Teaching phonics and developing a love of reading at nursery

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Teaching the very earliest stages of reading using phonics in the last term of nursery will give children a head start in Reception. However, at this stage, it’s really important to keep phonics teaching simple and to focus on reading stories and rhymes to develop their love of books. To help children form the reading habit early on, it’s also key to make sure that parents and carers understand the importance of reading with their children at home. You can find lots of advice to support them in this earlier blog post on developing good reading habits.

Foster a love of reading

The most important starting point when teaching children to read is reading to them. It’s the best way of encouraging them to love books and reading and to expand their vocabulary beyond our everyday spoken language. As they develop familiarity with stories, nursery rhymes, poems and songs, and as they repeat them, they deepen their familiarity with the words and phrases. We also develop their language through planned talk – asking questions, making up stories, through play, and by building sentences orally – encouraging the use of new words and phrases. 

Keep it simple

In the nursery, it’s likely that you’ll only teach the first set of phonics sounds – in Read Write Inc. Phonics these are called Speed Sounds – to your children. This includes 25 single-letter sounds: m a s d t i n p g o c k u b f e l h r j v y w z x, and six two-letter sounds: sh th ch qu ng nk. Once children know these sounds, you can then teach them how to blend the sounds together to read words. 

Children learn more rapidly at this age than at any other time in their lives so, once you start teaching phonics, you can teach a new sound every day – but remember to keep it simple!

Top tips for teaching phonics at nursery:

1. Choose a time of the day when children are at their most alert. 15 minutes is about the right length of time. Keep the teaching of sounds to phonics lessons and don’t incorporate phonics into other areas of learning, like painting or playing in the sand.

2. Spend three times as much time reading stories to children as you spend teaching phonics. 

3. Always review any previously taught sounds before you teach a new sound.

4. If there are one or two fidgety children during your phonics lesson, read a story one-to-one with them to check that they are able to pay attention. If they can’t, then don’t start teaching them the sounds – they’re not ready yet. 

5. If a child doesn’t want to join in, let them watch from the sidelines. It won’t be long before they want to join in the fun!


Get more support

The above advice is included in the Nursery Handbook, part of the Read Write Inc. Phonics Nursery Packwhich contains resources to support pre-school children with their literacy skills before they start school. It provides nursery teachers and staff with the tools they need to ensure every child learns to read confidently, right from the start. 

As well as the Nursery Handbook, the Read Write Inc. Nursery Phonics Pack includes sounds cards for teaching the sounds, resources for teaching and practising blending, and sound blending books.

Find out more on our website