Reading with Little Ones – Part Three

September 12, 2008 by  
Filed under Reading and Phonics





Reading Games Teach Fun Phonics by Robyn

I am back with more information regarding early reading.

My second article dealt with the alphabet and how to teach its sounds. In this one I shall show you the importance of games to stimulate interest and empower the learning process.

Never stereotype children, babies included. They are as different as snowflakes. They can have an awareness belying their tender years, a great boldness, build an instant rapport with strangers, fit instantly into their new world, and hug for the Olympics. They can understand the power of their demands and consign the notion of gradual development to the bin. Or, they can be the antithesis of all these remaining squarely within varying shades of each and every one.

But whilst each child is his or her own little person, there are at least two issues where all children become stereotypical. They all love games and they all hate being force fed anything. Sit a child down and teach him and he will resist learning possibly forever. Play learning games with him and he will embrace learning, possibly forever.

The continuous development of his learning skills will depend on your influence, your approach.

You have printed the letters of the alphabet one letter at a time, on postcards in red felt pen. When your child has mastered say the ‘a’ ‘b’ ‘c’ on his bedroom walls and the ‘d’ ‘e’ ‘f’ on the door of the fridge, swap them around. You can place them in surprising places, one on a gumboot then ask “What on earth is this cheeky ‘a’ doing on your gumboot Simeon?” The tray of the high-chair, a place-mat, pinned to a curtain, in the sock drawer, the back of a chair, on a door, are all admirable spots. In fact any strategic and unexpected place where a young reader can see, identify and have a good, indignant laugh at these cheeky sounds that move around so much. Particularly important is that you move them around and introduce new sounds for a continuous development and complete familiarisation. All the new readers I have ever taught, from tinies to older people who were learning to read for the first time in their lives, have all loved identifying sounds in shops, especially those banner headlines advertising specials and sales.

Bear in mind there are only twenty-six letters in the alphabet and children are sponges in the learning game.

In a role reversal, let your child test you. Stumble, get a few wrong, allow yourself to be corrected, children love it. One parent actually resisted this saying she would not lie to her child. Remember it is a game, many games require bluffing, the difference with this game is that it has future issues of overwhelming importance to your child.

A game children enjoy is to place the cards they know on the floor in a spaced line. They become stepping stones in a river. Go carefully along, stepping on each stone and not falling into the water.

Or your line of cards can become a Formula One track, if you miss a letter you hit a hay bale, if you complete the circuit, the laurel crown (a winter hat) awaits.

The cards can be stuck to a door which then becomes a beautiful apple tree. Holding a small basket or bag, your child picks every ‘apple’ she reads correctly.

Fairies and elves, a game where the child hides under a table (mushroom) and answers each card in a fairy or elf voice. Giants hide behind a rock (chair) , robots stride along the carpet and all answer in the appropriate voice. You and your child can probably think of many more characters to assume. These games are fun, fast and enable your child to learn brilliantly. Later they can be adapted to the synthetic phonic sounds, they cost nothing and all children love them.

Just keep your child laughing and you will keep him learning.

My next article will deal with the importance of reading every single day.

Robyn Dalby-Stockwell is a teacher, writer, broadcaster, reading consultant and Director of Alonah Reading Cambridge the only source of her four book reading course, giving reading support to parents and their children.

Reading for Little Ones – Part Two

September 11, 2008 by  
Filed under Reading and Phonics





Fast Phonics and Where to Begin by Robyn

Previously I discussed the WHY of teaching children from babies onward to read. Now I shall discuss the HOW of achieving this in the easiest, fastest and most successful way possible.

You now view teaching your child from a different perspective and are ready to take those first positive steps forward. The integrity of your commitment is important, don’t be spasmodic, do be regular, confident and completely relaxed. Where to begin? With the alphabet of course. Why the alphabet? Since it was rubbished for so many years, why resurrect it? Because the alphabet will always be the fundamental basis of all reading in English, from those twenty-six letters, every single word in our language is formed. From ‘at’ to ‘deoxyribonucleic acid’, from ‘but’ to ‘uncharacteristically’, every word is simply bits of the alphabet strung together. It makes sense to learn it and to learn it in the way which will lead quickly to lifelong successful reading.

For babies and pre-schoolers,draw the letters one at a time, in red felt pen, each on a white post-card. Put a couple on the walls of the child’s bedroom to begin with and perhaps one or two in the kitchen or living room. Then be matter-of-fact about their introduction.
“This is ‘a’, ‘a’ is for ant,” “I see ‘d’ for dog is over here.” For very small children you can greet the letters, “Hello ‘a’, good morning ‘b’.”

For older, school age children and for home-schooling, just work through the alphabet progressing as fast as your child is able to go.

Keeping the sounds in their simple phonic form, work through the alphabet, introducing a couple of new sounds once the earlier ones have become old friends and always checking back. Let your child check you, stumble along the way and allow yourself to be corrected.

Importantly, NO aye, bee, cee, dee, ee, eff, gee, aitch and so forth for the following reason. Using the phonic alphabet a child will sound out c..a..t. Using the aye, bee, cee version it would be sounded cee..aye..tee, great for spelling later, useless for learning to read.

Beware of shop bought alphabet charts, they regularly feature ‘i’ for ice-cream and
‘t’ for tube these have long vowels and come later. ‘w’ for whale and ‘b’ for boy, these are phonic sounds also to be learnt later on. ‘y’ for yacht, regularly appears and this has silent letters which come along very much later in the phonic list.

Draw your own chart, you will need an A1 sheet of white paper, a black felt pen for the grid lines and a red one for the sounds. Here is my own carefully worked out alphabet, the beauty of which is that once a child has mastered all the sounds he will be able to read across every word.

‘a’ for ant, (a cute little ant in a dress perhaps), ‘b’ for bed, ‘c’ for cat, ‘d’ for dog,
‘e’ for elf, ‘f’ for frog, ‘g’ for gift, ‘h’ for hat, ‘i’ for ink, ‘j’ for jug, ‘k’ for kid,
‘l’ for log, ‘m’ for mum, ‘n’ for nest, ‘o’ for ox, ‘p’ for pig, ‘qu’ for quilt (since these two always appear in tandem in our language, teach them as one. ‘r’ for red,
‘s’ for sad, ‘t’ for top, ‘u’ for up, ‘v’ for van, ‘w’ for wagon, ‘x’ ‘kiss’ as in fox, (this is the only way to teach this letter. ‘x’ for xylophone has a ‘zzz’ sound and ‘x’ for x-ray, has an ‘eggs’ sound.) ‘y’ as in yak and ‘z’ as in zebra. Write the sound in red, the word in black and then paste or draw appropriate pictures in each square.

Teaching a child this way will not destroy the quality of your relationship with him. To tell him, “This is ‘a’,” is no different from telling him, “This is an orange or that is a telephone.”
These days a child’s social calendar grows exponentially. By the time he is at school there are parties and sleepovers, school outings, clubs and all manner of engagements taking place. You can relieve a little of the trauma of school by setting the scene for reading, even if the alphabet is as far as you ever go.

My third article will show you simple games I have used for years and which will make learning easy and fun.

Robyn Dalby-Stockwell is a teacher, writer, broadcaster, reading consultant and Director of Alonah Reading Cambridge the only source of her four book reading course, giving reading support for parents and their children.

Reading with Little Ones – Part One

September 10, 2008 by  
Filed under Reading and Phonics

This is the first of a series of articles by Robyn Dalby Stockwell.




Top Reading Tips for Small People by Robyn

Shock, horror, you wouldn’t dream of teaching a tiny baby! And yet you do. Every waking moment. You teach him to recognise everything in his nursery, home and, as his world widens , his environment. As this powerful bonding between you and your baby grows, so does his knowledge. As you teach, he learns.

“But,” you argue, “That’s not teaching. That’s just being with my baby.”

Be assured, it is teaching. It is as valid as the teaching in any Nursery, Playgroup or Pre-School. You are your child’s first and finest teacher. You know him better than any teacher ever will and, importantly, he is having one to one tutoring in the safest place on earth.

Now, accepting that you do teach your baby, why do you think it’s wrong to teach him or her that ‘this a picture is an a’ but proactive to say ‘this picture is a puppy.’ Why is a colourful kite good but a colourful k bad?

Babies are spontaneous learners and this period of brilliant potential is constantly undervalued and lost.


For forty years I have witnessed the crippling damage wrought by ‘Look and Guess’ reading methods. For forty years I have gathered one damaged child after another. All were emotionally scarred from having been expected to commit to memory every word in every book they read. New words could only be guessed at. Their reading aloud was hesitant and meaningless, while silent reading was like trying to decipher a foreign language. By age 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and onward they constantly bombed out at comprehension of any text, no matter how simple. These children had no effective catalyst to turn a hotch-potch of letters and words into meaningful information.

Ridiculed daily by peer groups – and might I say frequently by teachers – they are marked as remedial. At best they drift into dead end jobs, forever intimidated and fearing rejection. At worst, though never overcoming their inhibitions, they develop a truculent resilience to authority and end up before the Courts. These were not dumb, stupid or slow children, they were all bright but those vital early years were never harnessed – they were never taught to read and so never developed the skills of thinking, comprehension or critical analysis. Every ‘slow’ child I have rescued has turned out to be a very bright child who had been living in a totally incomprehensible world.


In spite of the fact that our children in the UK start school earlier than in any other country in Europe and are tested ad nauseam a huge percentage cannot read or can read only haltingly. Whilst denying the blatant evidence that standards have been dumbed down, our Government has, at last, recognized the cause of the UK’s literacy problems and has recommended the teaching of phonics. Sadly it is a watered down middle-of-the-road system called ‘analytic phonics’ where phonic sounds are learned but the same old damaging guesswork texts are still used.

Still, as a specialist in phonics I applaud the fact that children are at least learning that words are made up of sounds, a small step in the right direction.

There are, however, many teachers and Heads of Schools who refuse to embrace the phonic system. In the face of all the evidence to prove that phonics – the system by which I was taught and by which my 96 year old mother was taught – is the only successful way to teach all children to read. ‘Look and Guess’ is easy and, though it fails a chunk of the population, it’s fast and simple and that is why these people refuse to switch.

And here is where your baby takes centre stage.

Just one teacher who encourages him or her to guess at words, whether by searching the picture for clues , by memorising it from another lesson or contextually, ie fitting a suitable word into the sentence, will do years of damage to your child and its future.

By age 14 he will read ‘biblical’ for ‘biographical’ ‘lands’ for ‘lends’ ‘banker’ for ‘embankment’. To escape this damage you can start in your baby’s nursery.

Place the letters of the alphabet around the nursery and then bid a cheery “good morning” to ‘a’ or ‘b’ on the walls or ‘c’ on the floor or ‘d’ sitting on teddy’s nose. This tiny beginning is the start of your child becoming a super reader.

Synthetic phonics, which I have taught continuously since Training College in New Zealand in the fifties, is simply fast phonics to fabulous reading. Babies and pre-schoolers can have a painless path to early literacy with fun and laughter.

For those who have decided on home schooling, your child’s successful reading is vital to achieving an excellent standard in every subject. Children don’t come with operating instructions, parenting, though wonderful is a course with many obstacles. Your child’s reading need not be one of them.


Commercial alphabets have for many years been the subject of huge controversy between me and shopkeepers. I have approached them in Australia, New Zealand and here in the UK over disastrous alphabet charts. I have found ‘w for whale’, ‘i for ice-cream’, ‘x for x-ray’, ‘x for xylophone’ and ‘c for city’ to mention just a few. All wrong and totally detrimental to the new reader.

In my next article I shall give you the perfect alphabet which leads your child straight into reading.

Never push your child, play games that will have him laughing and learning at the same time

Robyn Dalby Stockwell is teacher, writer, reading consultant and Director of Alonah Reading Cambridge the only source of her four book reading course, giving reading support for parents and their children.

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