How silly sounds prepare your child for phonics

A guest post by Grandpa Smith.

As we look to support our preschool children in the very early stages of reading and writing, it can be easy to forget that the most enjoyable and natural preparation they can undertake will involve exploring sounds.

I was driving back from the beach with Daisy recently when I received an unusual set of instructions from her. She informed me that she would ‘be’ the indicators for my car during the journey, and she told me that I had to warn her of my intention to turn the corner. Sure enough, at the next junction a good imitation of the click-clock sound of my car’s indicators rang out from the seat behind me. (I hasten to point out that we were on a deserted country lane and so this manoeuvre was no threat to road traffic safety.)

Car indicators are the most recent additions to Daisy’s noisy repertoire of impressions, which includes classics such as elephant trumpets, lion roars, dog barks and baby cries. Growing up in the bustling soundscape of London means that she can also mimic the ever-present nee-naw of emergency service sirens, as well as the rattle of the Routemaster bus and the whoosh of a Tube train’s doors.

The value of exploring sounds

Daisy’s current delight with all the strange and funny sounds that her mouth and tongue can create isn’t just entertaining – it will serve her well when she starts learning to read through phonics. With its strong auditory basis, the early stages of learning to read through phonics include exploring and having fun with listening to and making sounds. Phase One of the Letters and Sounds programme devotes a whole section on the value of children exploring sounds their voices can make, with the following suggestions:

Make your voice go down a slidewheee!
Make your voice bounce like a ballboing, boing
Sound really disappointedoh
Hiss like a snakessssss
Keep everyone quietshshshsh
Gently moo like a cowmmmoooo
Look astonishedoooooo!
Be a steam trainchchchchch
Be a clocktick tock
A series of images showing a child's mouth as she makes various sounds such as ooh, click, shhh and moo
Daisy is learning the many different sounds that she can make, including ‘oh’, ‘click’, ‘shhh’ and ‘moo’

The value of exploring different sounds is not only in the vocalisations, but also in the development of your child’s mouth muscles; some sounds are made at the front of the mouth, some sounds use the lips, some use the tongue, and so on. When a child alternates between the smile shape used to say ‘whee’ to the ‘O’ shape used for ‘moo’ they are learning to articulate their mouth in multiple useful ways.

The sounds listed above can be extended by joining single speech sounds into pairs, e.g. ee-aw like donkey…or a car’s indicators!

As we approached the house, and the indicators were no longer required, our backseat sound generator moved on to making farting sounds with her mouth, which was no surprise to her audience…

Granny Smith says

This kind of activity can be a fun distraction for young children during a long car journey. At the very least, it can prove to be a helpful interlude between watching episodes of favourite programmes on the iPad.

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