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Want To Make Phonetics Fun? Then Bring on That Silly Soup!

In my final year of school, we were asked to supervise some of the junior classes for a couple of days. I’m not exactly sure why, but I think it was because something had suddenly cropped up, the teachers were super-busy and they didn’t want manic, bored students running around, so a few of us were roped in to teach.

We even got to select our classes. “Anything but kindergarten,” a friend of mine groaned. I’ll admit I was surprised. “Why not?” I asked puzzled. “You have something against a class full of cuties?” “Oh, the cuties are great. It’s the A, B, C’s I can’t stand. Imagine saying A for Apple AH AH AH. B for Ball Ba, ba, ba and C for Cat, Ka Ka Ka, for an entire hour. I’ll go crazy.” I realize now that somewhere deep inside me, those words stuck.

I had to admit she had a point. Phonetics, when done the traditional way (by assigning a sound and then introducing a word that begins with it) is actually as dull as ditch water. Who’d want to hear a teacher Ahhing and Baaing all day? I’m sure the cuties wouldn’t care for it either. But, what if I were to spin a story around these sounds? For instance, there was a C (ka) AT that loved A (ah)pples. But instead of the apple, one day, it ate the B(Ba)all instead! Now I’m sure the story (and the sounds by evoked by the words) would stick.

So when I set about teaching my kids to read (one down, one more to go by the way!) I hunted around for this particular CD. Richard Scarry’s ‘Best ABC video ever’ is exactly that—the best ABC video ever! It’s also one of my all-time favourites and undoubtedly the best way to make phonetics fun for your child. And even better—it’s now freely available on You Tube.

Sample this little story from the video that teaches us how the letter S sounds: ‘Suzie, can you think of a word that begins with S?’ asks Ms Honey, the teddy bear school teacher. Suzie, who is a little cat, says ‘Yes, Ms Honey. S is the first letter in the word soup.’ Then Suzie proceeds with a story. ‘Six silly sisters are cooking silly soup on the stove,’ she says. ‘Sarah is stirring in some spinach. Samantha is slicing some salami. Sylvia is sliding in sardines. Sonia is slipping in strawberries. Sally is shredding some sauerkraut, and Sibil is adding salt. Would you like to taste some Silly Soup?”

The cartoon animal students in the classroom groan at the thought of eating Silly Soup (as would we all) and the teacher says, ‘Suzie, that was…sickening.’ The first time I heard this, I was astounded by the ingenuous way in which they introduced so many S words in just a few minutes. Of course, they’re constantly repeating the sound of S, but it isn’t boring in the least!

In fact, every minute of the video is packed with such tremendous creativity and humour. My 4 year-old son loves the silly soup episode and always makes me replay this bit, while giggling hard. Of course, there are going to be some words like sauerkraut and salami that the Indian child may not be familiar with, but the visuals are so beautiful and rich in detail that they will get an idea of what it is.

And you can explain to them later too, which makes the experience even more educational. For instance, my son wanted to know what sauerkraut meant, so I had to tell him it was a kind of sour, fermented cabbage and show him pictures of hotdogs that some people garnish with sauerkraut.

Learning phonetics this way is so much fun and if you encourage your kids to make up their own phonetic stories using each sound of the alphabet (just like they do on this half hour video), it can be an extremely engaging and creative activity too. It’s important to keep in mind that knowing the alphabet can only get you so far. It’s mastering these sounds that holds the key to reading with ease. So bring on that silly soup--super speed!

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