Five is too young for phonics

13th January 2006 at 00:00
As a chair of governors at a primary school and a volunteer who listens to children read, I am not against phonics teaching but against its use as the only method for infants learning to read.

The only way to encourage children's love of books is to allow interaction with books from an early age. This should include books with pictures and few words or no words at all as well as books where the parentcarer reads to the child. Exploring how pictures help a story to unfold is a key part of progress to being a successful reader.

Phonics fails for many words because of the idiosyncrasies of the English language. As far as I am aware no single method of teaching addresses these words in satisfactorily. For different children different methods may be appropriate.

My second major concern is that children, especially those who lack parental support, need to use directed play as long as possible. Recent government policy has supported this approach in the foundation stage.

Drilling phonics into children in the foundation stage is inconsistent with this child-centred approach except for those children who wish to read early.

The recent report covering the teaching of reading suggests that phonics training should begin by the age of five, as part of the foundation stage.

There is ample evidence from Europe to support the delay in formal education as long as possible: phonics should be delayed until at least Year 1 except perhaps for the brightest.

Earlier attempts to read fail because the child's mind is not ready and has not yet identified the need to read, except in a few cases of gifted children.

Alan Bowles 36 Shanklin Drive Leicester

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