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Phonics teaching and apps before reception class – How necessary is it?

Parents and carers of preschool children often get concerned about how they can help ensure that their children are ready for beginning literacy learning when they start school. This combined with the countless at home phonics programs and apps which are now marketed to just such parents implies that children ought to begin to be taught phonics skills earlier and earlier.

However, a recent article published on the Times Educational Supplement (TES) website quoted the OFSTED specialist adviser on the early years and primary school, Phil Minns, as saying it was not necessary for children to start phonics learning at this early age.

Early years consultant, Sue Allingham  echoed his concerns saying, “There is nothing wrong with teaching phonics when it is stage appropriate,… Emotional wellbeing and language must be in place first.”

So what does she mean by emotional wellbeing and language and how can these skills be developed in the home and early years setting to help ensure the child is ready for phonics tuition and early reading skills.?

How to boost emotional well being in pre school children

  1. Routine and predictability help a child feel settled. Right from birth a child’s brain is seeks to understand the complex world around them, working out who is responding to their needs and how, and learning to predict the future based on past experience in order to feel safe. Therefore establishing a regular routine and consistent patterns of behaviour greatly helps support children’s mental health and emotion regulation.
  2. Giving targeted praise for effort rather than achievement. Carrol Dweck, who coined the terms Fixed and Growth Mindset, says, “When children believe they can develop their abilities, they focus on doing just that,” writes Dweck. They then feel encouraged to: be motivated to learn; understand that effort is positive; try hard in the face of difficulty and mistakes and investigate new learning strategies.
  3. Think about how you react to things and display emotions. Children learn a huge amount by what they see. I’m not suggest you are constantly positive, no-one can ever be, but understand what triggers your negative emotions, ensure you are looking after yourself emotionally. Talk to your child about emotions both good and bad and help them cope when emotions get difficult. More on this is in a recent post of mine here.

How to boost Language skills in preschool children

  1. Change to a parent facing pushchair. We all know that the more we talk to our children the more their communication skills and vocabulary develops. Dr Suzanne Zeedyk, an expert in child Psychology, said “If babies are spending significant amounts of time in a baby buggy that undermines their ability to communicate with their parent, at an age when the brain is developing more than it will ever again, then this has to impact negatively on their development. Our experimental study showed that, simply by turning the buggy around, parents’ rate of talking to their baby doubled.”
  2. Read to your child. Even before they’re born, babies learn to recognise their parents’ voices. Reading to your baby from birth, even for just a few minutes a day, gives them the comfort of hearing your voice and increases their exposure to language. This helps them build their vocabulary and improves their understanding when they listen. It’s important for them to see how stories work too, by pointing to the words on the page while you read helps your chid to grasp that letters symbols relate to sounds and words.
  3. Play with words. When you read and talk to your child, have fun playing with words. This helps to develop phonological awareness (understanding the sound structure of language). By reading poems, talking about and saying rhyming words, making up alliterative phrases (phrases where all the words begin with the same sound, e.g. big, blue buttons), changing the letters in words and making up nonsense words really helps this crucial skill too.

Parents are the most important educators in a child’s life – even more important than teachers. Before a child starts school there are a number of skills that will help a child learn effectively and although you can look into phonics games and apps when a preschool child is ready, focusing on developing their emotional well being and language development will be even more effective at supporting your child as they prepare to transition into school.

Author: Zoë Brown

I am a dyslexia specialist, qualified in assessing dyslexia and literacy related difficulties as well as tutoring dyslexic children and those who need additional literacy support. Having been diagnosed as dyslexic at an early age, I have a personal understanding of both the challenges and advantages that dyslexia brings. I feel strongly that when given the right support and positive encouragement, dyslexic people of all ages can excel in confidence and academic attainment.

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