Jolly Phonics for Preschool and Kindergarten

Jolly Phonics is a method of teaching the sounds of letters, so that children learn to read by blending different sounds. The theoretical base of this programme is phonics, which is a method for teaching language by developing learners' phonemic awareness—the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate phonemes — in order to teach the correspondence between these sounds and the spelling patterns (graphemes) that represent them. This programme is used in over 100 countries around the world. The success of the programme lies in the fact that it helps toddlers to not just read, but also to spell, and write English with grammatical accuracy.

The key characteristics of Jolly Phonics are:

  • It teaches through fun stories, actions and songs.
  • It is multi-sensory (makes use of different senses).
  • It is flexible and adapts easily to different teaching systems.
  • It builds systematically across school years.

The multi-sensory and fun-oriented teaching methodology of Jolly Phonics is evident in the following example, which is the very first page of the ‘Finger Phonics’ by Sue Lloyd and Sara Wernham (illustrated by Lib Stephen).

As can be seen, the sound of ‘s’ is the first sound taught, and aptly, it is a snake that introduces the sound! There is action and story associated with it as there is a boy being scared by a snake and attempting to run away. It is also possible for little fingers to practice the letter writing in the space given for that.

How does Jolly Phonics work?

To understand Jolly Phonics, it is necessary to move away from the traditional approach to reading, which is based on learning the alphabet names, and memorizing the spelling of words and their meanings. This system lends itself to hours upon hours of rote learning and drilling in school rooms, which often take the joy out of English learning.

In Jolly Phonics, the instructor teaches letter sounds. There are 42 letter sounds, that form the building blocks for children to form their words, and thus to decode the English language. Once children understand the sounds of letters, they will be able to blend them together to read a word. Similarly, when writing a word, they write letters down corresponding to the sounds listened to. These skills are aptly called blending and segmenting.

The basic Jolly Phonics programme consists of the following stages:

1. Learning the letter sounds:

The instructor teachers 42 letter sounds, which consists of both alphabet sounds (one letter corresponding to one sound) and digraphs (two letters corresponding to one sound). Each sound is introduced by means of fun stories, songs and actions, using a multi-sensory approach. Ideally, the sounds can be taught at the pace of 4 to 5 sounds a week. With a typically class, all 42 sounds can be taught within 9 to 10 weeks. There are seven sets of six letters each that are taught one after the other, as follows:

2. Learning letter formation:

In terms of language skills, speaking and reading typically comes before writing. Even so, Jolly Phonics gives provision to teach the writing of words alongside the introduction of each letter sound. Usually, children form the letter corresponding to the sound in the air, then on dotted lines and later write it down as the lesson progresses.

3. Blending:

Once the letter sounds are learnt comes the stage when children start blending the sounds together to form words. This is an exciting stage for both the students and the instructor, as all of a sudden sounds will begin to mean things! This is the beginning of reading.

4. Segmenting:

Oral Segmenting is the act of listening to a whole word and then splitting it into individual sound units (phonemes) that make it. This is the precursor to actual segmenting. Segmenting involves listening to a word, splitting it up into the phonemes that constitute it, and writing the graphemes (the written letters corresponding to the sound) down in the right order. This is how children learn spelling through phonics.

5. Tricky words

These are words with unusual letter combinations or irregular spelling, such as ‘I’ or ‘who’. Students learn these as exceptions to the phonics rules. Common tricky words are taught early on in phonics classes.

The five components of the phonics teaching mentioned above form the basis of the Jolly Phonics method. Used effectively and by a trained professional, children taught with Jolly Phonics reach an average reading age of around 12 months ahead of their actual age, after one year of learning to read in the Jolly Phonics way. This is certainly encouraging news for parents and educators.

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