Phonics Fun with Hairy Letters

Synthetic phonics. Biff, Chip and Kipper. Floppy the dog. Spellings. CVC words.

Yes, we are learning to read and write! Specifically, Mr Tall is learning, as he started school in September when he was very nearly 5. I am absolutely amazed to watch him learn to read and write. It feels like the first huge milestone after walking and talking. In fact I am possibly even more excited by this stage, perhaps because the risk of injury from coffee tables, walls and the dog is slightly less. He seems to have made so much progress from writing one lonely letter in the summer, to this week writing a whole invitation to his Christmas play. And every day, we read whole books (I know, they only have eight pages and are not always riveting, but STILL). And road signs, and posters, and so on… I love seeing how the whole world is becoming decoded for him.

Earlier in 2012, while I think it was on offer or possibly even free, I downloaded an app called Hairy Letters. The Hairies promised to help us with learning phonics in a fun way, but we didn’t really check it out at the time. So the app has been sitting on the iPad quietly, ready for when we need it. And this is the perfect time! Mr Tall has just picked it up in the past few weeks, and is enjoying it hugely.

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In Hairy Letters, you unfreeze letters of the alphabet in groups of four or six, roughly in the same sequence as in school. It uses the English phonics pronunciation, and most of the illustrations are familiar to us from school e.g. tennis shots for “t”, glugging a drink for “g” and deflating fish for “f”. For each letter you can watch a short animation, then the Hairies show you how to trace the letter in lower-case and then you copy them. You can also show the letters in upper case; when tapping them in this mode they will say their name.

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After you complete a group, you unlock a game in which you have to make words using all the letters learned so far. Initially three-letter words are used, but the last two levels involve four- and five-letter words. When you complete the word, the hairy animals carry it off stage with a fanfare. As rewards go, this is pretty simple, but to Mr Tall it is hilarious and he would quite happily spell words all day long to see them do it again and again. Meanwhile I get to feel all smug that he is hitting his target of spelling CVC (consonant/vowel/consonant) words.

hairy_letters_phonics_app_2We’re still working our way through the game, but really enjoying it. It is a shame though that there is no multiplayer option and that the reset option is a nuclear one (reset to zero) as Little Miss Chatterbox loves exploring it too. It would be great to be able to tailor it a little more so she doesn’t skew his progress. Having said that, I can really recommend this app as a fun way to encourage young children when starting to learn phonics. It has a huge number of five-star reviews on the App Store so I think other parents must feel the same. And if you like the app, it looks like there are more PC/Mac based resources available at http://www.hairyphonics.com

Hairy Letters, developed by Nessy, compatible with iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. Available from https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/hairy-letters/id410276288?mt=8 priced at £1.99/$2.99 at time of writing.

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