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How to help your child learn to read

If your child has recently started school, you might be wondering how you can help them learn to read at home, or perhaps you are interested in knowing a bit more about what they are learning at school. Most parents of young children were taught to read using a different strategy to the one used today, which is why it can be hard to know what to do for the best. This guide provides some information and advice from a qualified teacher about the current reading strategy in schools.

The way children are taught to read these days is called phonics (or more recently, Letters and Sounds). There are some other useful words you might want to know like phoneme (the sound of each letter) and grapheme (what each letter looks like). Phonemes (sounds) and graphemes (how it looks) are now taught in a special order, this is because education specialists have worked out that this is the best way to help children learn to read. The phonemes-graphemes are also split into groups called phases. This is to help teachers assess where children are with their phonics.

What differs now from when most of us were children, is the very short sounds that letters make. You may remember being taught “t” as a “ter” sound, now it has a very short and snappy t .11 — if you whisper it, it’s easier to make the sound. The two you may find particularly tricky to pronounce are I and n. With the “I” sound, pronounce as you would at the end of “Hull” more of an “ul” sound. With      don’t be tempted to say “ner”, it’s very much a “n” on its own, like in “Euan”. Another tricky one is         not “red’ as you might think, but more of a growling “rrr” sound. When you say a letter, think how it actually sounds in a word, for example “f” might come out as “fed’ but in a word has a very short “f” sound, like in “fluff”, if you think that “f” is said “fed’ then this word would become “ferluffer”

For quite a lot of letters, there is the temptation to put an “ed’ on the end, t being a few examples. It’s really important though that you keep the sounds really short, because if you think about it, when children are blending (which means putting the sounds together to make words), it won’t work if all the letters end with an “ed’ sound. Think of “cat”, with the way I was taught it when I was a child it would make sense to pronounce it “ceratter”, whereas with the short whispered sounds it’s far easier to blend the letters

The vowel sounds (a, e, i, u and o) can be taught as you normally say them (a as in apple, e as in elephant, i as in igloo, u as in under, o as in orange), however there are some exceptions (e.g. child) but these will be addressed in school later on. There is also a list of tricky words that do not follow the normal pronunciation of other words.