Phonics games are my secret weapon when I am helping children improve their reading. On this page I’ll tell you about Jessica, who was 10 but had a reading age of 5 and how I desperately needed phonics games to reach her. At the end of the page you can click to get my free top tips on how to play phonics games with your child anywhere and with almost anything. They will breathe life into your child and into your teaching!
But first let me tell you about Jessica.
One Wednesday 10-year-old Jessica raced through my front door metres ahead of her mother. She appeared so quickly it took a second or two to realise she’d actually arrived for her first reading lesson with me. By the time I’d caught up with her she had gone up a flight of stairs. There she was, swivelling perilously on an office chair on wheels, reaching for a toy cat on a high shelf.
An entire row of books had been knocked to the floor. I was forced to leap over them to reach Jessica and prevent her from falling and breaking a limb. Jessica squealed uncontrollably, totally oblivious to my on-going requests to climb down.
Jessica had a complex combination of learning and behavioural challenges. Although she was 10, she had the reading age of a five year old. Her teachers found her exceedingly difficult to handle.
Now I know your child is probably nothing like Jessica. So why am I telling you about her? It is because the method I used to get her attention was much the same as I would have used if I had been teaching your child.
You guessed it. I used phonics games.
As you will know, all children love to play and Jessica was no exception. When she ran into my house that first day, she was determined to have fun. Sitting quietly at a table to learn to read was the last thing on her mind.
So I compromised. I allowed her to play.
You may be thinking that play is inappropriate in the middle of a reading lesson ...that it is disruptive and time-wasting.
But research tells us that play increases a child's (and an adult’s!) emotional, physical, social and intellectual development. It forges deeper pathways into the brain.
The excitement, anticipation and feeling of enjoyment that comes with play sends blood flowing to the brain and makes whatever is being learned more easily remembered.
In Jessica's case I let her play …but on my terms. I needed to know if she could correctly pronounce the sounds each letter in the alphabet made.
It may surprise you to know that from my experience, most children and adults who are struggling with literacy mispronounce some letters and this, alone, brings their reading to a halt.
I gave Jessica the cat she had been desperate to reach earlier. She had made it plain that she wanted it! Then I used it as a tool to teach her. The cat had a pouch in its back that had once contained a tiny hot water bottle. It cost a mere $2 at the time, yet it had become invaluable to me as a teaching aid.
I bargained with Jessica. She could play with the cat but on my terms.
I produced a set of my alphabet cards and asked Jessica to tell me the sounds each letter made. If she could read them she could put the sound in the cat’s pouch.
That way I could find out which of the sounds she didn’t know. It was my way of testing her without her becoming anxious. She cooperated and at the end I knew that 10 out of 26 cards remaining in my hand had to be re-learned.
I asked Jessica to close her eyes while I hid the cards around the room. As she found each one, I would say: “This time hop back to me like a kangaroo” or “This time be a frog."
The next time she visited I put a series of small mats on the floor, each with a gap between them. I placed a letter on each of the mats. She jumped from mat to mat and practised the sounds the letters made. By the time she finished her second lesson with me she knew all of her sounds perfectly.
If you have time to spend with your child, you only need a handful of tools to help you. They do not need to be expensive.
Think through the mind of your child. What are their interests? Do they love zoo animals or are they crazy about super heroes? Can they settle or do they need to be moving? Learning doesn't need to be confined to sitting at a table.
In other articles on this site I have covered the many different stages involved in learning phonics. I explain how and why they are taught and how to bring them alive for children.
Once you understand the level your child is working at, you can play phonics games with them. It’s just a matter of adapting them to the situation.
For more free, inexpensive and fun tips on playing phonics games click on my Phonics Games Top Tips link immediately below.
Go From Phonics Games To Phonics Games Top Tips