Learn to read with phonics: a parent guide
If you have a child in their first year of primary school, there is a good chance you will have come across the word Phonics. Phonics is a method of learning to read words that is taught from the start of Reception.
Read on to find out how your child uses phonics at school, how to correctly say the 44 phonics sounds (see our Phonics audio guide), and how you can help at home.
What is synthetic phonics?
Synthetic phonics is a way of teaching reading. Your child will be taught two crucial things when they are learning to read using synthetic phonics:
- How sounds are represented by written letters. For example, they will be taught that the letter ‘m’ represents an mmm sound.
- How sounds can be blended together to make words. For example, they will be taught that the sounds of the letters ‘c-a-t’ blend together to make the word ‘cat’.
Your child will be taught to read letters or groups of letters by saying the sound (or sounds) they represent. For example, they will be taught that the letter ‘l’ sounds like lllll when we say it. Your child will then start reading by blending the sounds together to make words. Another word for this kind of blending is synthesising.
At school, you will probably hear teachers talking about blending, but you might also hear them talk about sounding out or Fred Talk, depending on which phonics scheme the school is using. All these terms refer to the same idea: synthesising sounds.
How is phonics taught at school?
At school, your child will first learn a small group of sounds associated with written letters. For example, they will learn that ‘m’ makes an mmm sound, ‘a’ makes an ahh sound, and ‘t’ makes a ttt sound.
Then, they will be taught to blend these sounds together to read whole words. For example, m–a–t makes ‘mat’. Your child will then learn more sounds and will start blending them too. The order in which the sounds are taught varies depending on the scheme your school uses, so it’s worth checking with your child’s teacher.
Many schools in the UK use a systematic approach called Letters and Sounds to teach children to read using phonics. This is split into six phases, from learning about sounds at nursery to becoming fluent readers around age 7. Find out how letters (graphemes) are linked to sounds (phonemes), and how they will be introduced to your child: What is Letters and Sounds? >
Your child will probably learn to read using a reading scheme such as Oxford Reading Tree or Read Write Inc. Phonics. These are carefully designed to support children’s progress as they develop their reading skills. Find out about reading schemes: Reading schemes, Levels, and Stages >
How can I help at home?
There are lots of simple things you can do at home to help your child learn to read.
- Learn how to say the sounds by watching the video below, or use our audio guide.
- Use flashcards to help your child learn how to blend sounds to read words (watch our video to see how).
- Read together every day, even for just ten minutes. Take a look at our free eBook library for ages 3–11.
- Watch Ruth Miskin’s top 10 tips video.
What is the Year 1 phonics screening check?
The phonics screening check is a short test taken by all children in England in Year 1.
Please note: Year 1 children usually take the phonics screening check in early June. However, due to school closures the check did not take place this year. Instead, schools are required to use a past version of the check with Year 2 pupils in November or December 2020.
The check is designed to give teachers and parents information on how your child is progressing in phonics.
The main purpose of the check is to see which children might benefit from additional support with their phonics, so that every child gets the opportunity to master this vital early reading skill.
What should I do if my child is struggling to read?
Every child learns to read at a different pace, so don’t panic! Jean Gross CBE has some excellent advice on how to tell if your child is struggling to read or is just reluctant, and how you can help them.
Supporting older readers
Even when your child can read independently, it’s still important to read with them on a regular basis while they continue developing their reading skills, vocabulary, and stamina. James Clements’ blog post takes you through the benefits and shares his tips for reading with older children.
Learn how to pronounce all 44 phonics sounds, or phonemes, used in the English language with these helpful examples from Suzy Ditchburn and her daughter.
Top tips for developing phonics skills at home and advice on decoding and blending from Ruth Miskin, phonics expert and creator of Read Write Inc. Phonics.