What is phonics?

By Caroline Gee. Phonics is a way of decoding written letters and spoken sounds.

Woman and girl 'ssh' faces


The ability to read and write is a key life skill that paves the way for success at school and in the world beyond.

Before your child reaches school age, you can play a vital role in helping your child embark on this learning journey.

Phonics is a way of decoding written letters and spoken sounds and it can be introduced in many fun and varied ways at home with your child.

Laying the foundations of phonics can begin with games that identify the sounds around us - and continue all the way up to being able to sound out simple everyday words.

How CBeebies can help

Visit the Alphablocks pages on the CBeebies website and introduce your child to the 26 letters of the alphabet and the sounds they make.

Your child will enjoy watching the letters come to life, listening to the songs and playing the games. There are also colouring in sheets they can print out.

You and your child could also click through to the Fun with Phonics pages on the CBeebies website. You can help Polly Phonic the parrot spell simple words, say hello to Whirlyword and try to sound out and read the words he brings up.

There are lots of letter sounds to print out and colour, as well as short video clips focusing on a variety of letter sounds.

How to make a magic moment

It's time to be a sound detective! Explain to your child that you are going to hunt for some special objects. You could choose a sound to search for, for example, things that start with a 'b' sound.

Armed with a magnifying glass, a bag and notepad, go for a hunt around your home. Every time you spot something beginning with a 'b' you can write down the name of the object whilst your child pops it in the bag. Can you find a bear, a ball, a boat, a bag, a banana and maybe some beans?

You could always put pictures of some of the more unusual objects around the house before you start your hunt to help add to the fun!

When you have finished, count up how many things you have found and show your child how each object is written. Can they spot that each word starts with the sound 'b'?

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Expert opinion

Speaking and listening are the foundations for reading and writing. Encourage the love of sounds and language by singing songs and nursery rhymes and telling stories using pictures, puppets and toys.

Expose your child to books and reading every day - read aloud at bedtime, visit your local library, point out signs when you are out and about, read the labels on the food when shopping.

By preparing the ground for your child to learn to read, you will ultimately be giving them the ability to read to learn.

Caroline Gee, Reception Teacher

Top tips

  • Even at a very young age, children can tune into and discriminate between the sounds around them. Listen to and identify natural and man-made sounds, inside and out. All sounds have meaning.Introduce the concept of rhythm and rhyme - read rhyming stories, sing nursery rhymes and enjoy listening to the similarities and patterns in the words.Start phonics by introducing your child to the letter sounds (or phonemes) rather than the letter names (graphemes). This will help them to sound out and hear the letters in a word.If your child can identify some sounds, try making up a tongue twister to show how many words begin with the same sound.Once your child can identify the first sound in a word, go on to 'sound talk' the other letters, for example 'c-a-t' makes 'cat'. Your child will most likely be able to hear the first and last sounds in a word before any of the middle sounds.Remember that variety is the spice of life! Children learn phonics in many different ways. They need to have the opportunity to see words (e.g. in books, in letters, on the fridge, on signs), hear sounds (spoken and sung) as well as feel and touch (e.g. magnetic letters, dough cutters in letter shapes, letter stampers).

Parent's tale

Eye Spy really helps encourage use of the alphabet and phonics. “Eye spy with my little eye, something beginning with.c”. It's a good car game too!

Carol, From Kilmarnock

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