The key to letters and sounds

There's no question - the English language is very complex and difficult to learn. Understanding what makes it so hard can help you make it easier for others to learn.

I wrote this with my resources in mind but can be applied to many different games and educational materials. You can find my alphabet/phonics materials here.

The first tip when it comes to helping your child with these concepts is not to assume their vocabulary describes objects as you would. For example, over the years I have seen many children confuse images of cats, tigers and lions. A child that calls the picture of a lion a tiger will find it more difficult to identify the links between the images that have been grouped together for the ‘l’ sound. It helps your child to go through the objects together and name them so you help them make the appropriate connections.

My next tip relates to the vocabulary you use when helping them learn the initial sounds and the letter formations that represent these sounds. The child should refer to the letters based on what sound it makes – this is what helps the child expand their knowledge and apply it when they encounter the letter. Children that learn the letters predominantly from the letter name are likely to say things like this… “M is called ’emm’ and makes the sound ‘eh’ – ‘eh’ is the first sound they hear when they say the letter name. It’s important that children learn that a letter has a name and makes a sound, and how to differentiate between the two.

My third tip relates to the amount you present to your child at any one time. The alphabet is a vast and overwhelming collection of symbols. 26 letters is a lot for children to take on when they’re just learning. Instead of putting the entire resource out for your child to explore, I would recommend only having a maximum of 3 or 4 letters for them to focus on at any one time. There are ideal clusters of letters depending on your child’s strengths – I’ll describe those now.

If your child is brand new to phonics and the alphabet I would recommend exposing them to letters easily identified and high in frequency. This for example:

  • 1st group – s t p a
  • 2nd group – n d  r o
  • 3rd group – m b c i
  • 4th group – g f l u
  • 5th group – h j k e
  • 6th group – z w v
  • 7th group – q x y

Children can confuse specific letters and/or their sounds so these tricky letters have been separated into different groups. Separating these problem letters helps children learn each of them in isolation before they start getting confused. The following will help if you believe your child has  trouble with letters or sounds that are similar.

Watch out for these

  • Sound & letter – m n – very difficult sounds for children to distinguish between.
  • Letters – d b p – reversals are a very common confusion for early learners.
  • Letters – m w – as above.
  • Letters – i j – These letters look very similar but I haven’t come across as many children with this confusion.
  • Sounds – c s – many children will think that c makes the sound s because of the way we pronounce the letter name (see).
  • Sounds – g j – some words that start with ‘g’ in fact make the ‘j’ sound (giraffe for example). It’s important for children to know and understand this only after they have grasped the differences between the two letters and what they represent.
  • Sounds – e i – ‘eh’ and ‘ih’ are also very difficult sounds for children to distinguish between. Some children won’t ever have an issue with these but others will.

Final tip

Phonics games, puzzles, matching games, etc should not be treated as ‘work’ but rather as play and exploration. Let them play, match, make mistakes and find success. Point them in the direction of correct matches with subtle assistance “Oh wow, did you notice this?” Children don’t always like to think that their parents/teachers and other ‘bigger’ people in their lives know absolutely everything and are only there to point out things when they’re wrong. They like to explore things with and beside you. Children like to show you when they have made a discovery. They also like you to be as thrilled and amazed by it as they are when they do.

Thank you for reading, and good luck! If you have any questions, feel free to email me –

Michelle xx

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