How to support a child who is struggling with phonics and reading

Many children with additional needs, especially those with speech, language and communication needs struggle to use phonic skills as part of learning to read.  Here are some ideas for skills that can be worked on at home.

These ideas can be adapted for the non-verbal learner by using objects and pictures to indicate a response.

Use multi-sensory approaches

Learn about letters and the sounds they make by using the different senses. For example, manipulate wooden or magnetic letters whilst saying the sounds, or tracing over letters in shaving foam.

For the non-verbal learner: over-stretch the sounds in words and allow your child to put their hands on your throat so they can feel the vibrations of your voice-box. Use a mirror so you both watch the movements the mouth makes when making the sounds. These multi-sensory approaches help to ‘anchor’ sounds to memory.

Play memory games

Children with poor short term memory struggle to ‘hold’ a sequence of sounds in their mind in order to blend them. Play memory games that involve your child remembering and carrying out 2, 3 or 4 instructions in order.

Help develop phonological awareness skills

Students at risk for reading difficulty often have lower levels of phonological awareness. Phonological awareness is the ability to recognise and work with sounds in spoken language. Practise skills such as:

  • Rhyming- read books with rhymes, match pictures or symbols of words that rhyme, continue a rhyming string
  • Recognising syllables- clapping out or tapping the beats in spoken words e.g. win-dow
  • Identify same and different speech sounds- ask your child to identify whether two sounds (not letters) are the same. E.g. are the ‘c’ and ‘p’ the same?
  • Recognising initial sounds of words- play games such as ‘eye spy’ or ‘Simon says’
  • Recognising final sounds in words- sort objects into groups based on their final sounds. Over-pronounce the sound if your child is having difficulties
  • Blending and segmenting sounds in spoken words- give your child instructions with a word that is segmented. Your child will have to blend the sounds to follow the instruction, such as ‘give me your b-oo-k’ or ‘find the h-a-t’. Swap roles and let your child give you instructions to follow.

Once your child’s phonological skills are secure, you can then move on to blending to read written words and spelling.

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