Phonics – the low down on helping your child learn to read

Back to school this week and whether your child is in reception, year 1 or further up in primary school, learning to read is always a hot topic. At Ladybird we hear from parents who want to understand how their child is learning to read and so be in a better position to support their child's learning at school, so we asked Ladybird editor Katie to talk us through Phonics.

Phonics – if you find the word, and all it is associated with, quite frankly a little bit frightening, you are not alone. Throw in phonemes, graphemes and, god-forbid, split digraphs, and it’s enough to send some parents into a dizzy spin! Helping your child learn to read is hard enough without bringing difficult concepts into the mix. But, like it or not, Phonics is here to stay.

We here at Ladybird know that helping your child begin their reading journey is a major milestone for any child and parent. So let's see if we can dispel the uncertainty about that first step on the reading ladder – Phonics!

Firstly what exactly is Phonics?

Synthetic phonics is a method of teaching reading. While the English language is one of the most complex languages in the world, Phonics breaks it up into simple, manageable chunks.

There are 44 sounds in the English language, which can be put together to form words. Children are taught how to say these sounds (called phonemes) and to recognize letters that represent each of these sounds (called graphemes). Once your child knows a few sounds, he or she can begin to start ‘blending’ them together to read words. Sometimes a sound might be just one letter, such as t or o, while other sounds are represented by more than one letter, such as ck in sock. Once your child knows these sounds, a word can be broken up (segmented) into these sounds to spell, too.

There are some words, such as the and said, which cannot be sounded out. These are called ‘tricky words’. Children need to learn to recognize these words as whole words, so introducing them early on in their phonics learning means they can be practised as much as possible.

In the past, the teaching of Phonics has been left to teachers and, in some cases, parents have been actively encouraged not to worry about Phonics at home. But times are changing, and with the introduction of the Phonics Screening Check at the end of Year 1, understandably parents want to understand Phonics and become more involved in their child’s learning.

So, how can you grapple with Phonics?

Well, there are a number of books and apps that can help. Ask your child’s teacher what he or she is currently learning at school and encourage your little one to read books at the correct level at home, so that he or she gets lots of practise and gains reading confidence. Ladybird’s I’m Ready For Phonics app is the perfect tool to support your child’s synthetic phonics learning in a comprehensive and user-friendly way. The app is fully aligned to Letters and Sounds – the phonics programme used in most UK schools – and will help prepare your child for the Phonics Screening Check.

Take a closer look at the app in our video.


There are some fun learning activities you can do at home, too. Reading together from books, newspapers, magazines and even road signs when on a car journey are all great ways of making learning to read a shared and enjoyable experience. Sounding out the words together when reading or using fridge magnet letters to blend and segment words are all ideal ways of practising Phonics with your child. Most importantly this will help your child see that learning to read is not a chore, but can be fun. This will ultimately lead to your child reading fluently, spelling accurately and writing creatively!

Phonics may not be the method by which you learnt to read, and there are also a number of other reading methods that can help your child on their reading journey, but your child will almost certainly begin with Phonics. At school, he or she will be taught the phonics skills outlined here, so why not see if you can learn them, too?

To help, here is a glossary of key Phonics terms, and do visit our website for more Phonics information.

Good luck, and happy reading!

The terms below are used widely by teachers in schools when teaching Phonics. Most children will be familiar with these terms and feel comfortable using them.

blend — to draw individual sounds together to read a word, e.g. /s/n/a/p/, reads snap

grapheme — a letter or group of letters representing one sound, e.g. /s/ /o/ /sh/ /ch/ /igh/

high frequency words — the 100 most common words used in the English language

phoneme — the smallest single unit of sound. For example the letters /sh/ represent just one sound, but ‘sp’ represents two sounds (/s/ and /p/)

segment — to split up a word into its individual phonemes for spelling, e.g. the word cat has three phonemes: /c/ /a/ /t/

tricky word — a word in the English language that cannot be phonetically decoded, such as 'the' and 'said'

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