So why don’t I like early phonics and in particular the Letters and Sounds pack?   5 comments

First we need look at  my experience of early phonics and the reasons why I have formed my personal opinion that for MOST children  early phonic work should be left until AT LEAST until a child is in full time school – and for many children the start of key stage one would be more appropriate.


However it is my personal experience gained through my own children, my older grandchildren, friends children and all the children that I have looked after over the years that the number f children who are ready to and want to read / write early are far outweighed by those that are simply not ready and to be frank have no interest. Yes,  some of the children that I refer to,  did want to write their own name and could recognise those letters and say those sounds (although modern names often defy all phonetic  knowledge), yes, some of them did like to dictate words for me to write on the drawings and in cards for parents, some even liked to copy the words that I had written – but all of this was based on their interest in words and my support of that interest and not as a result of any ‘teaching’ on my part.

So back to the Letters and Sounds pack – when it first came out I was at that time working for Worcestershire Early Years and Childcare Service, and because I was the childminding network coordinator and responsible for ensuring that the network remained approved as a ncma ccf network, and was responsible for assessing and supporting the accredited childminders (the ones who offered the nursery education places for 3 and 4 year olds), I attended all the meetings with the LA learning and development team and discussed all things educational.

I formed my professional opinion based on the following information taken direct from the Letters and Sounds pack

  • Letters and Sounds was produced by the ‘Primary National Strategies, and intended mainly for SCHOOLS -and for those children in early years settings that will either be starting school in the near future – or who are ready for more formal learning prior to starting school.
  • It is intended to be mainly adult led to groups of children – even whole class groups
  • It encourages practitioners to move the children on by saying ‘ There is no requirement that children should have mastered all the skills in Phase One …… before beginning Phase Two

Personally I think that a lot of people both practitioners, advisers and it has to be said inspectors overlooked what I considered to be the more important statements

  • It  stresses the importance of play based activities – saying ‘ However it is equally important to sustain and draw upon worthwhile, freely chosen activities that are provided for children in good early years settings and reception classes’
  • It also states that ‘The aim is to embed the Phase One adult led activities into a language rich provision that serves the best interests of the children by fully recognising the prosperity for play and its importance in their development’.

And this very important sentence

‘ It follows that the high quality play activities which typify good provision will offer lots of opportunities to enrich children’s language  across the six areas of learning.

Add to this;

My belief that any child   under 6 should not have to take part in large group activities and that each child should take part in activities and experiences that are tailored to meet that child’s specific needs – and adapted as the activity or experience unfolds

Children should not be tested under the age of 10 or 11

Early formal teaching and particularly early reading – do not always lead to later academic achievement or increase life opportunities.

Children are often subjected to ‘too much. too soon’ and are not given the time and space to be children and to develop all those important foundations of learning (never mind the brain development required).

I have seen a lot of children ‘switched off’ from learning to read / write by well meaning practitioners / teachers who try to introduce reading and writing too soon (In fact I have seen a lot children switch off from learning altogether by the switch on entering school from mainly play based to mainly ‘sat at table / on carpet’ based)

Having read the above I hope you the reader can see why I do not like the Letters and Sounds pack – and why I do not like preschool children having Letters and Sounds activities as part of  what should be a play based curriculum.

Actually I am not against phonics as in Full Stop -Provided introduced at a developmentally appropriate stage for each child (whatever their age) –  It can be a very useful tool in learning to decode the English language – however just a glance at the number of ‘Tricky Words’ listed within  the Letters and Sounds pack, and the fact that just because you might be able to decode a word – it does not mean you understand that word   – it is easy to work out that phonics need to be ONE of several methods on offer.

At this point – I would like to tell you about a true story from when my daughter Rosie was on placement in a school as part of her teaching degree.

Rosie had (as is usual practice) been working alongside the teacher and teaching assistant for a couple of weeks and had done a lot of assessment of the children’s developmental level. She had observed that in this particular class – a Key Stage One class – that a lot of the children had speech and language difficulties, a lot displayed what can only be described as ‘challenging behaviour’, a lot of the children came from socially economic disadvantaged areas – and in her opinion a few had as yet unidentified additional needs.

One of her first sessions to teach was to be on the sound ‘sh’ – she knew that engagement with the Letters and Sounds programme had been – well lets say ‘limited’. She knew the children did not sit still, she knew many of them did not have ability to listen and stay on task without  constant reminders, she knew a few of them would not remain on the carpet area- and that one or two of them would actually do their best to leave the classroom.

As she was worried that she might not gain the best outcomes both for the assessment of her practice and for the children – she asked me for some advice / ideas.

Now I am not a teacher, I do not have a degree – in anything, but to me it seemed that some commonsense was needed – and gave Rosie some ideas. (And if wondering why I – with my anti phonics stance chose to provide ideas for Rosie – please note this was a year one class, not reception or nursery)

This is the one she used – (although from memory – so may have added bits / left bits out – as was several years ago)

Prepare some word cards with ‘sh’ words  – find appropriate real objects such as toy sheep  – not too many – maybe 5 or 6 – idea is to repeat several times for reinforcement and to allow all children (who want to) to have a turn.

Ensure there is enough space to move between furniture in the class room. Hide the real objects.

Explain to children that going to play a game of follow the leader – (Rosie is the leader).

First go around the room making as much noise and movement as possible – then suddenly stop – turn to face line of following children – finger to lip – say ‘sh’ (asking teacher and teaching assistant – even if not in line – to model saying Sh with finger to lip until all children are copying). Show word card help children to look at Sh start to word then rest of word – ask one child to look for object – give clues, using positional words. When child found object – everyone clap. Then repeat until all objects found. Once found ask all children to curl up small and be very quiet – reinforce with ‘sh’ sound and finger. Re hide objects (does not really matter if they see where you hide them) Repeat until all children  (who want to) have had a turn

Resulted in huge success with the children and praise from the teacher. When asked where she got her ideas from Rosie said ‘My mother’. ‘Oh’ said the teacher ‘Is your mum a teacher?’ ‘No’ says Rosie – ‘she just knows about children’

Could not have said it better myself – I just know about children.

I have 6 children on roll over the week and every day 4 of them attend, in Worcestershire where I live, the under fives are well below average in the national tables and a lot of support has been put in place – including this document for early years settings

Interestingly although they give lots of information and ideas – and do mention some ideas to support rhyming, breaking words down into syllables and so on, in the list of national publications to provide further support – it does not specifically mention the letters and sounds pack..

Using the guidance in the same document (and cross referencing with EYFS 08 and 12) all my children – whose ages range from 2yr 4m to 3 yrs 4m are securely in the 30 -50 age band – including the two bilingual children – with some aspects of the 40 – 60 age band also being secure.

Maybe (and only a guess) it is something to do with the low number of children (compared to group settings) and the almost constant conversation between myself and the children, and the between the children themselves –  we read, we discuss and describe, we sing and we do rhymes – in fact we talk a lot!

My report for the pilot inspections says ‘Children exceed the expectations for their age in all areas of learning and make good or better progress, particularly in speaking and listening, and personal, social and emotional development. Teaching has a strong focus on communication, language and literacy’.

I could not want a better recommendation for the methods I use – and I fully expect that the same type of comments will be made in my next ‘proper’ inspection when the younger children now in my care will be approaching 4 . years of age. I can not predict if they will be ready at that time for  reading or writing – but what I can predict is – if they are not ready or not interested in formal reading and writing activities such as those in Letters and Sounds – they will not be doing them.

They will however be engaging – as they do now- in mark making, in stories and rhymes – and in lots of talking!

Posted August 20, 2012 by psw260259 in Phonics for children under five

5 responses to “So why don’t I like early phonics and in particular the Letters and Sounds pack?

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  1. Love it! There’s no need for me to say anything else! :o)

  2. funnily enough the fact i wasnt doing structured phonics with three under threes was put as a negative on my last (and first) Ofsted inspection. Now i am older and wiser i think i would be questioning why that was a negative. (i think she was just looking for something so she couldnt give me the outstanding she said i really should have – but apparently she doesnt give to first inspections – something we have heard before?)

    • There is rumour that some inspectors THINK they can not give outstanding at first inspection. Not true of course – they can and some do.

      And yes you are quite right – you do have to be older and wiser (or in other words more confident) to challenge

  3. Good afternoon,
    My name is Abby and I help to run a website which offers hundreds of free Early Years and Key Stage 1 teaching resources called Early Learning HQ (

    Phonics is a very important topic during the early years and we have lots of resources relating to this topic here: Would you mind having a look at them to see what you think? If you have any ideas for different resources we could make then please let me know and I will make them for you.

    Perhaps if you like the resources then you would consider linking to our page so other parents and teachers can find them as well? We make all the resources in a very small team in Swansea and it would be nice to share them with more people.

    Many thanks,

    P.S. Phases 2-5 are in the ‘Literacy’ section

    • Hello Abby

      I do already use Early Headquarters personally and have downloaded some great photo packs.

      However I will have to disagree about phonics within the early years as I do not consider them important at all. Just about every country other than ours delay starting the formal learning to read and write until at least age 6.

      In my opinion it was bad enough when children started school as a raising five and started on the journey of discovery about words. However going back 28 and 30 years respectively the children started with books with no words just pictures.

      But now children who are barely four are learning to read in primary school and doing phonics in their pre schools – some times as young as 2 – before they have even mastered the technicalities of the English language – such as tenses.

      I have today re looked at your phonic resources and I am sure your resources are a great help for older children.

      I will be putting a link to Early Learning Headquarters because as I say you have some some lovely resources – I just won’t be recommending the phonic ones.

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