Working with parents and carers on phonics
Parents and carers play a crucial role in supporting a child’s learning, and evidence from the EEF suggests that effective engagement can make up to three months of positive difference in a child’s learning. In this blog post, phonics trainer Jacqueline Harris discusses ways that schools can leverage this by involving parents and other adults in their children’s phonics learning.
Unless the parents or carers are very young, the chances are they will not have been taught systematic phonics and may know very little about it. When Letters and Sounds first came out in 2006, few schools were teaching phonics rigorously and it was only by 2010 with the advent of the Phonics Screening Check that schools were compelled to teach phonics to a high standard, or even at all. This means very few adults have had any experience with phonics, and hearing words such as ‘digraph’ and ‘phoneme’ from their own children can be intimidating.
Communicating with parents
The relationship between a school and parent community is vital. Regular communication is key to maintaining a healthy link and offers a chance to educate parents about phonics and other areas of the curriculum. Letters, in-person meetings or workshops are useful tactics to deploy but schools need to choose a combination that works best for their community.
What do parents need to know?
Fundamentally, parents and carers need to have a basic understanding of how phonics work and how to sound out words. Technical vocabulary is central to a child’s learning experience, so giving parents and other adults a glossary of key terms, such as phonemes and trigraphs, will help them become familiar with the terminology. Parents and carers need to understand that using phonics has to be the first skill that children try when encountering an unfamiliar word. With that in mind, parents and other adults need to know the correct way to blend words to read in order to support their children.
Running workshops and lessons
Sounding out accurately takes a particular skill, so parents and carers may need to be able to hear the correct sound first-hand. Providing training in the style of a lesson to show the different aspects of phonics modelled can be very useful for parents and other adults. Some schools will run an open morning where parents and carers can come in and take part in the phonics lesson. These can be particularly useful for parents and carers that do not have English as their native language.
Providing wider resources
In the My Letters and Sounds programme, guides for practising phonics at home are available for Reception and Year 1 for schools to share. Each one acts as a useful reference point for parents and other adults and includes practical ideas for how they can help their child practise phonics. Schools may also choose to share songs and rhymes to help develop early language skills too.
Reading decodable books at home
Listening to children read is an essential part of phonics and one that requires time and cooperation from parents and carers. Children will regularly bring home a decodable phonics reader to practice. Parents and other adults should be encouraged to make time for reading and help their children use their phonics skills when reading. By listening to their child read aloud, parents and carers will help them to develop their fluency and confidence.
In My Letters and Sounds, the inside front and inside back covers of the decodable books include useful tips and activities to support parents and carers as they read the books with children. The GPCs and tricky words included in each book are listed so that children can practise reading them in advance of reading the text. Child-friendly definitions are provided for any unfamiliar vocabulary, so that these words can be discussed and explored prior to reading. Questions about the cover illustration and title help to introduce the text, while comprehension questions encourage children to talk about the story and check their understanding of what they have read.
There are very few parents and carers who are unwilling to help their own children with schoolwork, but many are nervous about things they do not understand themselves. Schools play a pivotal role in ensuring parents and other adults are informed of what their child is learning. By doing so, parents and other adults are able to reinforce learning from the classroom and help their children develop the important skill of reading.
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