What is Phonics? Your questions answered.

graphemes and split digraphs are like a different language for most people. So, if you’re struggling with understanding anything related to phonics, don’t panic, you are not alone! At Ladybird we understand that the
whole subject of phonics is tricky to get your head around, but we hope that by answering some of your phonics related questions, it
will all finally make sense.

What’s the difference between phonemes
and graphemes?
Sarah, mum of Sammy (4)

Phonemes are the 44 sounds in the English language and graphemes
are the letter or groups of letters which represent a phoneme. So for the sound
‘sss’, at the start of ‘sun’ the phoneme is the sound ‘sss’ and the grapheme is ‘s’.  Take a look at our phonics
sound chart
to see (and hear) more phonemes and graphemes.

What is Synthetic

Synthetic phonics is the most common method in UK schools
for teaching children how to read. Phonics involves making the connection between
the 44 sounds (phonemes) of spoken English with letters or groups of letters
(graphemes). Through synthetic phonics children are taught that these sounds
can be blended together to form words and this gives children the skills to identify
these sounds and start to blend them to make words and segment them to learn
spelling. For example, children blend /c/a/t/ to make the word cat, and
/sh/o/p/ to make the word shop.

You can read more about synthetic phonics in our Starting
School and Learning to Read guide
over on Issuu.

Milestones guide

I’ve heard talk of tricky words, but
what are they and how many are there?

‘Tricky words’ are the words that can’t be sounded out or
decoded phonetically. So words like said and
the. Children are taught about these
words early on, so that they can learn to recognise these words as whole words. 

How can I help my daughter understand
phonics without complicating things further or disrupting how she’s being taught
at school?
Gemma, mum of Chloe (5)

Below are a
few ways you can help your child learn using phonics, but it’s also a good idea
to talk to your child’s teacher.  For more information on the ideas below read our Learning to Read guide.

Say the
phonemes correctly

listen to our phonics sound chart to ensure you’re pronouncing everything

phonemes and graphemes
– you can do this when sharing a book at home, when learning how to spell your
child’s name and when playing with fridge magnets!

learning fun

through games like I Spy and matching words to pictures your child can enjoy

Practice – Encourage your child to use their
phonics knowledge as much as possible.

Use apps
and books
– Ideal for
supporting your child’s phonics learning, books and apps can really help. Try the I’m
Ready for Phonics range of books
or our I’m Ready for Phonics app which has 12 levels of interactive fun. You can read more about one parent’s experience with
the app here
I'm Ready for Phonics

Why are my children learning phonics
at school? I was never taught using phonics, so why are they?
Jon, dad to Owen (6) and Martha (4)

phonics is considered an important tool for teaching early reading skills as it’s
agreed that breaking down the language into pieces often helps struggling
readers. In the UK all children are now given the Phonics Screening test at the
end of Year 1 to assess their ability to decode a series of real and nonsense
words using their phonics knowledge, so it is important that your child understands
phonics and how to decode each word.

There’s a lot more information on learning to read over on the Age and Stage pages at  Ladybird.com, but if you have any additional questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us on Facebook, Twitter or via email.

I'm Ready for Phonics


We’ve got one set of two I’m Ready for Phonics books and the I’m Ready for Phonics app (for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad) up for grabs. To enter simply leave a comment below about your child’s phonics
experience and we will select a winner.

Leave your comment by midnight Sunday 1st September 2013. Winners will
be selected at random and notified by 5th September 2013.

UPDATE 3rd September 2013. Thank you to everyone who has left a comment, it’s great to hear that our phonics post has been helpful. The winner has now been selected and notified.

38 thoughts on “What is Phonics? Your questions answered.

  1. Lynn Doe says:

    My daughter loved using phonics to herp her with reading. Her school even had a phonics concert getting the children to show the parents how they learn.

  2. Hi Christine. Most children begin phonics learning when they start Reception class (aged 4/5) and you can support their learning at home – speak to your child’s teacher or visit the age and stage sections of Ladybird.com.

  3. I’m really confused about phonics, because my daughter is being taught letter names (A, B, C) at the same time as phonics. I’m not sure whether I should be encouraging her to say A or a (if you see what I mean).

  4. Rebecca Mullan says:

    We are very new to phonics my twins are starting school and the ladybird info has been fantastic. Hopefully it will help me to support them! Would love the app!

  5. Helen Tobin-Perry says:

    My daughter’s been using phonics in her reception year at school and i have been amazed at the progress that she has made! She has been growing more confident at approaching new and unfamiliar words to try to read and understand what she is looking at. I’ve been so impressed with phonics i can’t wait to teach my son them soon too. Will the app eventually become available to androids?

  6. Amy says:

    Really great article, I have a 3 year old who is about to start pre-school and already on his time table is phonics. It seems education has really moved on so it was really helpful to read the article above for a basic understanding of phonics. Looking forward to learning more about them so I can help my son as he starts school and in the next few years.

  7. Marie Lockyer says:

    As a Literacy Consultant, I trust that this Ladybird information is available to all parents of children approaching school age.

  8. Holly says:

    We’ve started phonics at home and daughter picked it up really well. Just hoping that when she starts nursery this term they use the same type and I haven’t confused her!

  9. Marie says:

    I am trying to use phonics books with my 3 year old, her baby sister is sitting listening too. I’m finding it a little tricky myself having to go back to basics, but it’ll be worth it in the end! Thanks for helping us through the blog.

  10. Laura says:

    I am an EFL teacher from Spain…and I am also a mum! I have been working with phonics with my daughters to teach them English. They are 5 and 2. The results are so good that I have decided to use this method at school too. We use a similar system to teach Spanish. Then, why do not using it in English too? I hope this will improve my students reading and writing skills.

  11. Rachel M says:

    My elder daughter has just finished reception and has been taught phonics in this way. She’s coming on really well, but I’d love a bit more information at home so I could help my younger daughter who is 3 as she gets ready for school.

  12. jenna keller says:

    my little boy has just started using phonics so very new to this, so i think a book or an app would be a massive benefit to him and help him progress correctly. So far he is doing very well and i would love for him to be confident with his phonics before starting school next september.

  13. Tricia Clark says:

    Extremely helpful blog – and I managed to pick up the copy of ‘your guide to starting school and reading’ too, again very useful. My daughter starts Year R next week (!) and we’ve been reading lots, but I’ve found trying to recognise letters from her name, her brother’s name etc in words on the page has been helpful too. I’ve also liked and shared the facebook post re this blog to all my Mummy friends with children starting school soon – hopefully that will help them too.
    (If I’m lucky enough to win could I request the book version as I do not have an iPad etc. Thank you.)
    I too am interested to know if this will become avaiable for android phones soon?

  14. Sandra wilkinson says:

    I’ve got this app on my iPad – it’s fantastic but we need all the help we can get. I’m actually struggling with phonics! It’s completely different to how I learned to read

  15. Louise Bailey says:

    Our school went from one sort of Phonics to Read, write Inc and because my son had already done a year of one sort he’s found it incredibly hard to get to grips with Read, Write Inc.. your blog has been really helpful – one worried mum!

  16. Holly Detre says:

    This set looks brilliant.
    My son finished his reception year, and will be returning in year 1 on Wednesday! However, he still struggles with a few phonic sounds; such as n, u, and y, as well as blending sounds.
    I am not worried though, I just try to keep learning fun, and know he will get there when he is ready.

  17. Laura Howard says:

    My 3 year old daughter has started to use phonics…she is doing well and loves it! She seems to have picked little bits up from nursery and my husband and i do little activities with her at home. We read to her regularly and she now recognises some letters and sounds. I think her school uses Jolly Phonics in reception but i know there are many other ways to teach this. Im really looking forward to my daughter learning more about phonics in the future…i love seeing her learn and make progress 🙂 L.Howard

  18. Sam says:

    My 3 year old son is familiarising himself with the phonic sounds and is beginning to sound out simple words such as c-a-t. b-a-t. etc. I feel so proud of him and the positive start he has made in learning to read. It would be great to win this prize which would make his learning phonics journey a little easier.

  19. Mrs e long says:

    My daughter isn’t ready for phonics yet but they confuse me so much that I want a head start to be able to teach her correctly, build her confidence and give her the best start.

  20. Mia T says:

    My 4 year old daughter started learning phonics in her nursery class and bringing home a word tub after the Easter half term. She has loved everything about it, from the songs she has learnt, to recognising words on her own and telling me the letter words begin with.

  21. claire says:

    would love these for my daughter, she has just started school and phonics are being introduced, she would have so much fun learning at home, alongside whats being taught in school! our fingers + toes are crossed!!

  22. Kate Wedge says:

    i don’t know what the phonics way is offically, i know that letters of the alphabet are said differently in the first school years and then they change, i have already begun telling my child how to say the letters sounding them out (like they do in early school years)

  23. Jessica Newell says:

    My daughter is just starting reception and has already got to grips with some of the phonics but this would be a great way to help with the rest

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