Early Phonics-Phase 1

How to help your child at the pre-reading stage.

Phonics at stage 1 is not about learning letter sounds, that comes later in

phase 2.

Phase 1 concentrates on more general sound discrimination and can start as early as 2 to 3 years old. But a lot of the ideas for phase 1 phonics can start even before that age.

Phase 1 supports the importance of speaking and listening and develops children’s discrimination of sounds, including letter sounds. Activities are divided into seven aspects, including environmental sounds, instrumental sounds, body sounds, rhythm and rhyme, alliteration, voice sounds and finally oral blending and segmenting.

There are 7 aspects to phase 1 phonics. These are not to be taught in any particular order, rather dip in and out of these aspects as and when the opportunity or need arises.


Phase One - Aspect 1

This involves general sound discrimination out and about or in the home.

Main purpose - This will help your child's listening skills and awareness of sounds in the environment.

Listening Walk

Go out and about, or try this indoors. Take things slow and ask 'What can you hear?'

Talk about the different sounds. Have a chat about how important it is to listen.

After you have finished your walk, make a list of the sounds they can remember. The list can be in words or pictures, or both.

A Listening Moment

This too can be done inside or out. Talk again about good listening. Use a timer, or your phone and set the time for about a minute. Talk about all the sounds they heard in that time. Where they loud sounds or soft sounds? Do you know what made the sounds? etc.


Give your child a stick or a wooden spoon. Encourage him/her to explore the outside area. This could be you garden or the park. Let them discover how tapping or striking different objects makes different sounds. Talk about their favourite sound.

Sound Lotto

You can buy sound lotto games where you match a picture to a taped sound, but you can just as easily play this game without buying another toy. Sort out some small farm animals on a tray. You make the sound of the animal and your child picks up the animal. As they get older and more familiar with the game you can take it in turns. One of you making the sound and the other one picking up the animal.

Main purpose - These ideas help further develop your child's identification of different sounds and their vocabulary.

Treasure Box

Place a small box on its side with the opening facing away from your child. One by one, put four or more familiar noisy items inside. Each time you put something in the treasure box, show what the object is and shake it to create the noise. (things you might use include a set of keys, crisp, squeaky toys etc).

Handle one of the objects out of sight so that it makes a noise. Ask your little one what they think it could be.

What Could it Be?

Use small farmyard animals. Lay them out on a tray. Describe one, but do not say its name, (example - This animal has horns, four legs and a tail). Ask what the animal is. When they become used to the game you encourage them to do the describing.

Use different sets of objects like zoo animals or small vehicles.

Main purpose - To make up simple sentences. These ideas also allow you to talk together in greater detail about the sounds.

Socks and Shakers

Partially fill either opaque plastic bottles or the toes of socks with noisy materials (e.g. rice, peas, pebbles, marbles, shells, coins). Ask your child to shake the bottles or socks and identify what is inside from the sound the items make. From the feel and the sound of the noisy materials encourage the children to talk about them. Ask questions such as: Where might we find shells and pebbles?

Favourite Sounds

Make a poster or use a whiteboard for your little one to record their favourite sounds pictorially. Invite him/her to put their sounds in order of popularity and talk about the ones they like the best. Ask them to think about sounds that they do not like (e.g. stormy weather, barking dogs, car horns, crying babies) and to say why.

Enlivening stories

Involve your child in songs and stories, enlivened by role-play, props and repeated sounds, for example acting out: Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall (bump, crash, bang!) All the King’s horses and all the King’s men (gallop, gallop, gallop) Couldn’t put Humpty together again (boo, hoo, boo, hoo, boo, hoo)


Phase One - Aspect 2 and 3

This involves general sound discrimination – instrumental sounds and body percussion.

Aspect 2

Main purpose - To experience and develop awareness of sounds made with instruments and noise makers

Old Songs - New Words

Take a song or rhyme that your child knows well and invent new words to suit the purpose and the children’s interests.

Grandma's Footsteps

‘Grandma’ has a range of instruments and the children decide what movement goes with which sound (e.g. shakers for running on tip-toe, triangle for fairy steps). Try telling a story like The Three Bears. Ask what instrument would go with each bear?

Aspect 3

Main purpose - To develop awareness of sounds and rhythm

Action Songs

Singing songs and action rhymes is a vital part of Phase One activities and should be an everyday event. Your child will need to develop a wide repertoire of songs and rhymes. Be sure to include multi-sensory experiences such as action songs in which the children have to add claps, knee pats and foot stamps or move in a particular way. Add body percussion sounds to nursery rhymes, performing the sounds in time to the beat. Change the body sound with each musical phrase or sentence. 

Roly Poly

Rehearse the rhyme with the actions (rotating hand over hand as in the song ‘Wind the bobbin up’). Ro … ly … po … ly … ever … so … slowly Ro … ly … poly faster. (Increase the speed of the action as you increase the speed of the rhyme.) Now add in new verses, such as: Stamp … your … feet … ever … so … slowly. Stamp … your feet faster. Ask the children to suggest sounds and movements to be incorporated into the song. Say hello ever so quietly Say HELLO!

Aspect 4

Main purpose - To experience and appreciate rhythm and rhyme and to develop awareness of rhythm and rhyme in speech

Rhyming Books

Regularly include rhyming books as part of your reading with your child. Read these books with plenty of intonation and expression so that your child can tune into the rhythm of the language and the rhyming words. Encourage him/her to join in with repetitive phrases such as Run, run, as fast as you can, You can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man. Wherever possible make the activity multi-sensory to intensify learning and enjoyment.

Learning Songs and Rhymes

Make sure that there's lots of singing and rhyming activities in your daily routine  (e.g. It’s raining, it’s pouring as you get ready to go outdoors in wet weather). Play with rhyming words throughout the course of the day and have fun with them. Sing or chant nursery rhymes and encourage your child to move in an appropriate way (e.g. rock gently to the beat of ‘See Saw Marjorie Daw’, march to the beat of ‘Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son’ and ‘The Grand Old Duke of York’, skip to the beat of ‘Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush’).

To increase awareness of words that rhyme and to develop knowledge about rhyme

Rhyming Pairs

In a pairs game, use pictures of objects with names that rhyme. Take it in turns to turn two cards over and keep them if the pictures are a rhyming pair. If they are not a rhyming pair, the cards are turned face down again and the other person has a turn. Start with a small core set of words that can then be extended. Your child will need to be familiar with the rhyming word families before they can use them in a game – spend time looking at the pictures and talking about the pairs.

Songs and Rhyme

Sing lots of song and involve your child in experimenting with their voices. Simple nursery rhymes, such as ‘Hickory, Dickory, Dock’ provide an opportunity for your child to join in with wheeee as the mouse falls down. Use this to find related words that rhyme: dock, clock, tick-tock. Substitute alternative rhyming sounds to maintain your child's interest and enjoyment.

Finish the Rhyme

Use books with predictable rhymes that your child is familiar with and then stop as you come to the final word in the rhyme. Invite him/her to complete it. Use plenty of intonation and expression as the story or rhyme is recounted.

To talk about words that rhyme and to produce rhyming word

Rhyming Puppets

Make up silly rhyming names for a pair of puppets (e.g. Fizzy Wizzy Lizzy and Hob Tob Bob). Introduce the puppets and invite your child to join in story telling, leaving gaps for the him/her to fill in rhyming words, for example: Are you poorly Lizzy? Oh dear. Fizzy Wizzy Lizzy is feeling sick and…dizzy. Bob is very excited. Today he is going to be a builder. Hob Tob Bob has got a new…job.

I Know a Word

Throughout the course of the day, encourage your child to think about and play with rhyming words. Begin with the prompt I know a word that rhymes with cat, you need to put one on your head and the word is...hat. This can be used for all sorts of situations and also with some children’s names: I know a girl who is holding a dolly, she sits in the corner and her name is...Molly.

Aspect 5

Main purpose - To develop understanding of alliteration

Making Aliens

Think of some strange, funny names for alien creatures. The alien names must be strings of non-words with the same initial sound, for example: Ping pang poo pop,

Mig mog mully mo,

Fo fi fandle fee. Write them down as a reminder. Talk to your child about the names and help them to imagine what the strange creatures might look like. Provide creative or construction materials for them to make their own alien.

Digging for Treasure

Collect two sets of objects suitable for use in the sand tray. Each set of objects must have names beginning with the same initial sound. Choose initial sounds for each set that sound very different from one another. Bury the objects in preparation for the session. As they uncover the treasure, group the objects by initial sound and each time another is added recite the content of that set: Wow! You’ve found a car. Now we have a cup, a cow, candle and a car.

To explore how different sounds are articulated, and to extend understanding of alliteration

Mirror Game

Play at making faces while looking in the mirror and copying movements of the lips and tongue. Introduce sound making in the mirror and discuss the way lips move, for example, when sounding out ‘p’ and ‘b’, the way that tongues poke out for ‘th’, the way teeth and lips touch for ‘f’ and the way lips shape the sounds ‘sh’ and ‘m’.

Silly Soup

Provide a selection of items with names that begin with the same sound. Show your child how you can make some ‘silly soup’ by putting ‘ingredients’ (e.g. a banana, bumble bee and bug) into a pan or plastic bowl. Congratulate your child on their silly recipes. Make the pattern clear by emphasising the initial sound. 

Aspect 6

Main purpose - To distinguish between the differences in vocal sounds, including oral blending and segmenting

Voice Sounds

Show your child how they can make sounds with their voices, for example:

■ Make your voice go down a slide – wheee!

■ Make your voice bounce like a ball – boing, boing

■ Sound really disappointed – oh

■ Hiss like a snake – ssssss

■ Keep everyone quiet – shshshsh

■ Gently moo like a cow – mmmoooo

■ Look astonished – oooooo!

■ Be a steam train – chchchchch

■ Buzz like a bumble bee – zzzzzzz

■ Be a clock – tick tock.

■ This can be extended by joining single speech sounds into pairs (e.g. ee-aw like a donkey).


Make amplifiers (trumpet shapes) from simple cones of paper or lightweight card and experiment by making different noises through the cones. 

Singing Songs

Provide a wide selection of rhymes and songs on CD or tape. bbcschoolsradio is also good for this, so that your child can choose to listen to and join in with their favourites, and can extend their repertoire.

Aspect 7

Main purpose - To develop oral blending and segmenting of sounds in words

Clapping Sounds

Think of words using the letters ‘s, a, t, p, i, n’ (e.g. sat, pin, nip, pat, tap, pit, pip) and sound them out, clapping each phoneme with your in unison, then blend the phonemes to make the whole word orally.

To find out more about phonics and all the different phases then pop along to the education page.

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