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5 ways to support reading and phonics at home with your primary or early years learner

There are several simple and practical activities to motivate your child's early literacy learning without it feeling like 'extra' work. Here are 5 activities that work for both parents and teachers alike. These multi-sensory phonics activities make learning sounds and reading fun for children and will work for early years or primary school learners. As all children learn differently, you can adapt these to fit your own child's learning, ability, and interests. Try them out and adjust to fit.

1. Make Easy Salt Dough Letters!

This is not only fun but something your child will love to help cook. Home-made salt dough is cheap and easy to make. It is soft and not sticky and it keeps for up to three months in air-tight containers. Here's a quick and easy recipe:

Salt Dough recipe

  • 2 cups of flour

  • 4 tsp cream of tartar

  • 2 tbsp vegetable or coconut oil

  • airtight bags or container

  • 3/4 cup of salt

  • 2 cups of lukewarm water

  • food colouring

If you are only using one colour, add the colour. Cook all the ingredients over medium heat until they thicken to form a soft ball. Leave it to cool and knead until smooth.

Store in an airtight bag or container. If you are using multiple colours, make the dough without any colour. Cook as above. Leave to cool and knead each separate ball inside a plastic bag with a few drops of each colour to avoid staining hands and clothes. Use the salt dough to make letters or words with your child. They can also use the dough as a base for printing wooden letters or magnetic letters, or write on it using playdough tools, chopsticks etc.

2. Go on a Sound Hunt

This is another simple activity. Go on a sound hunt with your child. This is especially engaging in the woods as you can use the wildlife around you. Whatever you are doing with your child, point something out (like a bird) and ask them what it is. After your child tells you, you can then follow by asking, "does bird begin with k?" Vary the choice so sometimes you give the correct sound and sometimes you don't.

So, "does bird begin with b?" or "does cat begin with g?"

For another level of difficulty, ask "does dog have a in the middle?"

For another level of challenge, ask about the end letter, "so does bird end with p?"

For variety, ask your child to think one up and ask you the question.

3. Stick in the Sand!

Most children love this activity as it involves two favourites-sticks and sand! Whether you are at the beach or in a sand pit in your local park or back garden, you can get your child to write sounds using a stick. Your child can also write letters in the mud if sand is not available or you can put shaving foam in a tray and write letters in the foam.

For variations indoors, fill a tray with semolina, rice, lentils, etc. and take different objects to write with

(paintbrush,chopsticks, etc.) and write letters in the materials on the tray.

Remember to ask your child to write the sound k, not the letter "kay". To combine both, use the pattern "its name is kay and it sounds like k".

4. Play I Spy

Play the I-spy game with your child, saying "I spy with my little eye something beginning with b..." and say the sound, not the name of the letter.

To add a level of difficulty, the thing does not have to be visible.

Say, "I am going to describe something, and you have to guess what it begins with." Imagine it's a bath, and you will begin, "It's in the house...".

Decide if you want to limit the questions your child can ask to three. Add middle and end sounds to increase the difficulty.

Take turns for variety.

Choose a theme (such as animals) to practice topic-specific vocabulary.

Spell out the word for another level of difficulty: "I spy with my little eye something you spell like this t-a-b-l-e", saying the names of the letters.

5. Eat That Sound!

Sweat or savoury sound treats are great for enhancing your child's learning of phonics.

Start by asking your child what kind of treats they would like to make. You can have an assortment of fruits, like apples, bananas, oranges, berries, and some veggies like carrots, peppers, (whatever your child loves!). Your child can decorate the crackers with cream cheese and then stick on tiny slices of the fruit or veggies.

Then take turns eating a treat by saying the sound that it makes "I'm going to eat the treat beginning with b for banana". You could say, "Can you eat the treat with the s sound?" After your child finds it, then ask, "What did you eat?"

Another idea is to get some tubes of ready-to-pipe icing. Or you can use a small plastic bag, fill it with cream cheese and snip off a tiny corner to make a piping bag. Then pipe letters onto biscuits or crackers. Plan it out carefully, talking about the sounds you want to pipe, so you can focus on the sounds. Once the piping is complete, talk about who will eat what sound.

For an added level of difficulty, put them in alphabetical order, or make 3-letter words with the biscuits or crackers. Make sure you have piped a mix of vowels and consonants if you do this.

And finally, remember phonics play and learning should be fun. The more flexible you are, the more your child will enjoy it!

Please post your questions or comments below and I will get back to you!


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