Children as young as six months may say their first word. By one and a half to two they start talking more, and by three, their vocabulary suddenly sky-rockets. Amazing? Spectacular? Marvellous? — none of these words begin to touch upon how full of wonder and discovery that journey is; and how thrilling it is to watch. But often this excitement with language, expression and communication suddenly falls flat when those same children go to school. Why?
When you are a baby, every sound you make is met with excitement. And then you join school, and most of the time you are just reproducing letters that no one is excited about. Where did all the love for your language learning go? When did that thrilling ride crash into such a bore?
Phonics is about learning letters and their sounds.
Every word we say is made up of sounds and each of these sounds can be drawn on the page as a letter. Some sounds we make are gentle and soothing, like the /m/ in mama and amma and the /b/ in baba and abba, or /p/ in papa and appa. These are often among the first sounds babies make. Other sounds we make come from the back of our tongues, near our throats, like the ‘hahaha’ that comes out when we laugh. And then there are sounds that we make by rolling our tongues so they touch the roof of our mouth, like /r/. The hardest sounds for little kids to make, /r/ is in scary words, frightened, afraid; r is in angry words and exclamations grrrrrrrrr! /r/ makes us loud and scary!
The way we use our mouths to make sounds is so much fun for us to learn. Our mouths are like a theatre — we can make our emotions boom and thunder or come out gently and as soft as ever. So let your preschool kids sound out soft and sound out free, all the sounds they can conceive.
When we learn the English alphabet, it is important that we connect
1) Letters and how they are written [the letter R r, for example] to
2) their sounds [/r/] to
3) Interesting , meaningful words that have this sound [rabbit] to
4) Fun, rich contexts that give these letters and words an exciting meaning for children
These are the 4 pillars of any strong phonics program. Does your school’s phonics program cover this?