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Getting to grips with phonics

To get an overview of phonics and learn the correct sound pronunciation, so you can support your child on their phonics journey!

Why is pronunciation so important in phonics?

Can you remember learning to read? 

For most parents, like me, you wouldn't have been taught phonics at school. Instead you probably learned to read and write the traditional way, sounding out words like this: 

"fuh-i-shuh" or "muh-ah-muh"

Then asked what words they make. I'm not sure about you, but it's not easy to blend those sounds to make a word... anyone ever heard of a fuhishuh before? I remember really struggling to work out how "muh-ah-muh" made the word Mum, as the two sound completely different. 

With phonics, you pronounce the pure sound, which can then more easily be blended. 

It takes some work to un-do the learning of our childhood, but if you can master the phonics sounds and pronunciation you'll go a long way to helping your little one reading and writing with confidence and joy. 

This video helps explain the difference, and for weekly games and tips on how to bring the sounds to life sign up to our phonics guide for grown-ups.

What are tricky words?

Words like "the", "he", "she" or "was" might be some of the words we use most often and we as adults consider as easy words to spell. But when it comes to phonics, these words are known as tricky words. 

Tricky words are words that are not decodable by phonics rules. Which means children can't segment and blend the sounds. Instead they have to learn them by memory. Because tricky words are ones we use a lot, this teaching has to happen very early on, normally starting in phase 2. 

When taught, children learn to recognise them as tricky words and will refer to them as that. So don't be surprised if your little one starts pointing out tricky words whilst they are reading stories, or working through phonics tasks.


Do you know what a nonsense word is?

I definitely learnt to read from memory. It took a lot of work and didn't come easily. But that was how I and many other children used to be taught to read. The problem with this type of learning, is that we're only ever able to read words we already know. Coming across a word not committed to my memory would stump me. I'd often just miss out that word and move on, which meant I'd miss out on the meaning of a sentence or the plot of a whole story. 

Reading from memory gets children into difficulties throughout their lives and nonsense words help to tackle this and ensures that they are well equipped to be confident readers

Nonsense words are words that don't make any sense but are a series of letters that can be sounded out and decoded using phonics. Some schools refer to these words as, 'alien words, 'silly words' or 'pseudowords' but they all have the same purpose. 

These words are used in the year one screening check to make sure children are using their phonics skills and not reading from memory. This is really important, because once they have mastered their phonics skills, children have the tools to decode any word presented to them. So, unlike me, when they come across a new word they can segment and blend the sounds to sound out what the word is. 

Phonics is a skill that children will eventually use without even thinking about it, but it's a skill they'll be using throughout life and definitely well beyond the year one screening check. 

If your little one is working towards the year one screening check, sign up to our Big Adventurer phonics videos here.

What is the Year 1 screening check?

The Year 1 phonics screening check normally takes place in June. It’s an informal sit down with each child and their teacher or teaching assistant which lasts about 40 mins, to see if children have retained the phonics skills they’ve been taught in Reception and Year 1.

In the check, children are given a list of 40 words to read, these words will be a mixture of real words and nonsense words (see our video explainer above).

What is considered as the ‘pass mark’ for this check is set by the government each year. Teachers don’t know what the pass mark will be until all the screening checks are completed. Then, any child who doesn’t reach the pass mark is given extra help and support from the school, so they’re set for success as they go into year 2 and a lifetime of reading.

We’ve been helping schools teach phonics to children for over seven years, and we’re really proud of the help we’ve given to children around the screening check, especially those little ones who haven’t thrived learning phonics in the ‘traditional’ way.

We have provided additional support to these children and have many stories of children making huge strides with their reading. It's those stories which get us up in the morning and fill us with pride and passion. One school in South London got us on board as only two children in the year group passed their mock screening check, by the end of our course 79.3% of the year group passed the test. To help your little one to read confidently and joyfully, try our 7-day free trial now.

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