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How to help 4 yo who hasn't a clue about sounds/phonics?

(23 Posts)
FrightRunScream Fri 26-Oct-12 20:44:00

DS is 4, missed out on school by a week this year, early September birthday. He goes to nursery three days a week. It's a private nursery but they do the pre-school provision for our village school as it does not have a separate pre-school. He has some "preschool" time and some "daycare" time. We read every night - 3 to 5 story books depending on the time - stuff like Julia Donaldson's rhyming stories, Hairy McClary etc and go to the library every couple of weeks. He has a good vocabulary and talks incessantly. I have been reading to him for all his life and one of his favourite things to do is to settle down with a pile of books.

I have felt for a while that he is not very far on with reading/writing. Not that I expect him to be able to do either properly at all at this age, but he shows no interest in trying at all. I don't think he has ever voluntarily picked up a pen/chalk/paint brush/etc.

Anyway, today his key worker asked me if we read to him at home! She is concerned that he can not identify the separate sounds of a word, not even the first letter. I have been trying to practice this with him for well over a year, but all that's happened is he knows which letter some words begin with because he has been told enough times. He has no idea how to identify that, say, "Dog" begins with D, however slowly you say it and ask "What is the very first sound I say D-oh-G?" He'll guess, randomly, any letter. He can recognise quite a lot of individual letters, but only knows their sound if we have made up a story about them, and then only the words in the story. Eg: We pass a fire hydrant sign on the way home from nursery. He knows it is the letter H - for Hello hero, help! But has no idea that ham, house and holly also begin with H. If I say "What is the same about cat, car and cow?" he'll say "They are all animals".

Apparently he is the only child in his group at nursery who can not identify first letters, and one of the few who can not write his name (in a fashion) - certainly every single one of his birthday cards from children was "signed" by the sender. DS won't even try to write his name by going over pencil lines I have done for him. He has a few books and comics with dotty letters to go over to practise writing - not interested. He will occassionally, but rarely, do some colouring for a few minutes, but he doesn't have the patience to do so for more than a few minutes (5-10 max).

How can I help him? He seems to no fundamental idea that words break down into separate sounds, and this is what letters mean.

bigTillyMint Fri 26-Oct-12 20:47:57

Are you calling the letters by name or sound?

Pre-reading skills include listening carefully and identifying real sounds, eg tap dripping, dog barking, etc and there are some good matching games(with a CD) that you can buy.

FrightRunScream Fri 26-Oct-12 21:16:04

We are calling the letters by their name and sound ie: "It's called Bee and sounds buh" .

FrightRunScream Fri 26-Oct-12 21:18:06

He can identify real sounds easily. He can even tell me if it's Daddy's car outside rather than anyone else's. He only ever gets it wrong it if is another Golf TDi.

Sirzy Fri 26-Oct-12 21:22:07

I wouldn't push him, he is still only young and the more you push him the more he will try not to do it. TBH it sounds like the nursery are being quite pushy.

Encourage him to draw pictures and whatever to learn the pen control a bit, or even just sit and colour pictures of favourite characters but other than that just carry on as you are encouraging it but not pushing it.

rhetorician Fri 26-Oct-12 21:57:44

my dd is similar - she will be 4 in Jan. She can recognize a few letters and can sometimes pick a sound from a word, but can't do it reliably. I don't think her nursery pushes it at all, and she knows more than she lets on. Obviously I'd prefer it in some ways if she was flying along with it all, but she (like your son) has an excellent vocabulary, reasons well, is very perceptive about things, seems perfectly bright to me. There is a strong history of dyslexia in her father's family, so I am conscious of that, but I think that she will get there just fine, as will your son. You said it yourself 'not interested'; my dd will do imaginative play of a high order of complexity for hours, but just can't see the point of going duh is for dog, etc. Mind you, no-one here will worry about it until she is 5 going on 6, and neither will I.

RillaBlythe Fri 26-Oct-12 22:03:50

Are you in the UK? If so, why are the nursery pushing this?

PopMusicShoobyDoobyDoA Fri 26-Oct-12 22:09:06

Hang on, he's in nursery? Why would he be expected to know his sounds before he started nursery? FWIW: My DS did not show any interest in learning his letter sounds throughout nursery. The children were taught a sound a week using Jolly Phonics, did he remember or care about any? No he did not. Could he write his own name during nursery? No, again. The thing is just because your DS is the only one not doing these things does not mean that they should pull you aside about it. As far as I am concerned, this is what nursery is for. It's their job to bring him on and get him ready for reception. Instead of them making judgements about you and him, they need to telling you what they plan for him. I would go back and ask them tbh. In a nice way, of course grin

I know everyone, especially on mumsnet, goes on about how their children know all sounds/are fluent readers/can write an essay by age 3 but actually these children are the exception not the rule. He obviously isn't quite ready for it yet but that's fine. Google phonics phase 1 and have a look at all the activities that you can do with him. Also Jolly Phonics help with letter sounds through actions, pictures and songs. People may disagree with me on this, but at this stage I would concentrate more on the sounds, rather than on the names of the letters. Keep it fun!

Can he recognise his own name when it's written down? If not, work on that. Even if he does not pick up a pencil, brush etc, get him doing lots of fun fine motor skills activities to help him when he finally picks up a pencil. There's a really good thread on here somewhere. At this age, boys especially don't have the strength in their hands for writing.

Try not to get stressed about it, it's not a sprint but a marathon smile. He will in all likelihood catch up.

And finally, you are doing a great job reading books with him and encouraging him.

FrightRunScream Fri 26-Oct-12 22:11:30

I am in the UK. I imagine nursery have raised it because he is lagging behind his peers in this respect, so it's an early warning of some sort. I'm not sure, he is my elder child.

Thank you rhetorician. That's just what I needed to hear.

rhetorician Fri 26-Oct-12 22:11:47

that's a great post popmusic - dd's fine motor skills aren't that great I don't think (she comes home with a lot of handprints for paintings!!) although she is also very individual bloody stubborn and won't do anything unless she wants to/can see the point of it. And she can't see the point of duh for dog/duck blah blah and thinks it's boring (which it is unless you are ready to be able to read)

Sirzy Fri 26-Oct-12 22:13:09

But he isn't lagging behind. Most children start school unable to understand phonics and write their name it's no big issue.

RillaBlythe Fri 26-Oct-12 22:17:56

Lagging behind his peers is meaningless though. He's perfectly normal for the nursery year.

rhetorician Fri 26-Oct-12 22:20:09

he sounds perfect - just enjoy him and don't let other people make you doubt him

MissVerinder Fri 26-Oct-12 22:22:23

Fright I only read this as it was in active, but can I just tell you that my DD started school in September unable to read or write her name, and is now writing her name and spelling out/reading simple words.

Don't sweat it.

PopMusicShoobyDoobyDoA Fri 26-Oct-12 22:25:34

Thanks, [rhetorician] grin. It really makes me mad how much children are expected to know at such a young age. They are three and four.

I teach a morning session in nursery and also volunteer at a pre-school. The children make me laugh because they are such little anarchists!

FrightRunScream Fri 26-Oct-12 22:26:05

popmusic Lovely, brilliant and helpful post, thank you! smile

Willabywallaby Fri 26-Oct-12 22:34:37

My DS2 was 4 in May, so started school in September. They tried at nursery to get him to write his name, but even going over the dots of the letter he couldn't do it.

He's just about learnt all his letters (they do letterland at his school) and can write his name which is 8 letters long, with no prompting.

This time next year you'll be wondering what they were going on about.

Halfcups Fri 26-Oct-12 22:47:06

My almost six year old ds has JUST started to read three letter words by sounding out each letter and then blending them. He is now writing his name so as I can read it and writes phonetic letter strings, no spaces between words and no punctuation,when asked to write. Until very recently he looked at a pencil with disgust! He was not a 'writer' that 's for sure!Despite being one of the eldest in the class he is one of the less able in literacy. Am I worried? No! Because this is all perfectly okay.
I have been a teacher of young children for 23 years. I have a post grad in teaching children with specific literacy difficulties and a masters degree in linguistics. Your little one is doing just fine. Sounds like the staff at the nursery need a lot more training on the early years curriculum and the teaching of pre reading skills. I now work as a head teacher and consultant and it beggars belief how little some early years staff actually know about how young children learn. You sound like a very thoughtful and inspiring parent. Ignore them! By Year One your boy will fly! Xx

rhetorician Sat 27-Oct-12 00:05:45

The staff at dd's nursery are trained: in childcare, not in teaching children to read and write. They are lovely, but I think they don't know what makes dd1 tick or how to teach her - she isn't a conventional learner, and it annoys me that she sometimes says 'I'm not very good at x or y'. No, she hasn't learned how to do it yet. It's potentially quite damaging - fortunately, her nursery is very laid back about such things.

Fantail Sat 27-Oct-12 04:45:40

Another way to think about it might be that in a lot of countries, for example New Zealand, he wouldn't be starting school until he was 5. I am pretty sure at just turned 4 I couldn't write my name. A whole year later when I turned 5 I could.

Developing his vocab, his gross and minor motor skills and self-care skills like eating with a knife and fork and dressing himself and social skills are much more important.

lljkk Sat 27-Oct-12 10:23:04

I find those ridiculous expectations of the nursery too.
2 of my kids have turned out to be high achievers at literacy despite having any of those skills OP is worrying about.

midseasonsale Sat 27-Oct-12 21:14:47

I wouldn't push him, he will be ready when he is ready. He has a natural advantage anyway being very old in the year group. My DS is very young in his year group and only turned 4 over the summer. Both nursery and I tried to teach him letters and his name but it never stuck. However school have worked wonders already. They know how to teach and explain these things well.

You can try and encourage creative fine motor skills - using scissors, making rockets out of playdoh, drawing funny monsters etc. My eldest hated creative work/other fine motor skills and struggled to write much as he didn't enjoy it. Being a book worm he could read years ahead but it took till year 3 for his writing to catch up.

unexpectediteminbaggingarea Sat 27-Oct-12 21:27:46

my ds started school 6 weeks ago unable to read or write anything except the 3 letters of his nn.

I didn't do anything at home before school except lots of reading of fun books with him, just like you are. I never taught him because I felt he was too young (and still do, a bit, but that's a whole other thread) and I felt like it would turn into a chore for him. He now loves phonics and chooses to do it at home, which I of course do with him. Now he can recognise every letter in the alphabet, some letter groups (ie th sh ck) and can read, spell and write simple 3 letter words. So far so good for us. Agree about the fine motor skills, again if he's interested.

Life should be all playing and mess and bubbles when you're 4, imo, and early years education should be about getting used to being in school and enjoying very teeny bits of learning, and learning how to learn. iyswim.

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