Systematic Synthetic Phonics form a major part of Primary education. Phonics lessons occur daily in most schools, where the emphasis is placed on the children recognising and naming the sounds (phonemes) that form most words. With rigorous training and support, children will eventually learn to decode and read words independently.
With research indicating that learning to read at an early age could affect a child’s outcomes later in life, phonics is undeniably an important part of early education; however you will never see a formal Phonics lesson at Westgate. Instead, we practice phonics in the same way that we approach all aspects of learning: holistically, through exciting, experiences that are relevant to the child’s interests.
Over the years, we have made the conscious decision to eschew formal phonics schemes. There are several reasons for this choice; most notably that our philosophy of early education is that it should put the child at the centre of their learning; not a pre-conceived scheme. Additionally, as we are lucky to work with many local schools, there is no guarantee that the phonics scheme offered at Westgate would match those used in all of the schools. Instead, we have created our own system of activities and experiences that are offered daily, and can be adapted based on the interests and needs of each individual child.
Our approach to phonics looks like:
- Regular story-telling sessions, wherein adults (and sometimes confident children) create or retell their own traditional tale, often supported by props. This develops the children’s listening and attention skills; as well as ensuring they are familiar with story structure and traditional tales.
- Multiple storytime sessions daily, where adults read stories from out library to various sized groups of children. This enables us to introduce and consolidate new vocabulary, as well as providing an experience that is highly motivating to our children (we have a cohort of readers already!). An additional benefit is that the children become used to sitting in larger groups for gradually increasing periods of time, ready for school. For children who choose not to join in with storytime, we also offer audiobook sessions – this multi-media approach ensures that all children are motivated to access stories.
- High quality literature (picture books) is available in the environment at all times, so children are always able to access stories.
- Daily mark-making activities, which are often sensory-based (for example, making marks in flour, mud, sand, or even beans!). These are novel and therefore highly motivating, as well as giving children the opportunity to practice holding writing tools. These activities would usually be accompanied with letter cards/stones/stencils for the children to copy, if they so choose, thus increasing the children’s familiarity with a range of letters.
- Writing opportunities are encouraged where appropriate, but these are always made meaningful to the children – for example, writing adoption certificates in the pet shop, writing day sheets for babies, or writing architectural plans in the construction area!
- We share meaningful and relevant examples of letters in the environment or in activities. For example, we may challenge the children to cut letters from a magazine, and then arrange them to spell their own name. This supports the fine motor development necessary to learn to write through using one-handed tools, while also making the children familiar with an increasing range of print from which they are able to identify letters. Moreover, this activity also teaches children that letters have meaning!
- Place name labels are used when the children join Preschool, to ensure the children are able to identify their name as well as their photos. We also encourage the children to practice writing their names in meaningful contexts, such as writing their name on the back of their artwork.
- As many of our children enjoy spending time outdoors, we often go for listening walks. This is where the children are asked to listen to, discriminate, and identify sounds, which is essential for developing the ability to segment words into phonemes.
- Songs and rhymes are shared throughout the day; these allow the children to ‘tune into’ rhyme and rhythm.
By the time our children transition to school, we aim that every child can confidently meet the criteria of Letters and Sounds Phase One as well as having the ability to read their own name; and listen to a story for 10 minutes. However through our child-centred approach, we ensure that children learn in a way that is meaningful and motivational to them. In this way, we support our children to develop a lifelong love of reading.