A reflection on the daily teaching of phonics in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) and Pre Prep; what it consists of and how it enables our children to become fluent and confident readers

Phonics is, simply, teaching children to listen carefully and identify the small units of sound that make up each word. It is now highly recommended as being the first strategy that should be taught in helping young children to successfully learn to read and spell. 

I have spent my past six years as a Year 1 teacher discovering why this approach is so beneficial and how best to deliver phonic sessions to my class. Alongside other teaching methods such as guided and shared reading, daily phonics sessions in ‘short and snappy’ doses has enabled child after child of mine to make excellent progress within their reading, including reaching that ‘lightbulb’ moment when everything just clicks. I would like to share with you some of my findings for why phonics can be such an effective part of a child’s reading journey…

Firstly, phonics is systematic. From as early as Nursery, children will be taught single letter sounds and can begin to sound out simple consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words such as dog, cat, rug and pin. Once these are secure, teaching moves onto double letter sounds (digraphs) and the associated words become more complex e.g. church, sheep, thorn. For each sound, an action or song can be taught which can really engage a young child and make it very difficult to forget! For example, the ‘s’ sound is associated with a snake hissing and the ‘sh’ sound tells you to bring a finger to your lips. All sounds are revisited throughout the Pre Prep years to ensure they are fully embedded and pronounced correctly.

My second finding is that phonic development can really build confidence. Once children are able to blend sounds together to form simple words, the reading process can begin and our first story books can be introduced. At Heatherton School, we are lucky enough to have a wonderful reading scheme, full of books for all abilities. We target the books we choose for our children to coincide with the sounds they are currently learning in their class phonic sessions. In the EYFS, many of the reading books consist of the blending of single letter sounds only. Commonly, this is known as Phase 2. Simple sentences such as ‘Sid hid a rat’ and ‘cat sat on a mat’ form a story which can be read by a child independently, giving them the momentous experience of completing a whole book by themselves for perhaps the first time; a truly inspiring moment.

Thirdly, I have discovered through a lot of experimentation that phonic sessions can most certainly be repetitive but they can also be a lot of fun! The idea is to constantly revisit and repeat sounds; a fluent reader blends each word without really thinking. Phonic activities do not, however, have to be boring. Over the years, I have introduced activities for more ‘hands on’ learners where hoops are used to split up a word and the children have to jump from hoop to hoop, saying each sound as they go. Lego bricks or similar construction materials can also have sounds written onto them and then be attached back together the correct way in order to form a word. There are countless games and activities available now which can make sounding out a word so much more appealing and exciting for a young child. Using a combination of these in class sessions has proven to lead to the most effective teaching and learning.

Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed using phonics as a strategy for helping children begin and develop their reading journey. The English language is complicated and there will always be ‘tricky’ words that do not fit within the rules we teach but children very quickly come to learn and recognise these. My goal is to enable each child in my class to have the confidence and phonetic knowledge to have a good go at sounding out nearly any word they come across. I take great pride in a child’s joy and excitement when they come to realise how much they are now able to read and discover all around them.

Roseanna Bonney

Year 1 class teacher, Heatherton School

Join us for one of our upcoming Autumn Virtual Open Events to discover more about Heatherton, meet our new Headteacher and find out how we ‘Develop Remarkable People‘ – Thursday 1 October 19:00 and Saturday 3 October 10:00. Limited places still available in Year 1. Register your interest: https://bit.ly/3gjvD2U