Learning & Fun - the perfect combo!
If an activity isn't fun it doesn't happen at Alphatots! While all our activities are designed to develop children's early years skills, the fun-factor is just as important to us!
Communication is at the heart of everthing we do at Alphatots - seeing little ones develop the ability to talk and read is soooo exciting! So here's some of the science behind the fun...
Sign Language - a first step in communicating
At Alphatots Sounds & Signs sessions our youngest tots enjoy activities that develop one of the most exciting milestones there is: talking! Babies have so much to communicate to us - they frequently want to tell us when they're hungry, hot, cold, or just want to go home! But working out what it is they're trying to tell us before they can speak can be very challenging (not to mention frustrating for both baby and adult). That's where sign language can help! At Alphatots Sounds & Signs we teach a new sign each week that will help you and your baby to talk to each other before they can talk - a great frustration-buster for babies and adults alike! And far from hindering the development of spoken language, research actually shows that it helps as children gain confidence in others understanding them: win-win!
Listening skills & phonological awareness
Believe it or not, the first step to being able to read is being able to listen! Specifically, being able to distinguish between different sounds - this is the foundation for being able to distinguish between letter sounds. Alphatots Sounds & Signs sessions have a lot of basis in the Department for Education's early years Phase 1 Phonics programme. This uses instrumental sounds, percussive (body) sounds (eg clapping), and environmental sounds as a route towards reading skills.
Phonological awareness refers mainly to the ability to recognise rhyming words and syllables within words. Again these skills are a great help when it comes to reading when children are ready for that. At Alphatots Sounds & Signs we incorporate fun ways of developing that recognition, which work on different levels for the different ages of children joining in. Babies will simply enjoy hearing the sounds, younger toddlers will start to recognise the similarities, and older toddlers may be able to predict for themselves!
After signing and listening comes speaking! Repetition is the key here, but of course at Alphatots we make it fun! Fun songs, rhymes that we repeat together throughout Alphatots Sounds & Signs sessions, and not-to-mention puppets all encourage our youngest tots to join in with speaking when they're ready.
Learning to read through phonics
At Alphatots Phonics sessions and Alphatots Wordsmiths sessions we use synthetic phonics, which is a method of teaching the sounds that letters (or groups of letters) make, and then how they sound when they fit together ('synthesise') to form words. This differs from teaching the names of the letters first and expecting children to simply remember what whole words look like. In this way, children learn how to 'decode' words so that they can read any word, no matter whether they have come across it before or not. In Alphatots Wordsmiths classes we help 3-5 year olds learn to 'blend' letter sounds together into short words, and to 'segment' words (to break the words they hear into individual sounds in order to be able to spell them). See more information below in 'Why teach my child phonics'.
We recommend that when sharing books with children, adults trace over the text with their finger, to show little ones that English is written from left to right (rather than top to bottom like Chinese) - this is called Directional Tracking. This is another key skill we need in order to read - after all, we can't put the letter sounds together in the correct order otherwise!
English as a Second Language (ESOL)
The techniques we use at Alphatots have been proven to be especially effective for children (and adults) whose first language is not English. For more detail see our ESOL page.
Learning to write
All our sessions include either a sensory experience incorporating touch to stimulate little fingers (Alphatots Sounds & Signs sessions), fine motor skills activities to strengthen fingers (Alphatots Phonics sessions), or crafts that incorporate some writing (Alphatots Wordsmiths sessions and some Phonics sessions).
Why teach my child phonics?
It works! There have been many studies across the world that have found that this method of teaching, in particular the synthetic phonics model that we use at Alphatots, is the most effective in teaching children how to read fluently. UK studies in primary schools have shown that children taught this way demonstrate reading ages far in advance of those taught with other methods.
Reading confidence & fluency: Children learn how to 'decode' words, so that they can confidently read words that they may never even have seen before - that makes progressing further much easier as they get older.
Effective for boys and girls alike! Some boys have a natural aptitude for reading and writing, however trends in the UK have tended to put them behind their female peers in this area. This could be because boys and girls have a different timetable of brain development. Young boys often remember shapes and pictures well but struggle more with finer details. Teaching them to link the shapes of letters with the sounds they make at a young age helps develop the necessary neural pathways in their brain. And of course this is excellent for girls too!
Reading for pleasure: Learning phonics helps make reading more fun, as learning faster means children will be able to concentrate on the meaning of the words at an earlier age, rather than struggling to work out what each individual word actually is. Research has shown that at age 14 children who enjoy reading have a reading age 3 years ahead of those who don't.