Foundations for Reading 2: Phonics

2 - 4 years
A B C D colourful letters

Did you know there are five key skills that help children learn to read? The second is ‘phonics’. Read on for seven great tips on how to help your little one lay the foundations for this important skill.

What is ‘phonics’?

‘Phonics’ is the relationship between the sounds in spoken English and the letters in written English, the way this relationship is taught, and the process of using letter-sound relationships to sound out written words.

The English language is made up of 26 letters and 44 sounds. A sound can be written with a single letter such as b, or a combination of letters such as ph, which makes the /f/ sound as in phone. When children have learned all the letters, letter combinations and sounds, they have learned the ‘code’ of English, and will be able to read most words simply by sounding them out.

Of course, English does have some exceptions – words that cannot be easily sounded out (like ‘said’ and ‘was’). The most common words are often referred to as ‘sight words’, and learning them is an important part of early reading development at school.

What can you do to help?

You don’t need to teach your little one phonics – phonics are taught in early primary school as part of the national curriculum.  But with the seven tips below, you can help your little one lay the foundations for developing strong phonics skills.

Read, read, read!

The most important thing you can do is to read with your little one, read to them and let them see you reading. This will help your little one develop a love of reading and see it as an enjoyable and useful skill. It will also teach them early reading skills – even simple things like holding a book up the right way and turning the pages are skills that little people need to learn!

Talk about words, letters, and sounds

The world around you is full of letters, so there are lots of chances to point them out to your child. Alphabet books are great, as are other books with text, and all the letters in your child’s environment. Talk about the sound(s) that different letters make, and the sounds they make when they are combined. ‘This is one of my favourite letters, ‘F’. It looks a bit ‘fierce’ doesn’t it … and that’s the sound it makes. Ffffff…’

Start with their name

A good place to start is with the letters in your child’s name – it makes learning letters more meaningful and exciting! Start by teaching your child the first letter of their name, and then add in the other letters. ‘Can you see a word on the cereal box that starts with the same letter as your name?’


Playing with letters can be great to help your child develop phonics skills. Your little one might like to write letters, trace them, paint them, or make them in clay, playdough or sand. It’s also good to play games spotting letters around you – on signs, posters, boxes and magazines. ‘Look, there’s another ‘S’ on that sign. It’s very snakey, isn’t it! Remember what sound it makes? That’s right, sssss, like a hissing snake.’


Children learn by making ‘mistakes’, so if your child makes a mistake with a letter, take the same approach as when your little one was learning to walk – praise their effort then encourage them to try again, or give them a bit of help, or move on to something else. This builds their confidence to keep trying when they are having trouble with something, and makes them a more resilient learner.

Let your child be the guide

Children develop at their own pace, and your little one may not be interested in letters and sounds right now, or may not remember them. That’s ok! Be patient and don’t push it – it’s important to keep reading fun. Just providing exposure to books, language, descriptions and letters will lay the foundations for their phonics skills, and set them up for success at reading.

Use your home language

If your home language is not English, you can also apply the same ideas in your own language. This will help lay the foundations for your little one to learn to read English (and your own language).

What about the other skills?

For tips on how to help your child lay the foundations for the other four key reading skills, see the other articles in this series.


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Last modified
12 May 2020