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Say ch-ee-se, we're going to learn toy talk

Say c-oa-t or ch-ee-se and you're probably on a phonics programme for pre-school children.

The Government's official guidance on phonics for 3 and 4-year-olds is to be sent to all day nurseries and childminders next month.

Activities suggested include "toy talk", in which teachers pretend that puppets are sounding out words, then ask children to copy them. But not everyone is happy with the guidance. Some teachers feel that children are being pressured to start reading at too early an age.

Margaret Edgington, chair of the Open EYE (early years education) campaign, which is urging a review of the curriculum, said: "Why do children this age need to do that? I don't say I'm going to put on my c-oa-t. It's not normal.

"For some children, listening to adults talking in this silly way will just turn them off."

By age 5, children are expected to be able to blend the sounds in words, use phonic knowledge to read simple words and attempt to read more complex words.

Since September, all schools have been legally required to use synthetic phonics, which involves teaching children how sounds and letters are linked.

Schools can choose to use a commercial programme, but thousands are believed to be using Letters and Sounds, the government guidance that was sent free to all schools.

Nicky Byrne, a teacher in Devon, has created lesson plans based on the guidance. They have been downloaded more than 6,200 times from The TES resource bank.

Now the first phase of the six-part programme is to be published as a stand-alone document.

Sue Ellis, senior director of the early years foundation stage, said: "We previewed the materials with 15 local authorities before they were launched and the message that came back consistently was that they loved phase one. It gives the early-years sector a real focus around speaking and listening."

Samuel King, managing director of SparkleBox, which creates online resources for teachers, said: "We sell a CD-Rom that contains all our Letters and Sounds products. It was launched last July and we've sold 5,000 copies."


The first phase of Letters and Sounds begins by helping children develop their listening skills and moves on to linking sounds and letters. Try the following:

- Give each child a drumstick, so they can discover how different sounds are produced by tapping or stroking a wooden door, a wire fence or a metal slide.

- Sit the children in a circle and play a game in which one child starts a rhythm on a percussion instrument and each child must then copy the pattern of sounds.

- Include rhyming books, such as The Gingerbread Man, as part of the daily book-sharing session. Read these books with plenty of intonation and expression.

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