Do family learning phonics courses improve parents' reading-related skills and ability to support their children's reading?

Rachael C. Hulme, Charlotte E. Webber, Amy C. Fox, Jessie Ricketts, National Family Learning Forum, Laura R. Shapiro, Joanne S. H. Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Parents play a crucial role in supporting children's literacy, especially in the first years of school. However, parents can find this challenging if they struggle with reading themselves. We explore whether family learning phonics courses boost parents' reading-related skills and ability to support their children's reading, in a collaboration between UK academics and the National Family Learning Forum.

Prior to data collection, academics and course leaders identified key skills for courses to target: phonological awareness, letter-sounds, segmenting and blending, and awareness of irregular words. Family learning teams recruited parents of Reception children (4–5 years old) for the phonics group (N = 50), targeting parents who were likely to need literacy support. Parents received 6 weeks of 1- to 2-hour phonics sessions in groups. Control participants (N = 76) were recruited online and had a Reception-age child (4–5 years old); controls received no training. All participants completed phonics-related tests at weeks 1 and 6.

The phonics group significantly improved on letter-sound knowledge (by 4.64 letters; 51 total items); the control group did not significantly improve on this measure. Both groups showed some improvement in phonological awareness and word reading (likely due to practice effects), and neither group improved on nonword reading. The reading questionnaire showed that the phonics group reported giving their children more regular support with literacy activities and placed a higher level of importance on homework, with no increase for the control group.

We provide evidence that family learning phonics courses can improve crucial reading skills (letter-sound knowledge) and increase parents' confidence to support their children's reading. Some reading skills (phonological awareness, whole word reading, and decoding) may be slower to change and require longer term support. Future work should explore long-term consequences of such courses for parents' and their children's reading habits and skills.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)258–276
JournalJournal of Research in Reading
Issue number3
Early online date28 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - 8 Aug 2022


  • Child literacy
  • Family learning
  • Parent literacy
  • Phonics


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