Phonics were being taught 350 years ago, one of world's oldest children's book reveals

Telegraph Reporters
A Guide For the Childe and Youth, one of the oldest children's books in the world - Caters

Phonics were being taught 350 years ago and are not simply a modern craze, one of the world's oldest children's book has revealed.

The method of teaching that sees words broken down into their constituent parts has seen a surge in interest in recent years and is championed by the Government as key to raising literacy standards.

But despite phonics learning being introduced as a UK pilot in 18 local authorities in 2005, the system actually dates back to the 17th Century.

It is referenced in a book for youngsters that was published in 1667 and has now been uncovered in the archives at the University of Keele.

The book offers a fascinating insight into the education and reading of young people in the 17th century

Dr Nick Seager

The battered leather pocket book for children includes a guide on phonics, which breaks down words into syllables and makes them easier to learn.

The book, called A Guide to the Childe and Youth, was published almost half a century before the next known surviving copy of British children's literature.

"The book offers a fascinating insight into the education and reading of young people in the 17th century," said Dr Nick Seager, a senior lecturer in English at Keele.

"The guide brings to life the debates from the past and gives us an idea of what animated people all those years ago. It offers a wonderful insight into what it was like to be a child during this time and this keyhole to the past provides a centrality to current concerns and how it teaching back then has shaped our education today."

The book was published when schools were predominately the preserve of the rich and many poorer parents educated their children at home.

Dr Seager said: "Parents could use this book with their children and children could also read it themselves. The idea of printing a book exclusively for children was new. It was also a period when books were just starting to be acquired by middle-class readers. Previously, they were the domain of the aristocracy. But this is not a story book. You won't find at the end that they all get home in time for supper."

The book was published in 1667 - almost half a century before the next known surviving copy of British children's literature - Credit: Caters

The 350-year-old book is as much a literacy text book as it is a behavioural one, helping children to learn literacy through an innovative rhyming alphabet with intricate woodcut illustrations.

The book is divided to give separate guides and instructions to younger and older children. There are methods to develop reading, writing and maths skills with religious doctrine and moral instruction thrown in for good measure.

For the very early learners, the guide has an illustrated alphabet, with rhymes to help young learners remember each letter. The letter 'C', for example, is partnered with a wood-cut picture of a cat playing a fiddle to dancing mice. 'D' is an action shot of how "the dog will bite a thief at night". Then 'F' is "the idle fool is whipt at school".

The copy at Keele contains the handwritten notes of its previous owners, Mary Berks and Ann Berks from Newcastle under Lyme, Staffordshire, from around 1776.

Scribbles in the back of the book appear to be Ms Berks' practice of styles and rhyming. The author of the book is only known as T.H, who is thought to have been a school teacher.

Research has shown that phonics can boost children’s reading age by an average of 28 months by the time they turn seven.

Boys benefit the most from the back-to-basics system and actually overtake girls after just two years of school, according to a study by Dr Marlynne Grant, an educational psychologist, who analysed the performance of pupils taught to read using synthetic phonics from the reception year upwards.

The school had high levels of special educational needs. However, a study by London School of Economics last year found that while phonics help children from disadvantaged backgrounds and those who do not have English as their first language, it has had "no measurable effect on pupils’ reading scores at age 11".

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes