Tag Archives: jolly phonics

The Beginner’s Guide to Primary School Part 2

This is the second instalment in the Mothering Fright’s Beginner’s Guide to Primary School. For those of you who read Part 1, my heartfelt and somewhat surprised thanks that you have returned to imbibe Part 2. For those of you who have come straight to Part 2, fear not, you can start here and work backwards, which is not a bad strategy for many things, apart from doing the Conga. For everyone, a quick reminder: there is nothing of actual use in this Guide. So sue me.


However much uniform you purchase, it will be one item too few. There is much collateral damage involving uniform in that first year of primary school, much of which will leave you staring in disbelief and wondering what sort of supernatural trickery was involved to have inflicted that mark / rip / strange sticky substance in a place on that item of clothing that barely sees daylight. A school jumper, not removed for the entire school day, is taken off at home to reveal a strange orange stain on the shirt underneath that definitely was not there that morning. Velcro straps on shoes are hideously clagged with a mysterious red fibre even though the classroom carpet is blue. And the school jumper… well, this is the front line in the war against pretty much everything a 5 year old can throw at it and it seems any activity or event can prove it’s downfall:

  • A classroom painting activity. Either aprons are for wimps, or my son puts his on back to front. Actually, that is pretty damn likely.
  • Baked bean eating. While do kids insist on loving a foodstuff so bloody small and slippery and covered in juice? Jumpers come home looking like a knitted ice rink for snails, with crusty silvery-orange trails criss-crossing the front.
  • Other kids. Another child’s inability to carry a loaded paintbrush to the sink without tripping over their imaginary friend means a globby smudge of dried-on paint on some part of the jumper on a regular basis.
  • The common cold. Mucus, meet sleeve. Sleeve, meet mucus. Need I say more?
  • My son has the utterly infuriating habit of chewing on the sleeve of his jumpers. A perfectly serviceable jumper suddenly looks like the dog’s been snacking on it, forcing me to darn it. And darning was something I was pretty much hoping to avoid in my life time, given that I do not live in sodding Victorian times.
  • Paint aside, there are still many ways to trash a jumper whilst in the pursuit of artistic expression. Why not glue some glittery shapes onto it? Or stick a few mini poms poms on the elbow? Or simply wipe your PVA-sodden fingers across your chest. All of which have the common denominator of glue, or as I now refer to it, the evil albino mucus that drips from the wizened nostrils of Beelzebub. I know, catchy, right?


And as a tragic caveat to uniform, let us turn our attention to the much abused and neglected PE kit. Lovingly laundered and folded a week before term starts, it is then squeezed and pummelled into a drawstring bag that seems to have been designed to hold something the size and shape of a tennis ball. By the time the trainers and plimsolls are inserted on top by means of a greased shoe horn, you wonder why you ever bloody bothered. It instantly looks like it’s been festering in a small damp bag for seven weeks. Seven weeks later at the end of term, after it has actually been festering in a small damp bag, you have to don a full chemical suit just to extract it and throw it hurriedly into the washing machine using extra-long stainless steel prongs.

But don’t expect your child’s PE kit to come home at the end of term. Good god no. The first time I emptied E’s PE bag, I pulled out a tee shirt and shorts belonging to Daisy, a girl at least 3 sizes smaller than my son. I briefly wondered just how many weeks my son had been attempting to run around in a kit that would have practically cut off his circulation and bent him double, but I decided the best policy was not to ask. (This approach will stand you in very good stead to survive primary school generally, I find).

Your child will rarely grow out of shoes. Long before that, one shoe will have succumbed to a mysterious but fatal incident that sees you rushing into the nearest Clarks at 4pm, desperately scanning the sale racks. A Velcro strap will have ‘fallen off’, a hole will suddenly appear in the side of the shoe the circumference of which looks suspiciously similar to that of your child’s forefinger, or it will simply go missing in action, usually in the 40 minutes between getting changed for PE and returning to the classroom.

Learning to read

You will be given books to ‘read’ with your child that have no words. This will slightly fuck with your mind.

You will then be given books to read with your child that have three, three letter words per page, the utter banality of which will fuck with your mind some more.

You will think your child will never, ever learn to read. When he looks long and hard at the word ‘car’ and confidently reads it as ‘acrobat’ you will sob quietly inside.

Your child will be using the phonics system of learning to read. Mine used Jolly phonics, a name so wildly inaccurate it made me grind my teeth into calcified nubs. First come the ridiculous songs and actions. Then the torturous experience of watching a 5-year-old sound out a word so inaccurately you can’t even begin to find something to say that isn’t the word ‘twat’. And let’s not forget the dawning realisation of both you and your child that almost every other word in the English language seems not to conform to the rules of phonics. Couple that with the interminably slow progress of reading a sentence and the utter vacuum of expression a child reads with at this stage, and you start to think you are sitting next to Stephen Hawking when his batteries are running low.

In short, it’s a mind fuck.


The Reading Journal

It looks innocuous enough. A slim book in which you write comments and observations about reading with your child at home. It is also where the teachers write their comments, so there is added pressure that there is an outside chance that the teacher may read what you have written. You will become expert in writing bollocks comments about the hideous last 20 minutes of your life where you had to threaten your child with no TV for the next three months if he didn’t sit down and read to you. You will also develop a complex code of comments whereby ‘he really tried hard to blend his words today’ really means ‘the little fucker threw the book at my head when I tried to tell him that the word mat wasn’t in fact pronounced poo bum’, and where ‘he seems a little disengaged with his reading today’ means ‘I suggested we read together and he lay down on the floor and made a funny monotonous groaning sound for three minutes’. Oh no, wait. That could have been me, actually.

You had PE today, didn’t you?

Whilst you will never really know what your child gets up to on any given day in school (see What they did that day from Part 1) you will pretty much always be able to deduce when they have had PE. Why?

  • They’re wearing their shoes on the wrong feet.
  • Their shirt buttons are buttoned up incorrectly, and one side of the shirt hangs a good ten inches lower than the other. It’s a look.
  • They’re wearing someone else’s school jumper.
  • They tell you they missed play time as they were still attempting to button up their shirt.

The clean plate sticker

Your child may well be most excited in those early days of school by being a recipient of a sticker from a lunch time helper, awarded for eating all of their dinner. Although as it turns out, you can also get this sticker by the surreptitious scraping of your left overs onto your neighbour’s plate whilst they are momentarily distracted by a carrot slice in their ear.

Parent as pack donkey

You will become a handy coat rack and crap carrier twice a day. As your child barrels out of the classroom, you will be buried under a tsunami of coat, jumper, book bag, three crumpled pieces of A4 paper (that you are told in no uncertain terms are not to be folded), a sticky sweet wrapper as it was someone’s birthday, an injury form, water bottle and a ridiculously over-sized book as your child couldn’t possibly go to the library and choose something that would fit in their bag. As the tips of your fingers start to turn white and your shoulders begin to throb, said child is then incredulous that you haven’t bought a snack with you as they skip alongside you, swinging their empty arms with gay abandon.

Tune in next week for the last thrilling instalment of The Beginner’s Guide to Primary School. It’s where you’ll find out how to deal with Dressing Up Day without stabbing someone and what happens when you wear Crocs to a playdate. Or is it that how to wear Crocs to Dressing up Day and what happened when I stabbed someone at a play date? Oh well, I am sure it will all become clear when I actually write the bloody thing.


All aboard the good ship Jolly Phonics

I am stressed. The pressure is getting to me.  I am developing an involuntary twitch, to accompany the other involuntary twitches that have developed over the last five years of having kids, induced by a smorgasbord of calamities and anxieties such as trips to A&E, almost-tumbles into deep, tidal waters and strange birth marks that the GP informed me could be a terrible, serious condition or you know, just a birth mark. Oh yes, when it comes to the pick and mix of child-induced stresses, I feel I have scooped a fair portion of treats from those acrylic troughs of delight and stuffed my paper bag to the brim.

But this time, it is an educational-induced stress. My son, being in foundation year of his primary education, is learning to read. In my mind, it would be a joyous voyage of discovery. We would embark on the good ship Jolly Phonics, grab the oars with glee and sail off into a sea of letters, singing sea shanties of cats on mats and pins in tins, laughing and squealing at the fantastic pleasure of my son being able to decipher those curious hieroglyphics that had up until this point eluded him, and finally gain entry to the amazing world of books. I thought this, because I am a twat.

Instead, I find I have embarked on this journey with an occasionally petulant crew, no map, no oars, no idea how to steer and a burning desire that we should have taken the fucking plane instead. Because I thought that foundation year was all about play. When we looked round on the school tour and went into the foundation class room, I saw a boy intently colouring in a sheet of A4 paper with a blue pencil. Now, I appreciate that he could have put down his copy of The Grapes of Wrath moments before we entered, but I presumed that in the first year of education, colouring in and general mucking about would be high on the curriculum. After all, they are four and five. They have only just mastered their opposable thumbs, for god’s sake, and buttoning their own shirts can take the best part of thirty minutes. And frankly, I am a staunch advocate of prolonging the play for as long as possible, to enhance creative thinking skills, imagination and not having to get the parents involved in anything too taxing.

But only a week in, I opened the school bag to find a sheet of words with curious spots under each letter. I read the parental instructions. Then read them again. And once more, for luck. Still not sure I fully grasped the task in hand, but with a portentous feeling that I could be scuppering my son’s chances of learning to read with every misplaced admonishment or lack of encouragement, we started.

“a-s” he sounded out, pressing the spots diligently with his forefinger. I nodded encouragement, not wanting to interrupt his concentration by saying something.

“a-s,” he repeated.

“a-s,” he said once more. This is not as exciting as I first thought it was going to be.

“Assss,” he stated and looked at me. Now I was in a quandary. Technically, ‘a-s’ does not spell ‘ass’. But should I piss on his phonics fire so early in the process, given it was only the merest of nascent flickers as is was?

“Nearly,” I said with a smile.


“Not quite, sweetie.”

“Asss?” he repeated. Yes, why not keep repeating the wrong answer until I get so worn down I change my mind?

“Let’s sound it out again, shall we?” I offer, watching his shoulders drop an inch. Christ. There are about twenty five words on this sheet and we have to pick his brother up in fifteen minutes, at which point any hope of concentration is shattered by the piercing cries of an eighteen month old who wants in on the action.

“Shall I sound it out for you, so you can hear it?” I ask. I have no idea if this is against the rules. In fact, I don’t know if there are any rules. But I create one on the spot: what goes on in reading homework stays in reading homework. I do not want to be told off by E’s teacher for helping when I shouldn’t, or not helping when I should, or letting him off the hook too easily, or keeping him, sobbing, on the hook for too long. Bloody hell. Who knew learning to read was so bloody complicated?

“A-s,” I sounded out, trying to make it more obvious.

“Don’t tell me mummy! You told me! I know it now! That’s what I was going to say.” He placed his hand over my mouth so I couldn’t help him further, which reminded me, next time we sit down after school to do some reading, I am going to make him wash his bloody hands first.

And so we continued. E vacillated between the euphoria of reading a word, and forehead-slapping despair when the letters made no sense whatsoever, no matter how many times he pressed those buttons. I assured him that is was not important, and it would get easier, and it was all about trying, which we both knew sounded a lot like something you would say to a complete loser.

A couple of weeks later and we have progressed to four letter words. No, not those kinds of four letter words. I have muttered a few of those, under my breath, as E loses patience with himself and declares he won’t do any more. I will him to do well every time we sit down with the word sheets, so he can jump up and down with the joy of knowing that those four letters in front of him spell ‘less’ and try not to keep saying ‘no’ when he gets it wrong six times in a row. Should I be saying no? Should I dress it up as a ‘nearly’, or a ‘good try’? I feel as if I really should have undertaken some teacher training to be sitting here with my son, being partially responsible for helping him to learn to read. Keep it light and happy, I tell myself, as I watch him lay his head on the table as he gets it wrong again. I may join him at this rate.

“Never mind!” I chirp, wondering momentarily if he is dyslexic, due to his constant confusion between ‘b’ and ‘d’, then realising that no, he is just probably slow on the uptake. We both stare at the word sheet, and I try not to remember the comment from the teacher in his reading record book telling me it would be helpful if he practised his words at home. I couldn’t decide if I was more pissed off that she thought we didn’t practise, or that E was so bad at reading that it just seemed as if we did not practise. So I just ground my teeth and flared my nostrils and contemplated writing something very rude in his reading record book.

And then there’s the reading books. The excitement of having a book with actual words that he is expected to read fades rapidly in the face of his point blank refusal to read it, as it is “too tricky”. I explain that it is only tricky because he thinks it is, and if he thought it was going to be easy it probably would be, which fooled precisely neither of the two people sitting at the table. After some gentle cajoling (which may or may not have involved a bribe, I couldn’t possibly say) we start to read the book.

“N-a-n…” he sounds out. This is a new word for him, and I see him scan the picture for clues. “Grandma?” he offers. As a complete guess, it could be worse, I suppose. I ask him to try again.

“N-a-n,” he repeats. “Lady?” I take a deep breath. I once quite fancied being a teacher. Now I realise that I would be a crap teacher, as my single urge at this point is to flick his ears and tell him to stop bloody guessing and READ IT PROPERLY. Eventually, I help him with the word and we move to the next.

“S-i-t-s,” he sounds out. There is a pause. Another new word. He think about it for a while. “Acrobat?” Acrobat? Acrobat? It is wrong on so many levels I am not sure what an appropriate response would be, apart from ‘pass the wine please’. So I laugh, then realise that of all appropriate responses, that is approximately last on the list, and so we sound it out together and finally, about three weeks after we started this two-word sentence, we have it. Nan sits. Well good for fucking nan. Forget sitting, nan. What I need is a bloody good lie down.