Here you will find resources, games and activities to help you start teaching phonics skills at home. However, teaching phonics to your children is going to take a little background knowledge, patience and time. Taking that time and a little patience is going to have huge benefits to instill the skills, confidence and love of reading that can turn those emergent readers into fluent ones. Moving from learning to read and onto reading to learn.
Phonics skills can be taught at home by implementing a routine and showing awareness of the developmental stage of your children. It is important to build and scaffold your lessons and tasks. Using songs, YouTube and resources you can greatly develop your children’s Phonics skills.
Schools are an integral part of this teaching journey of course, but they are not the only key factor. Depending where you are reading this it is likely schools now follow a more systematic approach to the teaching of reading and reading skills and this will include phonics.
I remember when I went to school, a long time ago, we didn’t learn phonics. The only reason I can speak to you with any semblance of authority is that I am now an English teacher of more years than I care to admit. The vast majority of this time has been involved in the teaching of reading and phonics skills to young children.
Without a little knowledge it is both unfair and obviously very difficult to help your child learn these skills. To help parents and teachers with teaching phonics skills at home we have put together this guide to help all those who are looking for a start on how to get phonics and reading from the classroom and into the home as well.
The good news is you don’t have to spend 15 years teaching it to be able to do this. (I let how long slip, didn’t I!)
Why is learning phonics important?
Let’s start with what are phonics. We have some of the terms listed at the bottom of the article in case you need them. Phonics are a way of teaching reading, spelling and writing. It encourages children to recognize the different sounds of the English language and can be thought of as a code.
Once children recognize the sounds of English and the symbol (letter) they can use this to decode words and attempt unfamiliar or more difficult words. This also helps with spelling, at least of phonetic words. In the initial stages of phonics instruction children can learn a set of sounds, for example with the Jolly Phonics order, S, A, T, P, N, I.
Once they have practiced and learned these sounds we can teach them to blend into both new and familiar words. ‘sat’, ‘pat’, ‘tap’, ‘taps’, ‘past’. This is where the skill set for reading starts to be developed and where their journey really starts.
Increasing numbers of schools around the world are now systematically teaching phonics, often starting in kindergarten and earlier. In the earlier years this is often by practicing listening to sounds with the use of songs and similar.
This allows children to develop the Phonics skills to differentiate between sounds and more specifically the sounds of language. For my class in primary one (I teach in Hong Kong so six years old to 12 years old) we work on constructing and decoding simple three letter words with short vowels, it moves on to vowels, digraphs and blending skills.
You don’t have to take my word for it, there have been countless studies undertaken on the effectiveness of phonics both systematic and otherwise.
Now depending if English is being taught as a native or as a second language it’s going to impact on how long some of these skills will take to learn, but the point is they will be learned it just takes practice and patience.
As children develop these skills they can increase the difficulty of the texts they read, and as that increases so does their reading confidence and their purpose for reading.
It is better to try to use books and texts that are suitable and engaging at all levels and once children have developed some phonic skills is is easier to target their interests and increase their motivation to read. I LOVE doing lessons on space, nature, animals and dinosaurs with my class and their natural enthusiasm for the subjects is carried not just through to the subject matter, it also extends to the reading skills.
So even though they are learning to read, there are now elements of reading to learn as well. In my classes this is with second language learners, and it really is rewarding for both them and I to be able to read and discuss in a foreign language a subject they may not have full understanding of in their native language. It is the main reason I keep doing what I do.
Teaching Phonics Skills At Home
It is better to split this into year groups, but as mentioned above it’s a guide, all students learn at different paces. All students have different levels of ability, focus and prior knowledge. You may be teaching it as a native language, or you may be teaching it as a second language, so feel free to mix up our advice below based on your circumstances.
How ever the following few tips are for all ages and we will offer resources and activities where needed, or where we know of them.
Little, Fun and Often is the best approach. School is school and home is home, like you, children don’t want to come home and do work. The plan is to give them the skills so they can read what they like, when they like.
Treat it like this at home as well, no matter if preschool or grade 4 make sure they enjoy the time with you and don’t make it feel to much like some extra parental homework! teaching phonics skills at home should be fun!
- Keep the session short, 10 to 15 mins is more than enough. You don’t want to put them off.
- Make it fun, we have a whole website of activities, resources, apps and more to help with this. Try to make it something that they look forward to.
- Find a quiet place, you can involve brothers and sisters if it’s a game of similar, but don’t allow older ones to dominate. Its about developing those skills not showing off.
- Try to schedule it regularly, 2/3 or more times a week. Reading skills, including phonics are developed over time and like most skills they need to be practiced to improve on and retain.
- Even when they are reading on their own and have progressed into an independent reader, keep reading with them, it helps show them the importance and it’s a great thing to do. Enjoy it before they get to old for it!
- Don’t forget to ask the teacher for help and advice if you want ideas or are starting to feel a little lost. They do it, if like me, for 40 hours a week, and they or the school can be a great source of help. They will also be happy to see a parent taking such an interest in the development of their children.
Kindergarten and Early Years
Developmentally children at these years are able to learn at an astonishing rate. Although it is a little to soon to be putting copies of Shakespeare in their hands 😊 it’s too heavy for starters! It is a good time to start them developing skills they can carry forward into later years.
In these classes there will be lots of songs, teachers will go through the names of the alphabet and associate them with words familiar to the students, a is for apple, b is for ball etc. These songs and chants will help students develop reading listening skills and the ability to listen to and differentiate between different sounds. ( just as a tip the difference between short vowels is often problematic E, and I in particular)
In class students will be focusing on the following.
- Listening to songs and sounds and repeating or emulating them.
- using movement in your English lessons is great at this age, you can check out Phonics in motion to learn more and we have a code if you want a discount (EnglishIsFun20)
- Spotting rhyming words in chants and simple stories and maybe trying to think of their own
- Trying to split words into their sounds (this is called segmenting or deconstructing) so c-a-t, b-a-t. these can also be introduced as onset and rime. With onset being the first sound, and rime being the last two. This way they can be taught systematically how to blend sounds. It also means they can be called on so say any words with the sounds they have learned.
- Once these single sounds, and onset and rime have been introduced it gives them a chance to start to read simple texts, (we have them on this site here) these can be familiar words, sight words or CVC readers. We have free and premium versions if you need.
So what can you do to begin teaching phonics skills at home?
- Your children will have interests, now these could be anything, depending on where in the world you are and when you are reading this. Either way, use those interests to help their enthusiasm and motivation. If they like animals, look at resources about animals ( we have a few of these as well) , try a jigsaw puzzle of an animals names and say the sounds for them to put it back together as a word.
- Read books, play cards games (yep we have those too). If it’s a dinosaur do the same, ask them to say the sound the animal makes and try to phonetically spell it with the sounds they know. (here is a link to some animals that I do just that in my classrooms) I also use dinosaur names as I love them being able to say such difficult words using their own skills, but this may be for a later stage. What ever their interest try to incorporate it into your 10 minute sessions.
- Ask them to copy sounds when you are out, cars, dogs, birds, whatever is around. The idea is to get them understanding what is sound and how to make them and hear the difference.
- A favorite of mine is to sing songs with your students, or watch made for kindergarten videos, I will link some here that I use but Alphablocks are great if you want to google them. I don’t just use Nursery rhymes, I also use phonics songs that target sounds.
- Play games with them, again loads on the site. Bingo, Uno, Connect four, card games, there is a great one called trugs that my students like and we are even making one of our own at the moment. If we have finished it then feel free to click here. If not it will be there soon!
- These are a pretty good partner site if your looking for story book ideas Times TalesÂ® Classroom Storybook Deluxe
First Grade / Primary One / First Year
Once your children have entered primary school, they should be introduced to phonics specifically and systematically at a much more frequent rate, although it is still about play and fun there will be more structure to the tasks given. Teaching phonics skills at home will be utilizing games as well as more formal tasks at this level
- Sounds will be taught properly ( this helps blending words) this means no schwa at the end of the word.- let me get technical for a second- for too long people have introduced sounds with a schwa at the end, a schwa is the sound like at the end of paper. This interferes in sounds like b, c, d, p, r, l, s where it is added for ease but not effectiveness.
- Hopefully your school is teaching these the correct way, ( if second language it may not be – just to be aware)
- Once the individual sounds have been learnt schools will move on to the more complex sounds, and their varying spellings (this is more tricky) Sounds like x and j, digraphs and diphthongs ( see below) but 2 or 3 letters that go together to make one sound. (sh, ch, ai, oa for example)
- Then children can start to combine these with blending sounds like, bl, gl, gr, etc. If native language this is likely to be covered in year one, for second language it may take up to grade 3.
What can you do to help your children
- The games you played before will work just as well now, just change up the sounds, or versions to make them more advanced or leveled for your children (if you are using ours we have multiple versions for phonics instruction)
- If the school has a home reading scheme, take some time each week to let them read to you, enjoyably and not as a test. Maybe let them read you a bedtime story! Then they can be the teacher – teaching phonics skills at home
- Put phonics into these story times, let them tell you the sounds of a word, or how many sounds that word has, or can they think of any words that begin or end with that sound.
- Ask your children to find words or sounds in the text.
- It is important to start to show real word use of reading early on, and doing this using television adverts, road or street signs, menus in restaurants, or shop names all offer the chance for your children to show and practice their phonic skills.
Year 1/2 / Grade 1/2 / First and Second year
By this stage your children (native remember, if second language this is going to take longer and that absolutely fine!) they are likely to be able to read simple words and simple books. Now the more challenging skills are introduced. This will take longer, but by this stage the patterns of English should start to become apparent and although more challenging, your children should be prepared for it.
Now they start to move on to different spellings of these sounds, especially long vowel patterns. Try saying the following words shy, cherry, day, and yellow and telling me what sound ‘’y’’ makes. (this is what I meant by more challenging) Magic E is another challenging phonetic rule, that applies, like most things in the English language, most but not all of the time.
Also children will start to learn about confusing rules, like read and read, head and bead, and soft and hard ‘’c’’ and ‘’g’’ which are difficult, but for the most part have rules that can be applied.
How To Keep The Phonics Going At Home
- keep reading with them, by now more complex books will be turning up in your children’s school bag and some support will help a lot. If possible, go to the book store or library and encourage your children to choose book that follow their own interests. Make sure they are age / level appropriate where you can – we have some here – single page readers for the most part – these will help if needed. The aim is to instill a love of reading
- Let them take a look at the book you are reading, it will be beyond their level in all likelihood but you can help them, and it helps with confidence if timed correctly. If you happen to be a doctor or lawyer may not those books though 😛
- Use games still, they are getting better at phonics and developing those reading skills but it is unlikely your child is as worried as much about the college application as you are, and they are still in it for the enjoyment. Make sure that still plays a major factor.
- Use flash cards, you can make them yourself or easily print off from google, or use our resources with some of the sounds and spellings of sounds they will be covering, and don’t be afraid to ask their teacher what sounds they are doing at the moment. You may be able to get your hands on copies of some of their resources and save yourself a job.
Year 2/3 primary 2/3 first and second year
Schools will be starting to move towards phonics for spelling, or if not move towards then adding phonics for spelling. Although not a one size fits all answer, phonics really can help children learn to spell. Now your teaching phonics skills at home will have to step up to more complex tasks.
It is likely their teacher will still be revising or reinforcing the phonics from the previous years just to make sure its properly learnt but there will be more non fiction texts and elements of reading for information, and comprehension. We also have single page readers for this purpose as well.
This can be a challenge in schools, so at home definitely focus on books that they want to read where you can, so…
Teaching phonics to a grade 2
- It is important to show them what reading can give them. Allow them to choose both fiction and non fiction books they are interested in. Keep showing them the value, and keep sharing that reading time.
- By now, hopefully, you will have realized why we said little and often. Don’t push them and be supportive. With reading sessions they may want to read on their own, so just allow them, but ask them to read one or two pages with you just to make sure how it sounds in their head, is how it sounds when it is spoken as well.
- Teach by example, put down the remote ( not judging here) and pick up a book. So much is learnt through environment and emulation we forget how important it can be!!
- Use reading in real situations, if they want a pet, or have a pet, ask them to find out how to care for it, if going to a theme park or on holiday ask them to read about it and tell you. This is helping to develop comprehension skills as well as phonic skills, and can allow them to expand vocabulary as they read higher grade texts.
- As always the school is there to help, so find out what they are covering and ask for help where needed
As promised: Some of those ‘’teacher terms’’ you have no reason to know just yet.
Phonics: the sounds of a language and the relationship between those sounds and its letters or symbols
Decoding: using phonics to vocalise words, or cut the sounds to make a word.
Digraph: multiple, usually 2, letters that make one sound. Eigh, ai, ee, oa, ou, sh, ch, th, aigh. They can be vowel or consonant and vowel digraphs are sometimes called Diphthongs
Phoneme: the smallest until of sound. One sound.
Blending: putting sounds together to make a word.
High-frequency words – Sight words: these are words that are often unable to be decoded. So we teach them using rote learning, or by sight, why, where, what, one two, etc.
Funny old language English isn’t it!!
Teaching phonics skills at home is all out constructive fun, hopefully some of the guidance above will you start to look for opportunities to practice and develop these increasingly important phonics skills.
About the Author
Hi I’m Marc. A teacher of over 15 years, mostly English but dabbled in outdoor pursuits and media. Thought is was about time to sharing both what I have learnt during that time and the resources I have put together. On this site we aim to teach the theory and share our thoughts, but also go that one step further and give you access to the hard resources you need for your class or for you children. Feel free to take a look at our resources, email us on firstname.lastname@example.org, or jump on the Facebook group to ask questions. Happy learning, teaching or playing!