When your child is ready to start reading, it may help if you are familiar with synthetic phonics as, since 2006, this has been the government’s recommended means for teaching children to read.

So what is synthetic phonics?

Let’s deal with the phonics bit first. Phonics is a tool that is used to teach children to read by remembering the sounds that letters are likely to indicate. I say “likely to indicate” because there are only 26 letters in the English alphabet to indicate over 40 different sounds in spoken English. A single letter can indicate different sounds (for example, ‘c’ in ‘cat’ as opposed to ‘c’ in ‘cellar’) and combinations of letters are used to represent some sounds (for example, the ‘sh’ in ‘shop’ is pronounced as a single sound and not as ‘s’ followed by ‘h’). You can help your child by introducing them to letter sounds rather than letter names (‘sss’, not ‘ess’) and by taking care to pronounce sounds correctly. For example, a prolonged ‘buh’ and ‘tuh’ rather than a crisp ‘b’ and ‘t’ would cause a child to read ‘b’-‘u’-‘t’ as ‘butter’ rather than ‘but’.

The synthetic part of synthetic phonics means to synthesise or to put together and refers to the skill of blending sounds together to form a word. This is something that children can find difficult at first and practice at home can help enormously. When looking at pictures in a book, for instance, ask your child if he or she can see the c-a-t or the sh-ee-p (keep to simple short words).

As well as their phonic knowledge, beginner readers need to build up a stock of words that they can recognise by sight. Many frequently occurring words (‘the’, ‘said’, ‘was’) do not obey the “rules” of phonics.

Remember that phonics is not an exact science, it is a means to an end, a tool that when used flexibly should give your child a head start on the long road to becoming a fluent reader.

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Useful Links:
Letters and Sounds
Jolly Phonics
Read Write Inc
Focus on Phonics