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The phonics approach teaches children to decode words by sounds, rather than recognising whole words. It starts with: ‘synthetic phonics’, where words are broken up into the smallest units of sound (phonemes)

What is phonics?

Children are taught ‘graphemes’ (basically the sets of letters) that represent these sounds (phonemes). These are then combined to create words.

Confused? Perhaps an example with help: At its most basic, children are taught to read the letters in a word like c-a-t, and then merge them to pronounce the word cat.

Children are systematically taught around 40 phonic sounds and the combination of letters used to represent each sound. Most sounds, however, have more than one way to spell them. For example, “e” in “egg” can also be spelt “ea” as in “head” or “ai” as in “said”.

Phonics is not new. It began to be used after 1850, It has often been combined with other strategies, including using the context of a story or the syntax to help predict the next word. The idea is that a child knows how language works implicitly. The idea is that once a child has the skills to decode, they can then go on to think about meaning.  Education experts agree that one of the key factors for children is the status of reading at home. Research has shown that where children are born into a family where reading and talking about books is part of their world, the culture of reading helps to produce better readers.

Why Phonics is important

“The basic pleasure in the phonetic elements of a language and in the style of their patterns, and then in a higher dimension, pleasure in the association of these word-forms with meanings, is of fundamental importance. This pleasure is quite distinct from the practical knowledge of a language, and not the same as an analytic understanding of its structure. It is simpler, deeper-rooted, and more immediate”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays

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