words, sentences and stories. Making words from the beginning rather than just focussing on 1 sound develops comprehension from the start.
Learning to read doesn’t have to cost a fortune or the earth in worksheets. You probably have a lot of equipment just lying around your home. For your convenience – Here is a list of supplies to get ready before you start –
- PDF set of flashcards – download here or click the image of cards at the start!
- Alphabet stickers
- Magnetic letters
- Whiteboard and marker
- Salt, sand or rice – food dye and spices optional
- Playdough – The imagination tree in my opinion has the best recipe ever download link here –
- Collections of objects and or pictures from around your home. I have a box full of household items and toys we have gained from visits to restaurants and other stuffed toys, plastic and wooden toys from sets we no longer use. Catalogues that come through the mail and google are great sources of pictures for activities. Getting your children to cut them out also develops their fine motor skills.
Here are 20 fun ways to learn the alphabet
1. Play Face Up – start with 4- 8 letters and increase the number as your child gets more confident. – The aim of the game is to find letters that go together. This game is played exactly the same way as matching pairs, only the cards are placed face up instead of face down. The reason for this is because, remembering where the cards are is a skill in itself. If children are only just learning about letters, we do not want to confuse them with the added pressure of a memory game too.
2. Play with our various font alphabet cards, magnetic letters and stickers together. Different fonts can sometime confuse early on as letter shapes can vary dramatically. Print is all around us and even if your school uses just 1 font, the chances are your child will see many fonts before their first year of school is up – so practice at home. Match upper and lower case together or put letters into alphabetical order. Start with a few at first slowly moving towards the whole alphabet.
3. Use playdough to make sounds or words.
4. Use rice, sand or salt to write in as a multisensory activity. Here we have combined yellow and red dye with cinnamon, cloves and ginger to make Autumnal smelling sensory salt.
5. Play letter sound tic tac toe. It is a great game for listening to the sounds letters make. We play this the same way as noughts and crosses. We each have a pile of cards so for example, I would be /g/ and my partner /k/ . The winner is the first to make a line of 3 of their cards. Draw out the chart, use string or write in sand. Play first using sounds, moving onto letter names.
6. Match magnetic letters or stickers to the alphabet cards left whole. This would also be good practice for upper and lower case letter recognition.
7. Make a collection of objects or pictures for your target sound or sounds. This activity could be extended to include the items in some silly sentences or a story verbally made up.
8. Play I spy or I hear with my little ear.
9. Play robot talking – sound out a CVC word into individual sounds and see if your child can guess it e.g. b-a-t = bat When they are proficient at the CVC stage move on to chunks e.g. ch-a-t and later ch-ai-n, for example.
10. Use cards and magnetic letters together to sort into groups.
11. Make a collage of sounds e.g. all the /o/ pictures I can find or draw.
12. Play who am I /s/- I am high in the sky and I keep you warm?
13. Sounds Pictionary – one person takes a letter sounds card and draws an object or more than 1 that begins with that sound and their partner tries to guess what the object(s) is/are and the sound/name associated with the object(s).
14. Sound Scavenger Hunt around your home or local area. Print out the letter cards pdf and keep one sheet whole. Go searching for things beginning with those sounds and then stamp or punch them when they are found. You could also cut one card up and place cards around your home to hunt and match the cards as you go. Again, this could be good for upper and lower case recognition.
15. Use sets of a-z sounds cards to play matching pairs, snap or go fish. verbally calling out the sounds and or names reinforces learning.
16. Make word families with the letter sounds. Pictures or objects could be added to aid learning early on. Eg sat, cat, mat or dog, log, hog.
17. Play an alliteration game – shuffle the target letter cards. Each person takes a card and thinks of as many words they can that begins with that letter. In the beginning you might have to work together and prompt your child either with words or objects. Once your child is more confident you could then play together and think of as many words as possible to add to silly sentences. e.g. Annie apple ate an avocado, or Ben bear buys a bag. This could be a verbal game or it could be a game where everybody writes down their answers on a whiteboard.
18. Use letter cards or magnetic letters to make CVC words (consonant – vowel – consonant) e.g. make a CVC word then change 1 sound at a time to make a chain of words. eg cat changes to bat which changes to bag which changes to beg. See how many words you can make in a string. This activity is great for helping children to hear individual sounds.
19. Play Scrambled Sounds. To play this game pick out some letter cards that make CVC words mix up the words one at a time and ask your child to unscramble, verbal or picture/object clues could also be used in the beginning. Not sure about Consonant Vowel Consonant words. here are 20 words to get you started – cat, dog, cab, jam, sit, cob, gum,cap, rip, cot, bug, can, box, pen, cup, top, pet, log, win and sun. Make rhyming strings with these words and that is a huge list!
20. Get moving and play active games with letters. Toss bean bags to a given letter. Write the sounds on ping pong balls and get your kids to toss the sound into the right picture/letter card bucket. Draw sounds on the floor outside with chalk and get kids to squirt the sounds with their water guns or jump on each sound as it is called out. Paint the sounds outside with water. Sometimes active learning is the most fun. Kids need space and time to learn.
Have fun with learning and above all else – remember it is never a race! All children learn at different rates. To begin with activities might only be 5 minutes long. Build up the time slowly. My 3 children all learn so differently. As a teacher it is amazing to watch their diversity in learning the same concept. Stay calm and remember that your little ones will get there. If you are worried though, talk to your teacher, doctor or maternal child health nurse. They are great sources of information.
Don’t stay in one place when doing activities – try the floor with a comfy blanket or rug, outside on a warm day or in your favourite chair. Mixing it up can not only be fun, but sometimes children need to feel calm and relaxed to learn best and wherever their favourite place is – might just be the greatest learning spot in your house and or garden.
Have fun and happy learning times together xx
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