Sound advice

Q I've heard a lot about synthetic phonics. What are they and how would I know if my son is being taught synthetic phonics at school?

A There's been a lot of discussion in the press about synthetic phonics. The approach is not new - it emphasises sounding out and blending routines for teaching reading. Examples are: s-i-t = sit; s+l = sl then sl+i+p = slip.

Synthetic phonics are often contrasted to analytic phonics, an approach that helps children to break words into parts and to see the links between words with similar patterns, such as r-ing, s-ing, w-ing.

In my view this shouldn't be an eitheror question. Children need many approaches in order to develop their phonic knowledge.

Soundletter relationships or phonics are not straightforward in English.

Think about the letter 'a' and the different ways it sounds in call, care, father and at. For this reason, many educators think that helping children to enjoy and identify rhymes is a very important part of teaching reading early on; for example, recognise that fall, ball and call work in a similar way, as do care, share and dare.

Most schools in the UK teach all aspects of phonics as part of the National Literacy Strategy and a bank of new materials, Playing with Sounds, ( has been issued to help teachers with early phonics teaching.

Meanwhile, there are fun things you can do with your son to help him develop his knowledge of soundletter relationships. If you have a computer connected to the internet there are many enjoyable interactive phonics games - you could start with the BBC Words and Pictures website (

Please remember that phonics is a means to an end. Reading well-loved, rhyming and patterned books over and over will help your son notice the ways that letters, groups of letters and their sounds behave in context.

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