Wednesday 15 August 2012

Phonics in the nursery? Practitioner writes


Please go there and read Penny Webb's  blogs. They are brilliant.

"Those who know me well – will know that I volunteered to take part in the pilot inspections for the revised EYFS.

This was like a real inspection – complete with feedback and a report – although both the report and the grade are not ‘for real’ and my current report and grade will stand until my next ‘proper’ inspection – any time really – but most likely after October 2013.

As part of the feedback the inspector mentioned that I did not take the opportunity to introduce early phonics with the children in my care.

I should mention that I had 4 children in my care on inspection day and all 4 were only just 2 years old – or almost 2.

The ‘recommendation for improvement was;

‘ Enhance the opportunities provided within children’s play for them to improve their understanding of letters and sounds to support even better progress in communication, language and literacy’

Now I have enough common sense to know that it is not necessary to sit the children down to repeat letter sounds after me or to buy an expensive ‘phonic’s toolkit’. Nor do I need to get them to colour pictures of images to go with said phonics toolkit, nor do I even have to break down every word I say into its phonically correct components.

And if I didn’t just ‘know’ this – I could refer to the Early Years Foundation Stage – where it says under the PRIME AREAS – that is the areas that I must concentrate on for the under three’s

Communication and Language

Listening and attention: children listen attentively in a range of situations. They listen to stories. accurately anticipating key events and respond to what they hear with relevant comments, questions or actions. They give their attention to what others say and respond appropriately, while engaged in another activity.

Understanding; children follow instructions involving several ideas or actions. They answer ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions about their experiences and in response to stories and events.

Speaking; children express themselves effectively, showing awareness of listeners needs. They use past, present and future forms accuratley when talking about events that have happened or are about to happen in the future. They develop their own narratives and explanations by connecting ideas or events.


That means children who are FIVE not TWO!!!

But hang on – where is the mention of ‘letters and Sounds’ in communication and language?

Is it me or is it not mentioned?

Oh of course silly me – I need to check the guidance document – which of course is just for guidance but even so it seems to be mentioned a lot. Off to check – back soon!

Back – so in communication and language – the Prime Area – there is no mention of letter and sounds or phonics.

So my knowledge appears to be spot on – NO phonics or letters and sounds needed for two year olds  (or indeed any child up to end of EYFS ) in the prime area of communication and language.

I am curious though now – I keep reading in well respected childcare magazines and from well known experts about the government ‘forcing’ young children to undertake phonics  ’instruction’ and to follow the letters and sounds pack .

Off to check the specific area of ‘Literacy’ – back soon!

Ah – I have found it! The mention of phonics / letters and sounds

It is in the guidance for those children aged 40 – 60+ months but interestingly NOT for those children aged up to 50 months

So unless my understanding of written English is ‘not secure’ the governments own documents both the statutory framework EYFS 2012 AND the supporting guidance document DO NOT say we must teach the children phonics – they DO NOT say we must introduce letters and sounds at 2 or 3 or even 4 years of age.

It says that by offering opportunities and experiences such as those mentioned in the guidance document – that somewhere between 40 and 60+ months of age the children will be able to confidently use the skills they have achieved through play, through speaking and listening, through stories and rhymes – to decode words and start the process of reading and writing.

It even suggests  by not including the statements about phonics or letters and sounds in the 30 – 50 m age group – that we SHOULD NOT be introducing these aspects until a child is over 50 m (so 4yrs and 2m as a minimum age) unless of course the child shows an interest and WANTS to find out more about the make up of words.

I will go further and say that – in my opinion –  any child not in full time school – should NOT be introduced to phonics or letters and sounds unless the child wants to.

Once in full time school – they will have a full school year to become familiar with phonics and letters and sounds before the end of early years foundation stage profile is completed.

The Early Learning Goals are for children aged 5 – lets not forget that – and although I still think that for some children 5 is too young to have mastered these skills – and that there is A LOT MORE to reading, writing and understanding the written word than just phonics – PLEASE  follow the governments statutory requirements and guidance documents (and your professional judgement about when a child is ready to start the road to discovery of the delights of the written word, rather than the hype giving in training, in books and in childcare publications and websites.

There is a lovely sentence on the bottom of every page of the guidance document which enforces one of the overarching principles in the statutory Framework. It says;

Children develop at their own rates, and in their own ways. The development statements and their order should not be taken as necessary steps for individual children. They should not be used as checklists. The age / stage bands overlap because these are not fixed age boundaries but suggest a typical range of development.

Finally – some may regard my opinions as uninformed or as just personal opinion – however my ‘credentials are based on over 34 years of childcare – both with my own children, my grandchildren and the many (well over 150) children that I have had the pleasure of caring for – plus knowledge gained over involvement in many aspects of early years including that of trainer,  adviser and assessor.

Just using my own children as my evidence

Daughter One – Was not taught using phonics – she was taught via the ‘Peter and Jane’ books. She was an avid reader by age of 6 and was described by teachers as having an extensive vocabulary and an excellent understanding of what she was reading. However she was not interested in academic studying.  Being an excellent reader did not lead to a university education.

Daughter Two – Taught herself to read at age of 3 (by joining in with reading time with her sister who was two years older). So also learnt through Peter and Jane. She was also an avid reader and got through mountains of books. By age 8 she had read all the books in school reading scheme and a lot of library books. She went to university.

Daughter Three – Learnt through having a good memory – and sight reading. The school used the Oxford Tree scheme with Biff and Chip but she was not that interested in reading the books. She is also an avid reader – but not bothered about school in general and dropped out in sixth form. So being a excellent reader did not help her achieve academic success.

Daughter Four – Struggled could not really read beyond first stage books until 8 or 9  despite the use of phonics. However she had a dream – she wanted to go to university to become a teacher. She continued to struggle but despite this she got into university and was tested there for dyslexia – and found to have a reading age of 14. So not being able to read at an early age did not prevent her from achieving her dream.

Each daughter was treated as an individual, each was encouraged and supported – but the age at which they were able to read and their success and enjoyment of reading – did not indicate their future academic success.

Oh and myself?

Janet and John reading scheme for me – no phonics at all – I was taught with the C A T method – but I still learnt to read.

So in conclusion  in my opinion – Phonics do have a place but are not essential. Early reading does not provide an indicator to academic success and neither does late mastering of reading indicate low academic achievement.

Those of you who have excellent reading and writing skills will have noticed that I don’t. Spelling terrible (even with spell check) grammer ?- well enough said. My guess is that I also am dyslexic – but never been tested. I do find writing a challenge because I am aware of my difficulties – BUT that does not stop me from running a successful business or from expressing opinion on this blog or indeed anything else.

I would love to read your comments on this – am I alone or do others agree with me?"

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