Category Archives: News

Supporting Phonics at Home

LOCKDOWN has brought challenges of varying shapes and sizes; not least the trial of trying to keep some form of home learning going in midst of a pandemic that has shaken life as we knew it to its very core.

Trying to keep young, inquisitive, ripe-for-learning brains on track when you are not even sure what day of the week it is anymore is right up there when it comes to the list of daily struggles.

Our national primary curriculum is broad and comprehensive and incorporates, alongside daily doses of maths and literacy, science, history, geography, PE, computing, music, art, RE and PHSE (personal, health, social and emotional) studies.

All of which can be daunting when a) you are not really sure what you are doing b) your child would rather be on Minecraft or playing outdoors, c) you are trying to juggle your own work commitments and d) there are other siblings to consider.

But spare a thought for those grown-ups who are also grappling with phonics. This area of learning is crucial for the four to seven-year age group and it is one that baffles many a parent up and down the land.

So, what exactly is phonics? And can it be taught at home?

Put simply, there are 26 letters in the English alphabet, and they make 44 sounds. Phonics is a way of teaching children early reading skills by linking letters (graphemes) to sounds (phonemes) and there are a range of programmes out there designed to help teachers do this.

At Castle Carrock School we follow the Letters and Sounds programme which begins with Phase 1 for nursery children and ends with Phase 6, when by the age of seven, children will hopefully have become confident and fluent readers.

A more detailed explanation of the programme and its various stages can be found here: Phonics

In school all children in Early Years and KS1 have a daily 15 to 20-minute phonics lessons where they learn the art of decoding words for reading and segmenting words for spelling. They start by learning how sounds are represented by written words and then how to blend sounds together to make words. Alongside this, in each phase, there are tricky words to learn; words that cannot be decoded phonetically such as the, to, no, go, I, into.

We aim to make the lessons fun, engaging and interactive so if your child comes home doing ‘robot arms’ or singing silly songs and pretending ants are running up their arm, do not be alarmed – it is all part of the process.

And at home?

A great online resource to help keep phonics learning on track during lockdown is the Letters and Sounds Home and School programme on You Tube.

It is worth starting by watching the Handy Guide to Our Online Phonics Lessons and then following the daily lessons.

Free interactive online games to support this learning and which the children enjoy playing at school can found at or Another good resource with phonics teaching videos is

For nursery children, Mrs Grayson and Mrs Murgatroyd give lots of suggestions on their weekly home learning grid

Learning Times Tables

Following on from our Reading Blog last week, Mr Kirby has put together some resources and ideas all about learning our Times Tables.

Two key areas of mathematical development are place value and times tables. They provide a solid foundation to build upon as children progress through their schooling. Here, we look at different ways you can support your children to learn their times tables.

For those that aren’t aware of expectations, here are the national curriculum aims for each year group surrounding times table.

  • Year 1: count in multiples of 2, 5 and 10.
  • Year 2: be able to remember and use multiplication and division facts for the 2, 5 and 10 multiplication tables, including recognising odd and even numbers.
  • Year 3: be able to remember and use multiplication and division facts for the 3, 4 and 8 multiplication tables, including recognising odd and even numbers.
  • Year 4: be able to remember and use multiplication and division facts for the multiplication tables up to 12 x 12.
  • Year 5&6: revision of all multiplication and division facts for the multiplication tables up to 12 x 12.

Early multiplication

To start with, look at the language surrounding early multiplication- it is ‘repeated addition’ or ‘groups of’.
So to begin, practically look at making groups of the same number and repeatedly adding them. Ask your child what  are they noticing? 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 is “4 groups of 2”. Demonstrate this practically: share items amongst members of the family or toys.

At this stage, the practical movement of items and the discussion about what they are doing is an ideal early introduction to multiplication. In KS1, the early focus is on 2s, 5s and 10s so try and use items that come in 2s (shoes, socks, gloves), 5s (coins, hands, toes) or 10s (coins, ten-frames, a crab with 10 legs, 2 hands together). This will visually represent the number as a “set of” rather than a number of individual items.

The next stage to explore could be to rearrange these arrays and groups. Is 4 groups of 2 the same as 2 groups of 4? Children now begin to see it doesn’t matter what order they multiply in.

Questioning and encouraging an inquisitive nature and a curiosity about number is so important at this stage of child development. Make it fun and remove the fear!

Looking for links.

Children love to learn when they think there is a ‘cheat’ or a shortcut they can use to make things easier.

This starts as early as learning odd and even numbers when suddenly a light bulb flashes in a child’s head and they confidently inform you “the 2s are just the even numbers- you just miss out the odd ones!” Now that they’ve taught you that little shortcut, let’s see what other gems the number system may throw up…

Here is a colourful multiplication grid displaying the product of the grey numbers (Always slip in key mathematical language where possible, expose children to language they will learn later)

From the easier-to-spot early stages of spotting multiples of 5 as “always ending in 5 or 0 and “the 10s ending in 0” to the tricks associated with the 9s and 11s (do we all know the infamous “finger trick”?

Some of the times tables they learn lend themselves to this through the sequential order we learn them: “when you know your doubles (2s), double the doubles (4s)”; when you’ve learnt your 3s, double them to find your 6s; “when you’re confident with your double-doubles (4s), double them again! (8s)”

Looking beyond the numbers themselves, another link to utilise is making children see what they are learning in the real world and seeing why they should learn these. This can be done through relatable word problems (“this costs £5, how much will 3 cost?”) or in a practical sense on an activity I know so many of us are filling our time with, when upscaling a recipe (1 egg, use 3; 3tsp, use 9…).

Varying the language used

In maths, there will be a range of language used. From KS1, children will be exposed to the various ways a question can formed.

Number families:

These are a group of 3 numbers which can create different maths facts when arranged in different sequences. They comprise two multiplication facts and two division facts.

Key mathematical concepts involved here: multiplication can be commutative (can be done in any order achieving the same outcome) but division cannot. The key language involved in this is seeing the “inverse”, a key concept moving forward used in proving and reasoning.

A great way of illustrating these is through triangles where the number sentence created by 2 numbers leaves the 3rd unused number as the answer. Children will benefit by seeing and remembering these numbers together, particularly in different sequences.

A website with some number family worksheets:

Get practical

This could be as simple as gathering piles of counters/pebbles/Cheerios/whatever you’ve got in abundance, and sorting into groups.

Many games have printable options available online which have questions on one sheet and answers on another, but sometimes it’s just as easy to make a set of your own. Or better yet, have the children themselves create their own game! Matching games, timed games, competitions, anything to make the learning their times tables fun.

Making towers/covering answers with paper cups, there’s so much that can be done with a bit of card, some cups and a bit of imagination…

Create an alternative version of this cup game by putting answers on cups and sums on the card or, to go one step further, create missing number problems: 7 x ___ = 42

Practising on computers and tablets

By the end of Year 4, children will complete a digital multiplication assessment so it’s only fair to expose them to the circumstances and format they will face.

Times Table Rockstars gives a great idea of the pacey, timed nature of the questioning but there are a wide range of games out there which can engage children.

“Waldorf Flowers”

Templates for these are readily available or children can draw and decorate their own.
Starting from the inside out, multiply the chosen number by petals 1-12 (It the template is 10 petals, do 3-12!)

Upon completion, bring back our old friend “inverse” and change the format of the question to division. 4×8=32 but 32 ÷ 8 = 4

When children are starting to see this, there are Waldorf flowers available with the outer circle completed and the inner circle to calculate. Another element of learning for the child’s times table knowledge and further embedding their learning.

We hope you found this blog useful – please do comment, or get in touch, if you have any questions.

Getting the Whole Family Reading!

‘Developing a love of reading’ is an element of a school’s job that can be very difficult to do. It involves many aspects: finding books that children enjoy; giving the children time to enjoys books; letting them talk about books and sharing books they think others might like and we need to ensure they understand what they are reading.

But there is no doubt that this is a key life skill – reading gives children experiences they wouldn’t get otherwise, helps to develop empathy, it develops their writing skills and confidence. Focus, memory and comprehension are all skills that reading will develop. And it gives your child a life long hobby. But, developing this at home can be even harder than at school. To give you a helping hand I’ve collated various resources, idesa and links here.

Please comment as well if you feel we have missed anything.

Never too old to be read to..

Reading to childen starts young, and talking about books should be part of that too. In fact, conversation in general is an excellent way to develop vocabulary and curiosity. Asking questions when walking out and about, making a game of finding things as well as taking the time to really stop and look can develop their focus and attention.

But, there are some tips for sharing books as well…

  • Pick really great books – lots of advice out there. Rhyme and rhythm can make excellent read aloud books, authors they might recognise or build on interests they already have.
  • Take you time – explore the pages of books and respond to any questions your child have. When reading longer books ask them to take over every now and then.
  • Pause every now and then – connect what is happening to other events and books and ask them ‘why’ a character might do something.
  • Take your lead from your audience. Involve them – add in noises or emphasise rhyme and comedy.
  • Re-reading really has value, from developing a deeper understanding to creating a confidence in prediction. Don’t hesitate if they want to re-read something.

Independent reading

Once children start reading books to themselves it can be easy to leave them to it. After all they do need to develop their own reading resilience and they do need time to do this. However this is a vital stage – they are beginning their own journey! In school we often follow up independent reading with tasks to develop their understanding and to ensure comprehension.

At home, you don’t want to turn their reading into a battle to complete work – but there are some ideas and tasks that could help them (and you!)

  • Take an interest – ask questions, find out about the author, suggest books that you might know are similar. Most authors have websites and videos and activites that will draw children in.
  • Artwork – a common one we use in school – drawing a scene, a character or even summarising the story in comic book form can be fun and will develop understanding.
  • Activity sheets – searching online will often yield quizzes, wordsearches, mazes and all sorts. Online games are also common for some books.

Tips for Reluctant Readers

  • Don’t be too picky – if they are enjoying comics, graphic novels or magazines that’s fine too.
  • Create a link to what they already enjoy. Children might like to read magazines about specific hobbies, or to read websites.
  • Let them give up on a book – a rule for this in Class 4 tends to be ‘at least a third of the way through’ – after all time is precious!
  • Keep to a family routine – model everyone putting away devices and games and sitting with a book (or magazine, comic etc) for half an hour.
  • Make activites fun that can link to books or characters – for example ‘big art’ on a roll of old wallpaper, building dens outside, or creating own games based on books.

I hope you found these ideas useful -the key is to be led by whatever it is the child already enjoys. Limit time to other acitivities if need be, but don’t make reading a punishment (“go to your room and read!”).

If we can help in any other ways, plese let us know.

Links and Further Reading

Literacy Trust – Detail on UK Statistics

Word For Life – lots of help, ideas and a thriving commnunity for family literacy. From the Literacy Trust.

Penguin Books Children’s Reads – activites and links to authors here as well.

Ten Books to get the Non-Reader Reading

Open University Links for Supporting Reading at Home

Oxford Owls – Free eBooks

Goodreads – sharing books and developing your own interests.

Summer Term – Home Learning

Dear Parents and Carers,

As I write this, the situation regarding Covid-19 seems to be ever changing. I don’t think we ever imagined we would begin our summer term with the children learning at home. It goes without saying that we are all missing the children terribly – seeing your photographs and hearing what you are getting up to at home always brings a smile to our faces.

My priority remains the safety and well-being of our school community and I want to ensure that we all remain in contact and that you feel you can reach out for help if you need it. Our twitter page and facebook page are very active and share ideas for learning as well as resources and pictures.

Our newsletter will also be updated weekly by staff and can be found here. I will also put that out on facebook / twitter when updated – and feel free to send photographs or ideas to school to be included.

With regards to home learning letters from your class teacher have been sent out via email and can be found on the website. These detail contact, learning expectations and sites you can go to for further resources and ideas.

Following a routine with your children, and keeping key skills up such as reading, writing , counting and conversation should be the priority. Of course, if you wish to explore the topics the school have planned then the planning and resources are all online too. But please focus on what you and your family need at this time. The Covid-19 web page has a special section for well-being and if you are beginning to feel overwhelmed please do get in touch.

Our aim is to be here if you need us. Class 3 and Class 4 children can contact teachers if need be via Google Classroom – and weekly ideas and tasks are on there if they need them. Please take a look at google classroom if your children are in Key Stage 2 – it is a fantastic resource. If you are struggling with access to the internet or with devices let me know.

As ever, stay safe and please do get in touch with your class teacher if you would like more resources, or have any questions.

The Importance of Reading

This year, in a bit of change to our usual World Book Day celebrations we opted for a dress up day with a theme. Kindness. All of our children were asked to dress up with a ‘kind character’ in mind.

As the first time in a few years that we dressed up it was really great to see children and families being so enthusiastic. There was an added incentive of team points for characters who were ‘unique’ which meant that some of the children attempted some of the lesser known characters. We had a fun assembly in the afternoon where each class presented their characters. Key Stage 2 also took part in drama sessions in their lessons.

To go a bit deeper into World Book Day, we also carried out a survey amongst the Key Stage 2 children into their reading habits and what they enjoy about reading. This told us a few interesting things:

  • The older children (Class 4) don’t always read with an adult at home – but they would like to.
  • Most of the children enjoy reading a wide variety of text types – website, blogs and magazines for example.
  • Almost everyone at Castle Carrock School enjoys reading! Yay!
  • They enjoy hearing their teacher read to them – and both classes could name books that their teacher has read to them.
  • They would enjoy the chance to read more of their own books in school.
  • Lots of our children talk to their friends about books.
  • They like the variety of books that we have in school.

This is really positive for school – we always spend lots of money on new books and we make time to both read to our children and to hear them read, no matter what class they are in. The whole school has reading sessions at 09am – 09:40 and we put a huge emphises on reading in all areas of the curriculum.

It’s worth thinking as well, even if you know your child can read, it can be a real confidence boost and an enjoyable way to spend time together to just share a book. If you want some hints and tips for reading with your child – you can look here.

Next year we may not dress up – the School Council always tell us that they enjoyed the sleep over – and the Clue Treasure Hunt. As ever, we are always open to ideas!