(N.b. Look at the main page “Supporting Dyslexic Students at Home“ for broader information. To support parents)
There are many phonics games available commercially but it is sometimes difficult to know which would suit your child and how you could use them without specialist knowledge. Phonics – learning the relationships between sounds and letters – has to be learned in order, from the most basic rules such as the sounds made by letters of the alphabet on their own or in simple three letter words, to how to use double consonants at the beginning and end of words, to how to make different vowel sounds by combining vowels, and so on. Unless you have attended a parent phonic programme by a dyslexia training provider (and these are great), you can only play phonic games at home with your child armed with knowledge about exactly which phonic rule or rules they are working on that week. The commercial games can be useful, but you need to know which cards or dice or whatever other resources are involved to use and how.
If your child’s teacher does tell you each week what sounds they are working on, you could produce your own simple cards for words using the appropriate sounds and make them into a fun game.
1) ALPHABET ARC WORD BUILDING. This is useful for children who are stumbling at the first steps of phonic learning. It will reinforce knowledge of basic letter sound links which will support all future phonics learning at school.
i) You need letters of the alphabet, wood or plastic or on cards. The first step is practising laying them out in an arc on the floor in the correct order, saying the names of the letters. This stage could be a repeated game over several days or weeks, depending on progress. You can teach your child the alphabet song if you can remember it. The more times it is sung, the more automatic it becomes in memory. That will help your child remember the order of letters in later school life, to help them use a dictionary for example.
ii) The next step is to make clear that each letter has a basic “sound” as well as a name. The letter “a” is pronounced as in apple, “b” as in bat, c as in cat, and so on. Practising and talking about the sounds made by all the letters would be done over days or weeks too. It is important to only cover one sound per letter at this stage. It would be confusing to explain that vowels have two sounds, and then two vowels together can make all sorts of sounds.
iii) Once letter names and letter sounds are learned, you can start to play with three letters together to make simple words. It is important to stick to words that start and end with a consonant and have a vowel in the middle. These are called CVC words (Consonant vowel Consonant words). You may need to explain that the vowels are a,e,i,o,u and consonants are everything else, and every word has to have a vowel.
So to start, let your child choose a vowel to draw down from the arc and put in the middle below it. Then they can choose a consonant to go at the end. Try to encourage them to use one which can make lots of words (d, g, t, p for example). Practise saying the sound those two letters make together. Then your child can draw down, one by one, other consonants to put at the front, to make lots of words. All the words will rhyme of course. You can play this using different vowels and different end consonants as much as you want.
This, if you can be sure you are playing it according to the rules above, is one of the most effective pre-literacy skill games you can play with a child struggling at the outset with phonics.
2) PAIRS/ SNAP By making two (or four) cards for each target word, you can make a snap or pairs game. (Pairs can be done with cards face up or face down, in which case it also becomes a memory game.) You can also make a snap game in which a pair would be two words which rhyme (e.g. “cat” and “mat”). You can even create “cards” as footprints to put together and then walk along. “Twinkl” is a website with all sorts of printable resources like that to use to get creative.
If your child is at the very beginning of learning about rhyme, you could make a pairs or snap game using only picture cards – of a cat, hat, bat; man, pan, fan; map, tap, cap, for example – and let your child discover rhyme that way. Or you could lay all these cards out and let him or her work out how the cards could be put into groups, learning by discovery about rhyme. It may take a while to get there, but once they have, they will not forget it!
Once they’ve got it, you can encourage them going around the house or wherever they are, saying out loud rhymes for names of the things they see in front of them. The rhymes there come up with don’t have to be real words, they just have to rhyme. Playing this over and over early on reinforces a vital pre-literacy skill.
3) SNAKES & LADDERS. Just playing snakes and ladders is a great opportunity in itself for learning. Sometimes, weak short term memory can make it hard to make number skills automatic. By using two dice and teaching your child to tap along the squares of the board in twos, they are practicing their two times table.
Children are motivated by reward and happier to practice skills if that is linked to fun. So you could write up a set of word cards, or sentences using only words they know, focused on the words of the week, and ask them to pick up a card and read it out every time they take their go. It really works!
4) FISHING GAME. You can make a “fishing rod” using a pencil, string and a magnet, and cut out simple fish shaped cards with key words for learning that week. Put a paper clip on each fish. You can draw a pond on a piece of paper in which all the fish can swim. Then simply take turns trying to pick up the fish, reading out the word each go. It is amazing how much more motivating this is. It is also more memorable, and we know that dyslexic children learn in a multi-sensory way and when learning is fun and more memorable. You can make fish with simple sentences too. It is always more effective to allow your child to practice new words in the context of a sentence when they learn them. But be careful not to include words more difficult than those they have already covered.
5) KIMS GAME. This is a memory game. You get a tray and put ten different objects on it. (Or fewer if necessary to begin with. Or more later!). Choose objects of different sizes, shapes and colours and with different uses. Then your child, or any children with you (it can be played with different ages together) get a minute to look at the objects and try to put them in their memory. Then you cover the tray with a tea towel and leave it a minute, before asking the children how many objects they can remember. Playing this often will give them a chance to work out memory strategies, such as remembering initial letters, colours, what the object is used for. Discussing this with your child will reinforce the learning. Then you take the tea towel off and see who has won! Another sample memory game is “My Grandmother went to Market and she came home with …”
6) TELLING STORIES VERBALLY. Some dyslexic children find it difficult to think of and organise ideas for writing. Practising thinking of ideas, sequencing them and expressing them verbally, in a fun way, is the best way to develop the language skills they can then start using in writing. You can’t write what you don’t know how to say.
You can cut out colourful pictures from calendars or magazines and start a conversation about what is going on in the picture. Ask questions about what is happening and why, what a child or animal in the picture might be thinking, what might happen next. That is the beginning of learning how to use language to question what is seen or heard (or, later, what is known), to make a story or an argument.