Becoming a person of letters cannot start too early

31st October 1997 at 00:00
Sue Palmer writes: "If the Office for Standards in Education is suggesting that we should start formal phonics training at the tender age of four - without heeding the views of early-years professionals and recent research into literacy skills development, it could do many children more harm than good". I disagree.

Phonics training can never start too early. From the outset children see lower-case and capital letters in the environment. These letters are, and should be, identified by name for example, BBC, BT, CA and so on. By naming letters, parents, siblings and nursery nurses are introducing children to the skill of spelling. With further exposure to individual letters and to letter combinations in the many words that they see, children can be taught to determine which of the 44 phonemes (speech sounds) the various spelling choices (graphemes) represent, for example, that ar in the words "car park" represents the vowel phoneme "ar", as in the start of "arm" and the middle of "farm".

Second, Maggie Snowling, cited in the article, assumes that awareness of phonemes comes after the capacity to distinguish onsets and rimes (initial consonant phonemes and the vowel with any following consonant phonemes, respectively). If she were to consider that young children do not only hear phonemes but also see them in words, represented as graphemes, then she might realise that spelling skills and reading skills interact, from the very beginning of the literacy process, to change the "abstract" phoneme to a concrete unit of sound that children can readily be taught to isolate in onsets, rimes, syllables and words.

ALAN DAVIES 11A Kilmorey Park, Chester

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