We live in a house full of books and we read to our son every day – stories, news, Wikipedia, everything. Despite his enthusiasm for learning, somehow reading never clicked. We wanted him to learn at his own pace, but by the end of Year 1 when he was far behind his peers, we were concerned. His teachers at our local public school shared our concerns, but the extra reading lessons in school didn’t make much difference.

We decided to act when our son began socially shielding his lack of reading. For example, letting our neighbour’s younger daughter read his Monopoly cards. We took him to Macquarie University’s Reading Clinic, which assessed many of his critical reading skills as well below average and recommended an intervention program. Then the COVID-19 lockdown hit.

We all learn in different ways and some kids really need explicit phonics instruction.

We all learn in different ways and some kids really need explicit phonics instruction.Credit:Michael Clayton-Jones

Lockdown home schooling was perfectly timed for us. With the support of our son’s teacher, we focused entirely on reading, following a structured synthetic phonics book recommended by the Reading Clinic. We approached this hoping it would work, but with no expectations. We have done 15 minutes of phonics every day since April.

Phonics introduces the sounds of individual letters first (“a” as in apple), then common combinations (“sp” as in spend and “oo” as in moon). A common misconception is that phonics leaves children stuck trying to say “the” as “t-he” or “th-e” – but this isn’t the case. A small number of frequent words, like “the”, are treated as sight words that must be memorised.

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