My child is struggling with phonics- help!


7 Plus, 8 Plus, 11 Plus, English & Maths

October 18th, 2021

Last updated: May 9th, 2022

My child is struggling with phonics- help!

Struggling with Phonics? In this blog, Laura sets out simple but effective strategies you can try at home to boost your child's confidence with phonics


A phoneme (k-a-t), the smallest unit of speech, is the fundamental element of the language system- the essential building block for all spoken and written words.

Different combinations of 44 phonemes produce the tens of thousands of words in the English language. Before words can be understood, stored in memory and retrieved from it they first must be broken down.

This is critical for both reading, speaking and writing and the core weakness in dyslexia is at this level (phonology, the breaking down of words). And although speaking is innate, reading and writing is not.

It is therefore imperative that we intervene at the earliest stage possible when we think a child may be struggling.

So how can you help your child?

Firstly, you need to find out what phonemes your child has understood and retained and what phonemes your child still needs to work on. Schools usually group phonemes into similar phases/levels/stages. You can find the most common phases, sound mats and flash cards on

Ask your child to read each sound and write down the phonemes that your child does not read correctly.

Once you know which phonemes you need to work on take a multi-sensory and cumulative approach to teaching your child new sounds as well as repeating old and new sounds regularly. Follow a similar approach to the one below.

Teaching the sound.

1.Link the sound to a rhyme ‘ai ai paint the train’.

2.Read the sound ai in lots of different scenarios and as many ways as possible. For example, hide the sound around the house and get your child to find them and read the sound.

Reading the sound within words

1. Before reading words with your child ask your child to sound out words pinching their fingers for each sound. For example you say ‘main’ they say ‘m-ai-n’ pinching 3 fingers as they say each sound.

2. Show your child words with the target sound in. Read the words with your child breaking each words down into its phonemes. Then ensure your child can do this independently.

3. Play games reading the sound within words. For example, read the words on paper then scrunch up the paper and throw the paper through a small basket ball hoop/out of the window/ run and throw the paper in the bin. I have linked some other websites with ideas for games and activities at the end of this post.


If your child is able to segment words into its phonemes ‘m-ai-n’ but is struggling to blend them to make the word ‘main’ (which is often the case for children with dyslexia) then

try to repeat the phonemes back to them elongating the vowel sound in the middle e.g ‘m-aaaaiiiiii-n’.

Work backwards- Ask your child to break apart 5 different words with the target sound in. Then, ask your child to put the sounds back together again into the word. For instance, if they choose the word chain, you will want them to break the word down into /ch/, /ai/, /n/. They should do this exercise out loud, and there is no need to write the words down.

Writing the sound

Write the target sound in lots of different ways- in chalk on the floor, in glitter, in the kitchen sink, in the air. Anywhere! I once took my children, in the winter, out into the snow to write /ow/. ‘Ow ow ow in the snow’ (obviously this was an opportune moment but you could write /ow/ in flour that looks like snow).

Write the sound within words ensuring that you sound out the word with your child as they are writing. Once again do this in lots of different ways. Paint the words or use fridge magnets to make the words.

Consolidation and Repetition

Use as many different activities as possible to consolidate the sound you have learnt.

It will probably be likely that your child may have short term or long term memory difficulties. For this reason, repeating reading and writing sounds and words is very important.

Praise your child and give encouragement at every step even if they only get 1 out of ten right, praise them for that 1 and they’ll want to try and continue to get more next time.

Other websites that have phonics games and great ideas for multi sensory activities.

More about Laura

Laura qualified as a teacher in Primary education in 2015, and now works as a tutor with Owl Tutors.

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