When I started as Supervisor at Great Shefford Pre-School two years ago, I had no clear guidelines to follow for teaching the children letter recognition and pre-reading and writing skills. I therefore worked on a system, which concentrated on one letter a week. Show and tell sessions were used to introduce each letter, with the children being encouraged to bring objects beginning with that letter. This system relied heavily on parents finding suitable objects and the children found it hard to grasp the connection between say a ball, given as a present by someone’s Grandma, with the letter ‘b’. The older children would copy simple three letter words in their workbooks by tracing over dots, whilst flashcards were used for letter/word recognition. Then, about a year ago, a local primary school teacher suggested that we look into using the ‘Jolly Phonics’ system. When the staff and committee looked at the relevant material and watched the introductory video, we all felt that it was a better and more coherent approach.
The ‘Jolly Phonics’ system is now a well-established part of our daily routine. With this system every letter sound has a corresponding action (thus, the sound ‘a’ for ant is matched with the child marching her fingers up her arms like a column of ants). Thus, letter sounds can easily be introduced in a circle time, including children as young as two and a half years. To them it is just a ‘game’ and they are learning the basics of letter sounds without even realising it. With the older children in the group (three and half years upwards), we take a more formal approach. They begin by copying letters or tracing dots in the same way as before, but when they know their first six letter sounds (s,a,t,i,p and n) they are taught how to blend them into small words. Thus, a child as young as three and three quarters, will have built up a ‘word bank’ of words they can actually read, rather than just recognise. We continue to build up their knowledge of letter sounds until they move on to school.
We have found the difference with this method of teaching incredible. Many more children are leaving us with basic reading skills and an enthusiasm to learn. The partnership with parents is also fostered by the use of colouring sheets linked with the letter sounds, which the children take home to share and complete. The ‘Jolly Phonics’ system is multi-media and includes jigsaws, stencils, a wall frieze and puppets on video, which makes it easier to engage children on many different levels and with different skills. We have certainly found it a useful tool in preparing the foundations for school.
(Caroline Simms came second in a national competition for the best Pre-School Learning Alliance supervisor, sponsored by W.H. Smith and Rightstart Magazine.)
Editor’s comment: Practitioners in the foundation stage may be largely unaware of what gains can easily be made using the synthetics phonics approach. It is worrying that the ‘Curriculum guidance for the foundation stage’ makes no mention of sounding out and blending, preferring to emphasise the largely held view that words must be initially learnt as ‘wholes’ and therefore reading initiated by modelling, memorisation of whole words and text, and by the use of picture and context clues. This has yet to be adequately debated and there are many signs that this is not the best advice for developing literacy skills in the foundation stage. Whole language and eclectic techniques have been shown to be detrimental in many millions of cases. Check the current illiteracy figures!