Starting primary school is a major milestone for children and one that parents will want to help their child navigate as smoothly as possible. Whether your child has just started school this time, or it’s still very much on the horizon, it is essential that you do everything possible to prepare them for learning.

Parenting on Female First

Parenting on Female First

As a parent, you are your child’s first and most influential teacher, so the sooner you can begin to prepare your child for learning the better – your child is never too young to be exposed to the sounds of language, and this really is the first step.

Helping your child become a successful reader starts with phonemic awareness. This is the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds in spoken language. For children to be able to speak and read well, they need to have been talked to and to have listened to different sounds a lot. Phonemic awareness is crucial for children to be able to progress further, through phonics, a method for teaching reading and writing used in schools.

Charmaine Fletcher, Managing Director at Everybody Learns shares her tips to help build these skills with your child:

1. Talk to your child from birth onwards; sing nursery rhymes, read with them and sound out simple words – this interaction will help them to hear different sounds and will eventually develop their phonemic awareness and vocabulary. It is also good for your child to hear conversation within the family.

2. Ask your child questions that require more than a yes/no answer and never be tempted to answer a question for them – it’s important to encourage development, even if it’s a slow process when first starting. Also encourage other members of the family to do the same and be sure to encourage your child to follow simple instructions such as; “close the door and then hang up your coat.”

3. Play word association games with your child, these help to build phonemic awareness and are good fun too! Here are some great games you can play together:

  • I Spy – a perfect game for in the home or when you’re out and about, I Spy helps with recognising and distinguishing sounds at the beginning of words. Just be sure to remember it is the sound the letter makes that you need to specify, not its name.
  • What Rhymes With…? – this game also helps with sound recognition and is very popular with young children
  • The Whispering Game – whisper a message to your child with their eyes shut and ask them to repeat it
  • Stop and Listen – whether you’re inside or outdoors, listen with your child for 15 seconds then tell one another what sounds you heard
  • Go and Grab – give your child a number of objects beginning with different sounds then ask them if they can bring you the object beginning with that sound, you can play this with letters too!
  • Clap, Clap, Clap – when your child starts to learn longer words, you can help them to hear the different syllables by clapping along with the word – one clap for each syllable
  • The Whispering Game – ask your child to close their eyes. Whisper them a message and then ask them to repeat it

4. Praise them, praise them, praise them! You can never give enough praise – children are very receptive to positive reactions and tend to repeat behaviour they have been rewarded for. If you help your child to feel excited by learning new words, sounds and letters it will help them with their development.

5. Imitation and repetition is vital to help your child remember what they are learning:

  • Teach your child to learn new sounds by encouraging them to repeat the sounds you make
  • Encourage them to join in and repeat the nursery rhymes that you sing to them
  • Always encourage them to talk with you. Touch or point to things and name them, then have your child do the same
  • Remember that, although it may seem boring to you, repetition is vital for your child to build their phonemic awareness and phonics skills – it helps the brain to process the information it is learning and to store it in the memory

6. Point out print in books, on food packets and on signs. Your child will come to realise that print means something and that everything has a name that can be written down – including them!

7. Read together every day and talk about the story and things/people that are in it. Older children could try to guess what happens next or tell the story in their own words. Don’t worry if they want to read the same book over and over again, this repetition builds confidence and helps reading become automatic.

8. Help them with phonic skills by forming simple words and then emphasising each sound, for example ‘c-a-t’ for cat:

  • Remember to use the sound of the letter, not the name of the letter, when doing this and practice using words that are relevant and interesting for your child, for example, learning the sounds their name begins with or toys that they love to play with Practice some sounds that are more difficult for a child to master when speaking; for example, practice the ‘th’ sound with your child – the tongue should be between the teeth. Support in pronouncing sounds correctly also helps children to move on, it’s also important that ‘baby language’ is discouraged
  • Some sounds are more difficult to differentiate between, for example ‘m’ and ‘n’ or ‘b’, ‘p’ and ‘d’. Practise words beginning or ending with these letters to help your child to distinguish the differences

9. DON’T STOP helping. Help at home shouldn’t stop when your child goes to school and there are always different ways to support your child in their development. From reading school books on an evening to playing games that help with learning:

  • When they get stuck on a word, if it follows the rules of phonics, encourage them to sound it out. If they still can’t do it, sound it out for them and then encourage them to try again
  • Sight words which do not follow phonics rules, e.g. ‘the’, ‘what’, ‘have’ should be practised repeatedly until they are recognised automatically
  • If your child doesn’t understand a word, explain what it means to them. Talk about other words that mean the same thing to help them
  • Ask questions and discuss their answers
  • Help your child learn their spelling lists from school

10. Don’t forget that your child is an individual. What works for one child may need to be adjusted for another. Similarly, some children will naturally progress faster than others. And last, but certainly not least, have fun! Children are highly receptive to colour and the environment around them, so use different objects around the home or outside to help them to understand the meaning of words as well as their sounds!

For parents looking for extra support or further advice on phonemic awareness and phonics, visit:

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