David Walters

Jolly Phonics songs

Songs that are standing the test of time

The Jolly Phonics songs have been around for over two decades now and although they have become a little dated, as a Synthetic Phonics teaching aid it has impressively withstood the test of time. I wish I could say the same for the scheme too but unfortunately it falls well short of the reliability of the songs themselves.

Around the time that I gained my teaching qualification, the Letters and Sounds scheme was just being introduced. Since incorporating it into my teaching I have never looked back. The Phonics curriculum that we use at our school is built around this scheme and in fact we have taken it even further, developing the latter activities in phases 5 and 6, which the authors seemed to neglect slightly.

The beauty of a scheme such as Letters and Sounds, unlike the Jolly Phonics Scheme, is that it doesn't need to be followed religiously, but rather it is more of a framework to work by. Whilst ideas for activities are suggested, lesson plans are easily altered to suit the needs of individuals in different classes.

The outdoor environment is perfect for teaching phonics and clever use of playground facilities can really help give an added boost to the children's attention spans. At our school we actively encourage teachers and children to work outside. A ‘Phonics Raceway' is a current favourite with our Reception children. The children drive the toy cars around our racetrack and must stop at the signposts to read words that are leveled and graded for the various ability groups in the class.

Jolly Phonics is such a synthetic phonics scheme. It is really designed for the less experienced of teachers. Daily worksheets are used to support and extend unimaginative lessons. Lessons quickly become dull and monotonous and only a small percentage of a class is really enthused by the humdrum structure of the teach / practice phase.

The Letters and Sounds approach allows children of all learning styles to access the teaching; a child might be practicing writing the ‘y' sound in actual yoghurt or using a metal detector to search for ‘s' words on coins, buried in a sand pit. The possibilities are endless and it doesn't take much to work out which one of the schemes will have the most impact on a child's learning.

Although the Jolly Phonics scheme itself is poor, I do have to concede that the Jolly Phonics ‘Songs' still continue to impress me for their longevity and resilience. There aren't many teaching resources that have gone on for so long without any real revamp and this staying power is made more impressive when you consider the competition from new technologies that have emerged since its introduction.

The reason for the continued popularity of the Jolly Phonics Songs isn't actually that mysterious when you sit and think about it. The original idea really is fantastic. Take traditional and well known children's rhymes, make up a short verse for audio learners and then add an action to each song to appeal to visual learners. Job done. If only there was a tactile element to the resource!

The most surprising thing is that the scheme and the songs have not been developed further, although this may be a testament to the beauty and holism of the original idea. The resources that support the songs have not changed since their initial conception and perhaps it is time for an update.

There is huge potential for an overhaul, that incorporates the technological changes that have occurred over the last decade or so; the images and pictures, characters, workbooks (if you use them) could all be updated and improved. When you consider the vast number of both English speaking and non-English speaking countries that use Jolly Phonics worldwide, it seems crazy not to build on the success of the original Jolly Phonics program.

There is an argument that the successor for Jolly Phonics as THE mainstay classroom resource has arrived and I would have to agree. Alphablocks is absolutely fantastic, incorporating colourful, imaginative songs and stories that manage to appeal to all types of learners. The creators are building on their initial success and creating links with Pearson's Bug Club too.

The only downside of Alphablocks is that to really see it used to its full potential classrooms need to be equipped with the technological advances that Jolly Phonics goes without. This is fine for first world countries but schools on a budget will have to do what they can for now. Until every classroom around the world is equipped with an interactive whiteboard, a T.V. or a full set of tablets for the children, Alphablocks' simply cannot take the No. 1 spot as the phonics teaching support resource that it could be.

Once every classroom has access to new technologies the possibilities become endless.

David Walters

Head of British Early Years Centre



"The original idea really is fantastic. Take traditional and well known children's rhymes"...lol...Nothing original about that...

By Daniel James, Thailand (19th September 2014)

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