• Rachel

Wilbur and Flops visit Hummingbirds Nursery

There's a lovely little place in Sowerby in Thirsk: a warm welcome awaits and a homely atmosphere can be felt as you walk through the door. Caring staff provide support to wonderful little people as they play and learn, taking in the wonders of the world from a secure and safe environment.

This little place is Hummingbirds, a private nursery offering day care and early learning until children take the big step into school. Over the last two half terms, I have had the privilege of going to Hummingbirds each Friday to run a story time and phonics session with their toddlers and pre-school children.

On arrival, the children are busy getting ready for the session and I am greeted with excitement, with one of them calling me 'Flops!' We start with our welcome song. The children know the words now and sing beautifully, clapping the syllables in their own names and those of their friends. Segmenting words into syllables provides an awareness of 'chunks' in words, which is essential for reading and will come in handy for spelling later.

The nursery staff sing, too, and they enhance and extend all the activities in the session. This is so important for modelling language and being able to transfer the skills to other parts of the day. Perhaps they sound out the name of the snack for the children to make into a word before showing them what it is, or ask children to be the leader at hand washing time if their name begins with a given letter. Phonics doesn't just happen between 9.30 and 10.15am, it can be carried throughout the day and interspersed with every activity.

With Wilbur and Flops, we sing, say rhymes, share stories and play games, all with carefully planned learning intentions to develop the skills in Phase One of Letters and Sounds from the Department for Education. The children are carefully supported by the nursery staff and because they know them very well, they engage them in the activities at their own level.

In my experience in schools, children often enter school without a secure foundation in Phase One phonics. It's not just about learning letters or the alphabet. These are important, don't get me wrong, but there are lots of skills children need to master before they need to recite the alphabet or begin to read words. They need to listen to stories; to enjoy rhyming; to match rhyming pairs; to repeat words and phrases from stories, even repeating whole stories if they can; to talk like a robot, using syllables; to clap syllables; to talk about what words begin with; to sound out words such as p-i-g and make them into words again; to learn about alliteration and play with words such as Silly Sue or Builder Bob, and most of all, to enjoy learning language. These skills are all developed during the sessions with Wilbur and Flops at Hummingbirds, and with careful support from the staff team there.

After we've shared a story, looked at the sound of the day, which is always associated with the story, played with linked and open-ended resources, and had some bubble fun, it's time for a shared tidy up time and to sing our goodbye song. The session flies by because everyone is having fun learning together. The children engage well with each other and are kind and considerate for their ages. This makes for a lovely family feel, where the children are relaxed and can be themselves. They know the routine and potter away to wash their hands for snack whilst I bundle everything into my box and bag before waving goodbye.

It's been so encouraging to see the progress these little people have made in just a short time. From listening for a little longer each week, to taking turns, and from recognising some initial sounds in words to beginning to make words from the sounds they hear (oral blending), they are beginning to piece together the many skills they need for a firm foundation on which to build when they go to school. It's not all about phonics at school but a little knowledge of sounds and words goes a long way when they enter reception. By the end of year one, they'll be tested on their application of phonics with the Phonic Screening Check so there's a lot to fit in before then!

I'm very much looking forward to another half term at Hummingbirds in June and July and I am so glad Kate gave me the opportunity to work with her team.

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