Making phonics user-friendly for my son by Fran Bromage

Senior Editor Fran tells us how phonics are helping her son to read through an interactive approach to learning, and how this experience inspired her to come up with the concept for Miles Kelly phonics books.

My early approach to learning to read

Words have always held a fascination for me – as a little girl I loved reading, and writing stories and poems – but it’s only now, as I’m teaching my young son to read, that I really appreciate the complexity of the English language. Toby and I practise connecting letter shapes to letter sounds, investigate how those letters can come together to form words, then rearrange those words to create sentences. To be honest though, teaching someone how to read and, just as importantly, to understand what they are reading can seem an impossible task.

Symbols and sounds

The trick is to begin at the beginning, and I don’t mean from an adult point of view. The very beginning for a child is about seeing graphemes (the letter symbols) and phonemes (the sounds those letters can make) as totally separate things. If you think about it long enough, they really bare no relation to each other, and that’s where you start.

Help children to teach themselves

A few years ago I finished my Montessori Diploma in Early Childhood Studies and, while I chose not to go into teaching, the skills I learned are invaluable. The Montessori philosophy is about helping children to teach themselves – by preparing ways in which they can link their thoughts with their actions. The reason children learn best when they’re playing is because they are interacting with things they can actively test, analyze and investigate in their own space and time.

Use simple foam letters

So, when Toby and I first began exploring the actual shapes of letters, I bought him a set of foam bath letters to touch, feel and chew. These are still a firm favourite for word-building, but initially he loved showing me which ones were similar shapes and which ones had holes in. Did you ever stop to think that ‘a’, ‘b’, ‘d’, ‘e’, ‘g’, ‘o’, ‘p’ and ‘q’ all have holes and if you try really hard, you can pile them all onto one finger? No, neither did I!

Capital and lower case letters

As we worked through linking the letters’ shapes with their basic sounds, I made him a set of letter stones (‘a’ on one side, ‘A’ on the other) so he could begin to recognize that, while capital letters and lower case letters sometimes looked totally different, they still made the same sound (seriously, who decided ‘R’ was a good way of writing a capital ‘r’?).

Make stories interactive

Spotting single letters in stories (there’s a ‘d’ for ‘dog’), pointing out common words that can’t be sounded out (this word is ‘the’) and saying the sounds of two letters together (‘e’ and ‘r’ makes ‘er’) is a fantastic way to begin making stories interactive and you can do this with any book.

Interactive books to learn phonics easily

When I was given the brief to begin thinking about how Miles Kelly could produce a phonics book, I knew precisely what I wanted to do. It needed to be something to help both children and their grown-ups learn together, but most importantly I wanted it to be interactive. Children needed to be able to handle the letters they were using to make words, to practise in their own way and to make mistakes as often as they wanted.

Phonics and fairytales

Our phonics books retell familiar fairytales, highlighting a distinct sound on every page or two. Although there are 26 letters in the alphabet, confusingly these make 44 different sounds – and these all have a variety of different spellings. Pronunciation help for these sounds is given on each page and readers will encounter the different spellings too as they explore the stories.

Sticker fun to reinforce interactivity

The sticker activities on every page provide the opportunity to match sounds, make more words with the same sound and spot things in the pictures with similar sounds. This is a great chance for children to put their learning to use and reflect on each phoneme. All the stickers are reusable too, so they can practise over and over again, and then reward themselves with a gold star for having a try.

With eight fairytales to choose from, and a visual phonics poster to aid recall, I’m exceptionally proud of the Learn to Read books, which Toby and I are already using as he prepares to begin Reception in September.