Archive for the ‘Phonics for children under five’ Category

Tuesday 16th October – What’s This? Phonics books being delivered to Penny’s Place!   Leave a comment

Double Standards maybe? Says one thing does another?

Not at all – but yes a set of 20 phonically correct books were delivered today – in fact not one but two sets.

I am sure some of you are now a tad confused – because I have been going on and on about how I think phonics should not be taught to to children under 5,  about how I am not going to use so many (if any) laminated word cards.

So why are two sets of phonic type books being delivered to Penny’s Place?

Ah – I hear some of you say – we know! It is because you have just started delivering the free entitlement isn’t it Penny? You have been informed by your early years team that you should teach the children phonics.

Yes I am provided the free entitlement  for 2 three year olds – and 1 two year old – but no that is not it – my early years team have yet to visit or comment (and we will have to wait to see what they say).

No I brought the books because I am not against phonics – I am against teaching the children phonics!

There is a huge difference  – sorry I had best explain!

These are the books

It is a set of 20 graded books – all traditional stories – and all not only phonically correct but in order of introduction in letters and sounds.

So traditional stories from around the world (includes a short statement on inside cover about story and where from) – so if I was into ticking boxes – that would be a box ticked

Graded – starts with wordless stories up to books with around 20 words per page – another tick

Phonically correct – so words that children could decode if they were ready to do so – another tick

Guidance in the book – another tick

Links to website for teachers and parents – another tick

All in all pretty good.

Just one thing puzzling me

The books that state they are for pre- school and for letters and sounds stage one – are the wordless ones.


So maybe – even the Oxford Reading Tree agree with me

– well maybe in part – because the books with words are for those aged 4 -5

Oh and the second set? They are for Ben and Josh my twin grandsons to support them in the months before they start school as just four year olds by birth date – and  older 3 year olds by due date.

Posted October 18, 2012 by psw260259 in Phonics for children under five

Michael Rossen likes my views!   1 comment

Although this happened a couple of weeks ago – I have only just decided to comment on it.

When I wrote my first blog about phonics for under fives – I sent it to lots of people via Twitter / Facebook / and other forums.


I was delighted that Michael Rossen not only commented on Twitter but also put my blog on his blog and commented very positively about my blog.

This is the link to Michael’s blog

There is lots of other comments from Michael himself on his blog about phonics and other aspects of teaching reading.


Posted August 25, 2012 by psw260259 in Phonics for children under five

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

Phonics for Two Year Olds? – I think NOT   19 comments

Those who know me well – will know that I volunteered to take part in the pilot inspections for the revised EYFS.

This was like a real inspection – complete with feedback and a report – although both the report and the grade are not ‘for real’ and my current report and grade will stand until my next ‘proper’ inspection – any time really – but most likely after October 2013.

As part of the feedback the inspector mentioned that I did not take the opportunity to introduce early phonics with the children in my care.

I should mention that I had 4 children in my care on inspection day and all 4 were only just 2 years old – or almost 2.

The ‘recommendation for improvement was;

‘ Enhance the opportunities provided within children’s play for them to improve their understanding of letters and sounds to support even better progress in communication, language and literacy’

Now I have enough common sense to know that it is not necessary to sit the children down to repeat letter sounds after me or to buy an expensive ‘phonic’s toolkit’. Nor do I need to get them to colour pictures of images to go with said phonics toolkit, nor do I even have to break down every word I say into its phonically correct  components.

And if I didn’t just ‘know’ this – I could refer to the Early Years Foundation Stage – where it says under the PRIME AREAS – that is the areas that I must concentrate on for the under three’s

Communication and Language

Listening and attention: children listen attentively in a range of situations. They listen to stories. accurately anticipating key events and respond to what they hear with relevant comments, questions or actions. They give their attention to what others say and respond appropriately, while engaged in another activity.

Understanding; children follow instructions involving several ideas or actions. They answer ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions about their experiences and in response to stories and events.

Speaking; children express themselves effectively, showing awareness of listeners needs. They use past, present and future forms accuratley when talking about events that have happened or are about to happen in the future. They develop their own narratives and explanations by connecting ideas or events.


That means children who are FIVE not TWO!!!

But hang on – where is the mention of ‘letters and Sounds’ in communication and language?

Is it me or is it not mentioned?

Oh of course silly me – I need to check the guidance document – which of course is just for guidance but even so it seems to be mentioned a lot. Off to check – back soon!

Back – so in communication and language – the Prime Area – there is no mention of letter and sounds or phonics.

So my knowledge appears to be spot on – NO phonics or letters and sounds needed for two year olds  (or indeed any child up to end of EYFS ) in the prime area of communication and language.

I am curious though now – I keep reading in well respected childcare magazines and from well known experts about the government ‘forcing’ young children to undertake phonics  ‘instruction’ and to follow the letters and sounds pack .

Off to check the specific area of ‘Literacy’ – back soon!

Ah – I have found it! The mention of phonics / letters and sounds

It is in the guidance for those children aged 40 – 60+ months but interestingly NOT for those children aged up to 50 months

So unless my understanding of written English is ‘not secure’ the governments own documents both the statutory framework EYFS 2012 AND the supporting guidance document DO NOT say we must teach the children phonics – they DO NOT say we must introduce letters and sounds at 2 or 3 or even 4 years of age.

It says that by offering opportunities and experiences such as those mentioned in the guidance document – that somewhere between 40 and 60+ months of age the children will be able to confidently use the skills they have achieved through play, through speaking and listening, through stories and rhymes – to decode words and start the process of reading and writing.

It even suggests  by not including the statements about phonics or letters and sounds in the 30 – 50 m age group – that we SHOULD NOT be introducing these aspects until a child is over 50 m (so 4yrs and 2m as a minimum age) unless of course the child shows an interest and WANTS to find out more about the make up of words.

I will go further and say that – in my opinion –  any child not in full time school – should NOT be introduced to phonics or letters and sounds unless the child wants to.

Once in full time school – they will have a full school year to become familiar with phonics and letters and sounds before the end of early years foundation stage profile is completed.

The Early Learning Goals are for children aged 5 – lets not forget that – and although I still think that for some children 5 is too young to have mastered these skills – and that there is A LOT MORE to reading, writing and understanding the written word than just phonics – PLEASE  follow the governments statutory requirements and guidance documents (and your professional judgement about when a child is ready to start the road to discovery of the delights of the written word, rather than the hype giving in training, in books and in childcare publications and websites.

There is a lovely sentence on the bottom of every page of the guidance document which enforces one of the overarching principles in the statutory Framework. It says;

Children develop at their own rates, and in their own ways. The development statements and their order should not be taken as necessary steps for individual children. They should not be used as checklists. The age / stage bands overlap because these are not fixed age boundaries but suggest a typical range of development.

Finally – some may regard my opinions as uninformed or as just personal opinion – however my ‘credentials are based on over 34 years of childcare – both with my own children, my grandchildren and the many (well over 150) children that I have had the pleasure of caring for – plus knowledge gained over involvement in many aspects of early years including that of trainer,  adviser and assessor.

Just using my own children as my evidence

Daughter One – Was not taught using phonics – she was taught via the ‘Peter and Jane’ books. She was an avid reader by age of 6 and was described by teachers as having an extensive vocabulary and an excellent understanding of what she was reading. However she was not interested in academic studying.  Being an excellent reader did not lead to a university education.

Daughter Two – Taught herself to read at age of 3 (by joining in with reading time with her sister who was two years older). So also learnt through Peter and Jane. She was also an avid reader and got through mountains of books. By age 8 she had read all the books in school reading scheme and a lot of library books. She went to university.

Daughter  Three – Learnt through having a good memory – and sight reading. The school used the Oxford Tree scheme with Biff and Chip but she was not that interested in reading the books. She is also an avid reader – but not bothered about school in general and dropped out in sixth form. So being a excellent reader did not help her achieve academic success.

Daughter Four – Struggled could not really read beyond first stage books until 8 or 9   despite the use of phonics. However she had a dream – she wanted to go to university to become a teacher. She continued to struggle but despite this she got into university and was tested there for dyslexia – and found to have a reading age of 14 . So not being able to read at an early age did not prevent her from achieving her dream.

Each daughter was treated as an individual, each was encouraged and supported – but the age at which they were able to read and their success and enjoyment of reading – did not indicate their future academic success.

Oh and myself?

Janet and John reading scheme for me – no phonics at all – I was taught with the C A T method – but I still learnt to read.

So in conclusion  in my opinion – Phonics do have a place but are not essential. Early reading does not provide an indicator to academic success and neither does late mastering of reading indicate low academic achievement.

Those of you who have excellent reading and writing skills will have noticed that I don’t. Spelling terrible (even with spell check) grammer ?- well enough said. My guess is that I also am dyslexic – but never been tested. I do find writing a challenge because I am aware of my difficulties – BUT that does not stop me from running a successful business or from expressing opinion on this blog or indeed anything else.

I would love to read your comments on this – am I alone or do others agree with me?

Posted August 11, 2012 by psw260259 in Phonics for children under five