Monday, 28 January 2013

#readitmummiesanddaddies2013 - Phonics, phonics everywhere but which on earth to choose...?

Biff, Chip, Kipper and the whole Reading Tree family

Even before Charlotte started school, she knew who Biff, Chip and Kipper were. We'd tried her with a few phonics books through the excellent Oxford Reading Tree programme, as well as tackling the brilliant My Phonics Kit, also from Oxford University Press. 

Using national phonics standards, the Oxford Reading Tree range deliver a more UK-specific phonics experience than many other programmes or resources - ensuring that the things your child is learning in school are backed up with the books, e-books, audio resources and web resources under the ORT umbrella. 

As well as the Biff, Chip and Kipper Books, OUP also publish the Oxford Songbirds Phonics Range, with none other than Julia (Gruffalo) Donaldson behind many of the stories on offer here. 

These are most likely to be the books your child is introduced to in Reception. 

As great as they are, we've often found that the stories are fairly hit and miss, often disjointed, and for Charlotte - a world away from the picture story books she's enjoyed over the last few years. 

So how do you somehow strike a good balance between school reading and learning, and reading for pleasure? 

We've tried 'gamifying' the exercises - backed up with exercises sent home from school like 'Tricky Word Bingo' (a process of matching and identifying words that can't be decoded by breaking them down by laying them out on lotto-style grids) and also a huge array of different literacy and phonics apps ranging from the very good (ABC Pocket Phonics by Apps In My Pocket Ltd) to the pretty atrocious (Topsy and Tim Start School). 

It's often very very difficult to find apps or audio that don't say "Ay, bee, see" rather than "ah, buh, cuh" so be very wary when buying or trying apps or other read-audio materials, that you're getting the standard that regionally is best suited and the best fit to what your child is learning in school. 

Ultimately though we've found the same thing many many parents have also discovered, that there really is no magic bullet and even the very best phonics programmes are not a solution on their own - that reading for pleasure and supplementary activities to aid and assist a child's reading are definitely required. 

We've found some success with the following ideas: 

1) Using a story book app that allows children to record / play back their own voices (such as MeBooks)

2) Using Audioboo - setting up an account, then recording children reading through a school phonics exercise book bit by bit, before playing the whole thing back to them (does anyone still use a cassette recorder for the same purpose?)

3) The mighty sticker chart. Once a child becomes disengaged from the 'reading to learn' process it's very very hard to get them back on track. Rewards like stickers and constant encouragement can help a lot - but in general trying not to 'speed the plough' too much also helps. Children learn to read at their own pace and trying to rush things can work against you. 

4) Share book time with another child who is a stronger reader. Great if they have older siblings or slightly older friends who are willing to help out. 

5) Pick out words and learning opportunities in the world around you. Road signs, logos on trucks, even a grit bin all have words on them. Helping a child to recognise, decode and read these can be satisfying to them and a good memory aid if they're things that are seen regularly. Compare those words to other words. 

6) Rhyming text. Silly poems and rhymes stick in a child's mind, and can be invaluable. 

We've also collected together some great links to phonics resources below, many with plenty of free materials and worksheets to print yourself. 

Phonics and Early Readers Links, games and resources

Usborne "Teach your Monsters to Read" website (great moshi-monsters-esque learning resource)

Study Dog Parents (US-based phonics and learning site)

Jolly Phonics (gigantic site and resource, very often used in schools)

The Hamilton Trust Website (huge resource for literacy and numeracy teaching and lesson plans)

Phonics Play (lots and lots of great printable sheets, pictures and resources)

Oxford Owl (part of the huge array of phonics and early literacy resources from Oxford University Press)

If you have any more suggestions, please leave a comment below - we'd be happy to hear more from parents and teachers involved in and using phonics programmes and resources.