The building blocks of reading and writing
Phase One Phonics
Reading and Writing- two of the key skills that young children build when they begin their school journey. As a parent and teacher I find the reading journey astounding! Within a few short years children move from single letter sounds to being able to read stories for themselves. It really is magical! But all that starts much earlier than Reception where we traditionally see children learn to “read and write”. Phase One phonics comes much earlier and is the cornerstone to reading and writing later!
We all know early reading and writing for most children comes from the learning of phonics: Developing understanding of letter sounds, their visual representation and the segmenting and blending of these sounds to spell and read words.
Recently there has been much in the educational media about phonics, largely because of the introduction of the validation process for SSPs (Systematic Synthetic Phonics Programmes). We all have our opinions of this and the impact it may have in our settings. It has also seen the scramble from resource providers and publishers to produce a scheme which can rival the “BIG player”. The talk and resources mainly rotate around what we all know as phase 2 and beyond. But before this learning of the letter sounds and their written representations, what foundations do we need to lay for children’s reading and writing?
Laying the Foundations!
The foundations of reading and writing come from two core skills- listening and speaking! Before they can read, write and spell children need to be able to tune into, identify and talk about sounds so that they can isolate and recognise sounds in spoken and (eventually) written words.
So of course the current validation process of the new SSP programmes has considered all of these building blocks for learning and has been included across their schemes? Sadly- no! There seems to be no steps made to support preschool settings and reception classes in ensuring that these fundamental reading skills are taught. Despite it being widely thought by practitioners that it can accelerate reading progress later.
The lack of support surrounding this prereading stage is now leading to confusion among practitioners in the nursery sector who, sadly, feel they should begin the process of teaching “formal” phonics (e.g. letters and their corresponding sounds) because they will then be “school ready”. As a Reception Teacher, I can say that this is not the case and the most competent readers are often children with secure communication and language skills. They are the children able to isolate and identify sounds, spot spoken rhythm and hear alliteration and those that can orally segment and blend words together. All skills which are taught and refined in phase 1.
Phase 1 Phonics Activities
I have always been passionate about providing phase 1 phonics throughout children’s nursery experience and into the reception year (and beyond in some cases). The introduction of the validated SSP programme risks these important skills being missed as settings worry about the need for a “validated scheme” and not what they know children need.
“I need to teach the children letters and their matching sounds in Nursery”
“Children don’t need to do Phonics until Reception!”
These are just two of the misconceptions I have heard about Phase One Phonics or the Pre Reading and Writing Phase of Phonics! The statements in the new DM (which you can find here if you’re interested… Development Matters 2021) do not mean we should let go of what we know is good practice in early phonics. Instead, I believe, it is for practitioners to model reading and writing for the children so they can transfer these skills into their own mark making and book exploration. For example, children may have seen the letters in their name and may then be able to attempt to use these familiar letters in their own mark making. We do not need for children to know all their letters and the corresponding sounds.
So what next…?
My advice… develop your phonics offering to embed pre reading and writing skills and create a strong foundation for children to build upon. The focus should be on developing listening skills, clear speech sounds and a wide vocabulary and not on traditional letter teaching and handwriting based skills! Step away from the phase 2 handbook and delve deeper into phase one. Take your children wider and deeper into the core listening, speaking and understanding skills. Ensure children are secure in the 7 key aspects of phase one phonics and able to apply these core skills. In turn you will be ensuring that children are “Reception Ready”, because the children with good, solid foundations will be ready to take the weight of the house being built above!
Looking for more…
My new Phonics Planning aimed at Phase One covers the 7 key aspects and provides:
- 20 weeks of planning
- Over 80 pages of activities
- Resource Pages
Download it here for just £15… The Building Blocks of Reading and Writing
As always… I love to hear from you!
Have a great week!