Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Letterland

At Emily's school, no English is taught until the K1 year, which is the year she turns five.  When I realised that some Nursery-year children in other schools were being exposed to phonics, I decided to home-teach phonics, using the Letterland system, as part of our reading programme.

In Letterland, each letter is a character.  For example, "a" is Annie Apple, "b" is a (bunny) rabbit named "Bouncy Ben" and so on.  There are alphabet songs for each letter which teach the relevant phonetic sounds as well as handwriting songs to teach students how to write each letter.  Combination sounds like "ch" or "sh" are taught using easy-to-remember stories which build on the character stories taught earlier.  For example, when Sammy Snake ("s") slithers alongside Harry Hat Man ("h"), who likes his peace and quiet, Harry Hat Man responds by shushing Sammy Snake up - the sound he makes is "shhhhhhh"!

It all seemed rather clever and fun to me, so I made a few phone calls and did internet searches.  In Singapore, Letterland products are sold by a distributor named Francis Wan or via retail at Elm Tree shops in Suntec City and Paragon.  The range of Letterland products on offer is extensive and mind-boggling!

These are the ones we are using with Emily:

Letterland Teacher's Guide

This is my bible as far as teaching Letterland goes. We follow the lesson plans religiously, though we have often been able to go faster than prescribed and we have also skipped lessons or activity suggestions when it's clear that Emily has already grasped the material. 

We sped through the a-z Phonemic Awareness Fast Track (which is supposed to provide a quick, 3.5 week "lift off strategy" to expose students to the alphabetic code) in about two weeks, and moved through the next section on onsets and rimes fairly quickly.  The next section, which covered initial sounds like "sh", "th" and "ch" as well as ending or medial sounds like "ck", "-ll", "-ff", "-ss" and "-ng" took us a bit longer and we are now starting on consonant blends like "bl", "fl", "br", "scr" and "thr", which is what I imagine we'll be busy with for some time.

The final section in the Teacher's Guide is the section covering digraphs and trigraphs, where students are taught to handle long vowel sounds as well as combinations like "ar", "or", "ir", er", "oo" and "ear".

I love the Teacher's Guide and I think it's worth every penny if you are planning to teach Letterland at home, without any school-teacher support.  The guide also contains useful appendices, an easy-to-access Activity Bank (with games to reinforce learning), reading and spelling lists for older children and worksheet copymasters.  What's not to love?

Living ABC Software, the ABC Book and the Beyond ABC Book

The Living ABC CD-Rom allows the child to learn independently, as long as he or she can work a computer and a mouse.  Emily adored this software programme from the start.  She can choose which Letterland character to learn about and within each character's sub-menu, she can choose to hear the character's story, alphabet song or handwriting song.  There are also games on blending and word construction for more advanced children. 

The ABC book covers the character's story and each story also uses words featuring the relevant letter sound.  You can probably use this book alone, without relying on the software - and that would certainly be a more cost-effective option - but the book does require a high level of parental involvement and guidance, which may be an issue for busy parents. Letterland recommends that parents whose children are being taught Letterland in school buy this book to reinforce learning at home. 

Emily has shown less interest in this book.  I suspect that is because much of the material is covered in the software programme.

The Beyond ABC book is like the ABC book, save that it covers consonant blends and long vowel sounds.  We use it with the Blends and Digraphs Songs CD, but again, Emily prefers listening to the songs to being read to from the book.



Vocabulary Cards and Straight Picture Code Cards

We used these large vocabulary cards (designed to be used in schools) during the a-z phonemic awareness stage.  You can use them to play Word Sort games - for example, when we play these games, I hand Emily the picture code cards for Annie Apple ("a"), Golden Girl ("g"), Eddy Elephant ("e") and Munching Mike ("m").  I then give her the vocabulary cards for words like giraffe, monkey, egg and ant, and she has to figure out which vocabulary cards should be paired with which picture code card.  We also plan to use the vocabulary cards later on to develop the skill of "reading by analogy" as the underside of each card provides a list of "analogous" words - for example, "monkey" is linked with "donkey", "turkey" and "key".

We've used some of the picture code cards to introduce the Letterland characters, to teach consonant blends and to build words. In the pack I bought, these are featured on narrow cards.  Digraphs and trigraphs are featured on wide cards in the same pack and I expect that we'll soon be using more of these wide cards when we move on to digraphs and trigraphs, though we've already had to use some of the wide cards to teach "ng", "th" etc.

 

Blends and Digraphs Songs
 
We are also looking forward to using this CD to teach consonant blends like "gr" and "st" as well as digraphs like "ew" and "ir".  To give you an idea of how these songs teach the relevant sounds, the "ew" song's lyrics are:  I knew the Walrus had in mind/ a few new splashing tricks/ I knew I had to stop him/ or I'd be in a fix./ With this in view I also knew/ the shrewdest thing to do/ just squirt at him - and/ that is why he cries, "oo, you, oo you!"


All in all, I have been very pleased with Letterland and our progress on this programme.  It is a fun and interesting programme, and you can tell that much thought has gone into structuring the programme and crafting the stories for each letter and each letter combination.  I expect that when we put more emphasis on writing in the future, the handwriting songs will come in handy as well.  The materials, while on the expensive side (particularly if you buy teaching materials designed for classroom-use, as I have been doing), are well-made and the use of bold pictures and bright colours is super when you're dealing with young children. 

After just three months on Letterland, Emily is able to identify all her letter sounds as well as certain combination sounds.  She can also do basic blending. 

We only have 21 more lessons to get to the end of the Teacher's Guide, and while I think we'll have to go at a slower pace now that we're at consonant blends, digraphs and trigraphs, I don't expect we'll have problems finishing the syllabus by the end of the year.  There is an Advanced Teacher's Guide to move on to thereafter, but I haven't looked at that yet and I have no idea if we will move on to that or just stop at this syllabus. 

So, yes, we are Letterland fans!  You would be too if your child asks for Letterland lessons almost every day and despite having taken a two-week break from Letterland, recently deciphered the word "mitt" by whispering to herself, "mmmm....Impy Ink says 'i' in words....Talking Tess says 'tttt'...MITT."  Enough said.
   

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