Author bio

Abbie and Alice are former teachers, now mums and owners of Play Makes Sense. They create and sell sensory play phonics activity cards to empower parents to teach their children to read and write through sensory play. All the activities on the cards are quick and simple for parents to set up and meaningful and engaging for children. Their Phonics Activity Cards are available from their website: or you can follow them on Instagram @playmakessenseuk to find out more.

What is phonics?

If you have a child in nursery or primary school, then it is likely that you have heard the term phonics at least once or twice. But what exactly is phonics and how can it help your child learn to read and write?

Phonics is a system of teaching the sounds in language and the letters that are used to represent them.

In the English language there are 26 letters and 44 sounds. Each sound can be written using either a single letter or a combination of letters.

Phonics is a great way to help children begin to read and write quickly and with confidence, as it gives them the skills to have a go at reading or writing words that are both familiar and unknown.

If you would like to learn more about phonics, you can find out more on our website.

Are there any downsides to phonics?

The only downside to phonics is that there is a lot of confusing terminology. Words like trigraph, grapheme and split digraph can be off putting to parents and carers. We all managed to learn to read and write without knowing these words, right?

We hear you!

However, please don’t be put off by the terminology. Once you have got your head around the basics, and have seen the amazing progress that children can make, then we promise that you will be a phonics convert too!

One of our favourite things about our Play Makes Sense phonics activity cards is that we have done away with all that confusing terminology. Each skill and activity is explained in clear and accessible language. No prior phonics knowledge is necessary and they are so simple that even our husbands are able to use them!

If you are struggling to understand any phonics terminology, we have a full list of terminology and definitions here.

How do I know when my child is ready to start?

Phonics is split into six phases. Phase 1 is usually taught in the preschool year, when children are three years old. Children progress through

each phase and have usually completed Phase 6 by the end of Key Stage 1, when they are seven years old.

However, it is important to remember that all children are unique and learn at different rates. The best way to know when your child is ready to start their phonics journey is to be led by your child.

Keep an eye out for these 5 signs that suggest your child might be ready to start their phonics journey:

  1. They are able to communicate their basic ideas and thoughts.
  1. They know a few nursery rhymes or simple songs by heart.
  1. They notice print in the environment and are beginning to ask about it.
  1. They enjoy listening to stories and looking at books.
  1. They can use a variety of tools and materials to mark make.

How do I start teaching phonics?

It may sound obvious, but the best place to start is with Phase 1. However, because Phase 1 doesn’t introduce any letters, it is often rushed through or skipped completely.

Please don’t do this!

Phase 1 is so important. It explores lots of skills which are crucial for children to master in order to become successful readers and writers. Phase 1 is split into seven aspects. These are:

  1. Environment sounds
  2. Instrumental sounds
  3. Body percussion
  4. Rhythm and rhyme
  5. Alliteration
  6. Voice sounds
  7. Oral blending and segmenting

Spending the time developing your child’s understanding of the Phase 1 aspects will lay solid foundations for the rest of their phonics journey.

You can find out more about Phase 1 and the activities in our phase 1 pack here.

Which letters should I introduce first?

When your child has mastered the Phase 1 skills and is ready to move onto learning letters and letter sounds, where should you start?

Not with a, b, c!

In phonics, the letters and letter sounds are introduced in a specific order. This is so children can get reading and writing as quickly as possible.

Take the first six letters of the alphabet: a, b, c, d, e and f. How many words can you make with these letters?

Not many at all. We can make six at a push!

Now take the first six letters that are taught in Phase 2: s, a, t, p, i and n. Once children know these six letters and their sounds there are lots of simple words they can start to read and write.

We managed to make 15 words in less than 30 seconds. Can you beat our score?

Our phonics top tips

So now you know what phonics is and how to start, you can begin the wonderful adventure of teaching your child to read and write.

Remember, learning to read and write is a marathon, not a sprint. Try to enjoy the journey and keep in mind our top tips:

  1. Don’t only teach capital letters – children need to know both capital and lowercase letters so introduce them both
  1. Make sure you pronounce the sounds correctly – try not to add “uh” to the end of each sound
  1. Teach children the letter name and the sound it makes, e.g. This is the letter a. It makes the sound /a/

To hear the letter name and the correct pronunciation of each sound take a look at the videos on our website.

Our Play Makes Sense Phonics Activity Cards would be a great addition to your phonics journey. If you are tempted to grab yourself a pack, head to our website and sign up to our mailing list. We will send you a code for 10% off your first order!

Enjoy playing and learning together,

Alice & Abbie x