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Phonics In Nursery


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Following on from Mundias link in the earlier debate. I had already read this article which has come on the back of one of the local reception teachers criticising me for introducing phonics in nursery (I use jolly phonics and she doesn't).


Usually at nursery I have begun introducing phonics to those that are ready in the last term of nursery. Those that have begun to do this came on leaps and bounds when they started reception.


This year I have decided to do it with all the children (just one sound a week at first - but with focused and free choice activities that include the sounds we have done). The children are really responding well as we are doing it in a fun way. They are really enjoying finding letters and doing the actions and singing the songs.


At the moment I havent got the results to see if it is going to help the children learn to read at reception. I just wondered what other nursery schools do. I would be interested to hear what you think.

Thanks Sue

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Hi Sue, I just wanted to ensure a balanced viewpoint was represented, as it is a current hot topic following from the Rose review and the reviews of the literacy and nureracy startegies.


We dont teach JP in nursery, althoughwe do in reception and year 1 and this is why.


I teach in a 100% EAL school wheere many of the children have poor language skills in their home language. To get them to recognise sounds n english when they cant yet speak a sentence is a complete nonsense to me. Our focus is always on speaking and listening, the more confident they become as speakers and listeners the more readily they will take up phonics later on. Furthermore our children have more difficulty distinguishing between ch and j; v and f; b and p; than do native english speakers; even our parents cant hear the differences very often (most of our parents dont speak english either).


I think what matters in the debate is that we all take on board the differing views, and then make up our own mind. You are trying somthing this year that may well work well for this group of children but may not for the next, flexibility is the key. think you also need to watch carefully for those children who are not getting it and making sure that they have opportuntieis to access them again when they are ready to.

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I teach in a Foundation Stage Unit where all the children have English as their first language however we are finding more and more children entering the Unit with very poor language skills and also seem to have a sreadily growing number of children who arrive with speech problems. For these children hearing sounds in words can be very difficult and I feel it is important that we develop their listening and speaking skills before we expect them to learn phonics and somehow the name (SYNTHETIC phonics) does nothing to reasure me.

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That is why I introduced the topic - to hear different viewpoints.


Our nursery have a few children with very poor speaking and listening skills. Our main focus this year is on speaking and listening. As a small part of this we are encouraging the children to make and listen to different sounds (playing with sounds). We have found that using Jolly Phonics for this alone has helped some of these children to make different sounds in a fun way. They are also responding well to the Jolly songs as they are short and jingly.


I do not expect the children to do the sheets but we have sand trays and the smartboard, and the writing area for them to have a go at letter formation if they want. I have been really impressed with the enthusiasm of the children and how well they are doing. They come and tell me all the time when they see a 's' etc in a word. I can also help the children who have more understanding by helping with emergent writing and blending (I use the sheets with them to encourage correct letter formation).


I am very careful not to make it too formal. I treat it like other areas such as numbers and shapes etc where they are learning through play. By introducing the sounds in group times it means the staff can follow it up during free play where appropriate.


I do not feel under pressure to have so many children knowing so many sounds by such a time. We are just having fun making noises.


I know I have waffled a bit but I just wanted to say how we do things.


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I am a Nursery teacher, but in my LEA (Reading) children do not start Reception until the term that they turn 5. Therefore the Reception teachers have a new intake each of the three terms. This also means that my Nursery class consists of children who are actually in their Reception year. My oldest children at the moment are the summer-borns who will start school after Easter and will only get one term in Reception.

I therefore feel that I do need to give those who are ready some phonics in-put and they do amazingly well because it is very informal and they learn through practical, fun activities. My Nusery also has a very high proportion of children with EAL.


A lot of the teaching is part of the everyday activities. For example encouraging them to listen and identify different sounds around them and talking about sounds to encourage and develop listening skills. Music sessions are ideal for this and we use instruments to make long/short sounds, loud/quiet sounds and distinguish between two or more sounds. We also use sound tapes of everyday sounds. Young children don't seem to have as good listening skills now, maybe because of the amount of television or computer games that they all seem to have in their lives. We do use lots of the initial games from "playing with sounds" and those in "Foundations of Literacy". We also start to encourage them to listen for sounds in words. This could be through making up silly rhymes, reading rhyming stories or poems, talking about patterns in words.


We use other informal opportunities to encourage children to listen for sounds at the beginning of words for example, when we are doing the calendar each day (a chosen child has to come and find the correct day of the week to add to the calendar), we always ask "What sound can you hear at the beginning of Wednesday. (stressing the initial sound as we say it). We also have a puppet who has real problems saying some words - he keeps getting the first sound wrong, so when you give him an apple he calls it a "sapple" and when you give him a teddy he calls it a "Jeddy". Of course, the children all correct him by shouting out the right word and in the process are listening for and identifying the initial sound of the word. Because we are talking about sounds at every opportunity, even some of the three year olds can say which sound they can hear at the beginning of the word.


Only when children are able to hear different sounds and identify initial sounds do we start to link the sound (phoneme) with the written letter (grapheme). We do this using Jolly Phonics although we have adapted it (the letter groups and some of the actions) to suit us. We have an adult-led group time where we work with a small group of children during the main session of Nursery with planned practical activities and fun games linked to the sounds we are learning. They may not necessarily be the oldest children - they are just the children who are ready for it. The actions and Jolly songs that go with the letter sounds really help. The group session is no more than 10 minutes once a week and is always hands-on and fun. It could be sorting objects beginning with 2 different sounds, finding odd ones out from a group of objects, searching for objects beginning with a particular sound (Ginn phonics big book is great for this as it has large pictures for each letter sound containing lots of other pictures within it beginning with the same sound). We do treasure hunts for letters or objects, and we play Kim's game with objects all beginning with the same sound. Sometimes we write each letter from one of the JP set on a large piece of paper (eg so there are 6 sheets - s,a,t,i,p,n) We hold up an object and the children go and jump on the correct letter. I could go on and on listing activities, but they are probably the same sort of thing that lots of you do. We do not do any of the sheets or even focus on writing the letters formally other than air-writing or sometimes forming them in foam, sand, etc. The focus is really listening and hearing sounds.


Several of my Nursery children (many of these are of course Reception-age) get to the stage where they know all 26 letter sounds confidently and are beginning to use them and identify them in words. We would then do similar activities, but listening for end sounds or middle sounds. I even have 2 or 3 children who are able to read and spell CVC words confidently within play situations.


I agree that phonics should not be taught formally in Nursery or even before the child is ready. But by creating the right environment in Nursery and providing quality experiences for the children, phonics can be accessible to many children.

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Hi Marion

I have attended a workshop with the Literacy goes MADD authors and have seen the materials. I would have bought them in my role as literacy coordinator had budget been unlimited and they were top of the to buy list when I left the role!

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Dear Jackie A

Thank you for your detailed account of how you do phonics in your


I am a reception teacher and have found your account very interesting because I don't get to visit our local preschools and hence have very little idea of how things are done in them.


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I must say that I agree with you. I started using JP in Sept, after a good experience in the 2nd and 3rd terms of the previous school year.


I did not follow it as it is... e.g. I used books 1-3, but then I did not do 'ai' or similar in the 4th book. Instead I kept on with the consonants that had not been done yet.


When we worked 2 letters per week, it went okay. We wanted to give it a try to 5 per week... but the group was not responding in the same way. Therefore, I went back to 2/week. Afterwards, I tried to start with 'ai' and similar... but you could see in their faces that it was not working.


This confirmed to me that we cannot put everyone in the same boat, that we need to see the reality of each group and each child, that what works with some may not work with others. Why should we want to push children to be reading 2 years higher than their expected level? Why don't we let them be children? Reading is not everything. There are other areas to develope in their lives. A psycologist told a friend of mine: "If your goal is to teach a one-year old child to read, you will be able to achieve that goal... but is it really important?"


I will concentrate now on CVC words and blending simple words, helping them to wrute their own simple sentences, etc. If later on they are ready for more, then I will provide them with that.


Thanks to all for sharing your own personal experiences :) .

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