top of page


Below we have added links to the many facets involved in attaining reading skills, aware that you may wish to assist your child unlock the wonderful world that awaits him between the covers of a book. Click on any link to go directly to that aspect of reading.


Five things that children need to do before they can sound out a word

  1. Concepts of Print

  2. An Interest in Learning to Read

  3. Language and Listening Skills

  4. Letter Knowledge (Phonics)

  5.  Phonological and Phonemic Awareness


1. Concepts of Print

If your house is a reading house, you may find that your children develop concepts of print without a lot of instruction from you.

•         They hold books correctly and turn pages in the right direction.

•         They know that each word on a page represents a spoken word.

•         They understand that text is read from left to right.

How to develop concepts of print

•         Read to your child often.

•         Introduce books by their title.  Sometimes, draw attention to the author and illustrator. 

•         Make sure some of the books you read have large bold print, and point to the words as you read. 

•         Point out signs in your environment (the Cheerios box, an EXIT sign, and the sign at your supermarket).   Help your child see that print
            is all around you.


2. An Interest in Learning to Read

If you’re attempting to teach your child to sound out words and one or both of you are consistently frustrated, it will not end well.  It may be that your child simply isn’t ready for this skill (see the above points), or it may be that it’s not on her list of priorities.  If children are motivated to learn to read, you can expect the following to be true:

•         They enjoy being read to.

•         They frequently ask you to read aloud.

•         They pretend to read.


How to help children get excited to learn to read

•         Let your child see the value of knowing how to read by reading in a variety of ways in their presence.  This might mean reading a recipe,            your favourite magazine or even your e-mail.

•         Let your child choose books they love when you read to him — but don’t feel tied to books you’re bored with.



Oral Language

3. Language and Listening Skills

As you read to your children, they’ll develop language and listening skills which they need before they can become readers.

•         They can retell a familiar story in their own words.

•         They engage with a story as you read to them — asking questions (“Why did he say that?”) and making personal connections (“I wish I could have that much ice cream!”)

•         They can answer simple questions about a story.

How to build language and listening skills

•         Ask open-ended questions as you read.  Ask more “why” and “how” questions than “who” and “what.” 

•         Explain unfamiliar words as you read.

•         Encourage your children to play pretend.



Phonics (Letter Knowledge)












4. Letter Knowledge

Children are introduced to letters through the Jolly Phonic Programme. Learning letter sounds enable the children to sound out words.

What is Jolly Phonics?

Jolly Phonics is a fun and child centred approach to teaching literacy through synthetic phonics. With actions for each of the 42 letter sounds, the multi-sensory method is very motivating for children and teachers, who can see their students achieve. The letter sounds are split into seven groups as shown below.


Letter Sound Order

The sounds are taught in a specific order (not alphabetically). This enables children to begin building words as early as possible.


How does Jolly Phonics work?

Using a synthetic phonics approach, Jolly Phonics teaches children the five key skills for reading and writing. The programme continues through school enabling the teaching of essential grammar, spelling and punctuation skills.

The five skills taught in Jolly Phonics:

  1. Learning the letter sounds. Children are taught the 42 main letter sounds. This includes alphabet sounds as well as digraphs such as sh, th, ai and ue.

  2. Learning letter formation. Using different multi-sensory methods, children learn how to form and write the letters. We use cursive script when writing ( see handwriting section)

  3. Blending. Children are taught how to blend the sounds together to read and write new words. This is an important skill and children are encouraged to stretch out sounds like an elastic band to blend into the next sound e.g. bbbbbaaaaaaatttttttt. We discourage robot sounds such as b-a-t.

  4. Identifying the sounds in words (Segmenting). Listening for the sounds in words gives children the best start for improving spelling.

  5. Tricky words. Tricky words have irregular spellings and children learn these separately.

From school your child will have:

Sound Book

Phonics Copy

Sounds to take home and say

Phonological and phonemic awareness


5. Phonological and Phonemic Awareness

While we’re learning the alphabet, we play games and do activities to lay a solid foundation of phonological and phonemic awareness. Just remember that these are different from phonics because they are about LISTENING, not LOOKING.  The following statements are true of children with phonological and phonemic awareness.

•         They can count words.

•         They can count syllables in words.

•         They can rhyme.

•         They can put sounds together to make a word.  If you say these sounds to your child, /f/ and /ish/, can he put them together to make

            fish?  If you stretch a word and say it like this — mooooon – does your child know the word is moon?

•         They can identify the first and last sound in a word. This is not the same thing as knowing the letter.  For example, if you ask your child              the first sound in the word phone, she should be able to answer /f/.


How to promote phonological and phonemic awareness:

•         Give your child a cup with counters. Say a sentence in the normal way and then recite it very slowly.  (“The sky is blue.”)  Can your child give you a counter for each word of the sentence?

•         Teach your child to count syllables by starting with his own name. Then move on to other familiar words.

•         Read rhyming books and say nursery rhymes together.

•         Play rhyming games.






We are very proud of our cursive handwriting in Castlebar ETNS. Cursive handwriting is sometimes called script handwriting, looped writing or joined-up writing. It is a style of penmanship in which the letters are written in a conjoined and/or flowing manner, generally for the purpose of making writing faster. Cursive letters will be taught from Junior Infants in Castlebar ETNS instead of teaching manuscript letters first. Research shows that cursive writing is more child-centred and has six primary advantages over manuscript:

  • It is less fine-motor skill intensive.

  • All the lowercase letters begin in the same place on the baseline.

  • Spacing within and between words is controlled.

  • By lifting the pencil between words, the beginning and ending of words is emphasized.

  • It is difficult to reverse letters such as b’s and d’s.

  • The muscle memory that is mastered first will last a lifetime.

More information can be found here:


The Scheme we use is Handwriting Today by Prim-Ed Publishing. Please check your child’s booklist for the correct book title.

For further information the teacher’s Manual can be found here


Gross Motor Skills

Before we teach the letters of the alphabet (Fine motor activity) we develop each child’s gross motor skills. Term 1 in Junior Infants will concentrate on building shoulder stability, muscle tone and strength, coordination, balance and developing body awareness.

Some Gross Motor Activities Include:

  • Imitates standing on one foot

  • Imitates simple bilateral movements of limbs (e.g., arms up together)

  • Walks up/down stairs alternating feet

  • Jumps in place with two feet together

  • Able to walk on tip toes

  • Catches using body

  • Stands on one foot for up to 5 seconds

  • Kicks a ball forwards

  • Throws a ball overarm

  • Catches a ball that has been bounced

  • Runs around obstacles

  • Able to walk on a line

  • Able to hop on one foot

  • Jumps over an object and lands with both feet together

  • Throws a beanbag into a hoop


Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skills are skills that involve a refined use of the small muscles controlling the hand, fingers, and thumb. The term dexterity is commonly used to describe these skills. During the infant and toddler years, children develop basic grasping and manipulation skills, which are refined during the pre-school years. The pre-school child becomes quite adept in self-help, construction, holding grips, and bimanual control tasks requiring the use of both hands. It is important to fully develop fine motor skills before commencing with formal handwriting lessons. This will ensure that when each child is ready they will hold their pencil correctly and enjoy the writing process. We will concentrate on developing gross and fine motor skills in Junior Infants and Senior Infants as pre-writing and writing skills emerge. Fine motor activities include:






Hearing and joining in with familiar songs, rhymes and jingles can be a fun and enjoyable activity.  It helps children to tune into the rhythms and sounds of a language and hear its distinctive tune. Awareness of rhyme in young children has also been linked to progress in reading later on.

Nursery Rhymes

  • help develop a child’s ability to hear, identify and manipulate letter sounds.

  •  give children practice in pitch, volume as well as in language rhythm.

  •  expand your child’s imagination.

  • follow a clear sequence of events.

  • improve a child’s vocabulary.

  • are an early form of poetry.

  • contain sophisticated literary devices e.g  alliteration in ‘Goosey, Goosey Gander’ or the onomatopoeia in ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’


Nursery rhymes are a powerful learning source in early literacy. They enable children to become interested in the rhythm and patterns of language in a way that listening to stories does not provide.

In Junior and Senior Infants children will learn a variety of Rhymes which can be said aloud at home, in the car, on walks and which can be performed for friends and family! Why not play some rhyming games to further develop your child’s interest.

Rhyming Games

1.     Sing Rhyming Songs

Sing these familiar songs to practice rhyming.

Silly variation: When you get to the last word in a line, change it!

Example: In the rhyme “This old man”, see what other words you can rhyme with the number words.

2.     Rhyming Thumbs

Take rhyming with you anywhere – like this easy-to-play game that is perfect for the waiting room, a restaurant, or a sister’s lesson. Say two words that may or may not rhyme. Have your kids decide if the words rhyme or not. Thumbs up if they rhyme. Thumbs down if they don’t.


3.     Toss, Rhyme, Catch

Using a ball you stand (or sit) facing each other. The person who tosses the ball says a word. The other catches and throws it back, saying a word that rhymes. Keep going until you run out of rhyming words. Then, start with a new word.

Example: Hall – ball and turtle – surtle (yes, you can use nonsense words in our game!)

4.     Rhyming Treasure Hunt

Write your own treasure hunt clues using rhyming end words.

5.     Magnet Letter Words

If you have magnetic letters on your fridge, use them to start a word tower. Make an easy word like HAT. Ask your child to make list of rhyming words underneath. This way it’s easy to see the letter family in the pattern:




6.     Nursery Rhymes

Read nursery rhymes together. Find several that you can learn by heart. Now, try to say them in silly voices: cowboy, fancy person, squeaky mouse, loud talker.

7.     Read Rhyming Books

As your reading these rhyming stories, see if your child can guess what rhyming word is coming up. (Especially in Guess Again! Because there’s a trick!)

•         Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? By Bill Martin

•         Five Little Monkeys Wash the Car by Eileen Christelow

•         Guess Again! By Mac Barnett

•         King Hugo’s Huge Ego by Chris Van Dusen

•         Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas

•         Silly Sally by Audrey Wood

(Check our local Castlebar library for these books-this can further develop their interest in books)


8.     Fingerplay

Fingerplays are chanting rhymes with hand movements. You probably know more of these than you think. They’re great because they add movement to rhyme! Lots of our number rhymes can be fingerplays e.g. 5 little speckled frogs, 5 green peas etc.

Oxford Reading Tree


To meet meet the Oxford Reading Tree Characters click here

Tips to support reading at home


  • Make the time: Life is busy, but even ten minutes of reading with your child each day is one of the best ways you can support their education and help them to become a strong reader.

  • Take turns to read: Often you’ll want to listen to your child read aloud – reading to an adult is the most important thing children in the early stages of learning to read can do to develop their reading. But don’t stop reading aloud to them. It’s a great way of building their understanding, showing them what expressive reading sounds like and letting them enjoy a story.

  • Make reading relevant: Just like adults, if a book is about something that interests your child, they’ll be more likely to want to read it. Look at fiction, non-fiction, comics and children’s newspapers to show your child how reading allows us to explore our interests and the world.

  • Talk about the book: Asking your child questions or asking for their opinion can be an important way of helping them to think about what they’re reading. As a rule, open questions that begin with ‘how’ and ‘why’ tend to be more engaging rather than simple recall questions (‘How do you think Winnie is feeling on this page?’ might work better than ‘What is Winnie afraid of?’).

  • Pay attention to the language: When reading we can often take children’s understanding of words or phrases for granted. By checking they’re following, explaining the meaning or even looking up unfamiliar words and phrases together, you can widen your child’s vocabulary and support them to make wider sense of the story.

  • Enjoy reading time: Making time to read with your child can have great educational benefits, but it can also be ten minutes of respite from hectic family life to curl up, read and talk together. By all means ask questions and discuss vocabulary, but don’t be afraid to lose yourselves in a good story too.

  • Blending: To say the individual sounds that make up a word and blend them together to hear the whole word for reading e.g. s-a-t becomes sat.

  • High frequency words: These are the words that occur most commonly in the English language. Some are decodable like 'much' whilst others are tricky like 'the'. We try to learn these words as sight words.

Questions Parents Often Ask

What if my child makes a mistake when reading? Don’t stop the flow of the reading unless what they’ve read doesn’t make sense. The meaning is the most important thing in reading in the early stages and accuracy will come. At the end of the book you could return to this word and ask the child what’s the first sound, what’s the last sound and then what is this word?

What should I do if they get stuck on a word? In the early stages, quietly say the word. Later:

  • Encourage them to refer to the picture

  • Get them to try the first sound of the word

  • Break the word into chunks (syllables)

  • Get them to read the whole sentence and then ask them to guess the word. Focus on the meaning.

Oral Language
Phonological Awareness
Oxford Reading Tree
Reading Tips
bottom of page