Phonemic awareness = reading superpowers.
Wait. Phonemic awareness what?
Big fancy phrases feel intimidating, I know. So let’s break down this reading readiness skill and help you better understand why it is important for preschoolers and kindergarteners.
What is phonemic awareness?
Phonemic awareness equals sound awareness.
In Greek, the root word “phone” means sound, so we’re simply talking about raising the awareness of sounds (within words).
So from this point on, when you read the clunky phrase “phonemic awareness,” we want you to think of “sound awareness.”
Also, when we use the word “phoneme,” we just mean one individual sound.
Why should you care about phonemic awareness?
Working on building phonemic awareness is often the missing ingredient when aiming to prepare a preschooler for kindergarten.
It may seem strange, but reading begins long before a child can memorize letters or decode words on paper.
RELATED: Here are three powerful ways to help your child become a reader.
A BUNDLE OF OUR BEST RESOURCES
Let’s Create an Environment You and Your Kids are Excited to Wake up to
I know before I went back to school to become a teacher, I thought I was preparing my children for reading by reading to them and practicing the alphabet.
Perhaps, your children are like mine were at that time – they can zip through all 26 letters, but can they pick out the four sounds in the word “snack”?
After all, knowing the name of the letter d, doesn’t help a child read the word dog. Knowing the letter names is letter recognition.
Or maybe you have a preschooler that pushes away any structured activity that has to do with the alphabet and language.
Luckily, building phonemic awareness happens more casually than you think.
It simply requires pointing out sounds in words within your daily conversations.
It won’t feel like a planned assignment for your child and will be fairly simple for you to pick up as a parent.
The more conversations we have with our young children about these sounds, the more tools we give them in our toolbelt.
RELATED: Check out these best books for Kindergarten.
So, are you ready to work on building phonemic awareness with your preschooler? Here are three tips before getting started:
- Have your children say the sounds (phonemes) and words you are working on with you. Saying the sounds themselves is a big piece of raising awareness of our language.
- Phonemic awareness aims to learn to HEAR those sounds. This makes life easier – you don’t need any print or writing to accomplish this. For these conversations, we only need to focus on distinguishing the sounds – not on learning letters or reading print, so you can toss the books, alphabet cards, and block letters for this!
- Understand that there are levels to building phonemic awareness. Below, I’ll list ways to add phonemic awareness into your daily conversations for each level of your child’s development. As your child masters one skill, move on to the next. Think of it like this: Before you’d expect your child to score the winning goal in a soccer game, you’d want to have her learn to dribble the ball. Building these skills gradually will give your child a solid foundation for reading.
RELATED: We can also work on sound awareness with sight words.
Now, Let’s Give This a Try!
5 Goals to Reading Readiness
Here are the 5 Basic Levels You Can Begin Working Toward Today:
Note: For the activities, when a sound is indicated (instead of a letter), it is marked with slashes. The sound for /i/ is the middle sound in the word ‘dig’. Don’t use the letter name for this marking, only the sound.
RELATED: Did you know that balance helps with reading?
Goal 1: Pick out one sound
Activity: Turn On That Slow Mo! Pick a small word (cat). Prompt your child to listen to you turn on your “slow-motion” voice. Be as silly as you can.
Remember, the more engaging this is to your child, the more he will internalize the experience.
Say the word (cat) in a deep, slow-motion voice, stretching out each sound (imagine how it sounds in a movie when someone goes into slow motion). CCCCC-AAAAA—-TTTTTT.
Then have your child say the word in slow motion.
Next, you begin again but tell them you will start talking in slow motion and then “hit the pause button”. Begin again: “CCCCC——“. Hit pause (stop).
Ask your child if he can make the /k/ sound in cat. When he does, point out that cat starts with the /k/ sound. Ask him to say cat again in slow motion and see if he can find the second sound, then the third.
Last, when you’ve found all three sounds, discuss which is first, last, and what is the middle sound.
Do this in as many words as come to mind. Keep the words short and simple, to begin with.
SUGGESTED WORDS TO USE:
Goal 2: Blend together and break up sounds
Activity One: Find the Mystery Word. Think of a short word in your head (hot). Tell your child you will say a sentence with a mystery word.
When you get to the mystery word, you will break it into individual sounds.
The child must listen to each sound and put them together to reveal the mystery word.
For example, “I don’t want to play outside today because it’s too /h/, /o/, /t/. (Unlike the first activity, Slow Motion, you aren’t running the sounds together slowly. You’re making three distinct, choppy sounds).
The child should be able to hear /h/, /o/, /t/ and guess “hot”.
Putting sounds together to make a word is called blending.
Have your child blend several words first before she tries the next step segmenting.
Segmenting is when your child breaks a word into individual sounds herself.
Once she feels confident to try, she can come up with a “little word” as her mystery word and see if you can guess it.
Goal 3: Add on another word or sound
Activity: Build a Word. Tip: This activity is great if you start with compound words first and then move on to sounds within a small word.
Give your child a category (superheroes) to make it a guessing game.
Now say my word is “bat”. If I take “bat” and add “man” what superhero do I have?
For the next category, think of sports. Ask, what game am I playing? I start with the word “base”, now I add “ball”. What’s my sport?
After working with compound words, you can move on to individual sounds within words.
Ask your child, “If I start with the word “and” and add a /h/ to the beginning, what’s my new word? (Hand). Or, if I begin with the sound /n/ and add an /o/ what’s my new word? (No).
Try playing this game on the line while waiting for your Starbucks!
Goal 4: Start with a word and delete a sound
Activity: Disappearing Sounds. Tell your child you are going to make sounds disappear.
Practice first with compound words.
Now say, if I start with “upset” but take “set” away, what am I left with? (Up).
If I start with raindrop and take away rain, what am I left with?
Once your child has the compound words down, move on to sounds within a word. What is left if I have the word “ham” and take off the /h/? (Am). What is left if I have the word “mask” and take off the /k/ sound? (Mas).
Try this at the dinner table!
Goal 5: Substitution
Note: This is the most advanced skill in phonemic awareness. Spend plenty of time working through the first four goals before attempting this. Remember, you want your child to feel successful.
Rushing past goals 1-4 can lead to confusion.
Activity: Word Shuffle You can do this with syllables or with individual sounds (phonemes)
- Syllables: Say, “eyeball”. If I change eye to foot, what is my new word? Football. Say, “jellyfish”. If I change jelly to cat, what is my new word? CatfishSay, “sunshine”. If I change shine to ray, what is my new word? Sunray.
- Phonemes: Say “ham”. If I change the /a/ to /u/, what is my new word? Hum.
- Say “moon”. What is my new word if I change the /m/ to a /s/? Soon.
- Say “fear”. What is my new word if I change the /r/ to a /l/? Feel.
- Say “week”. What is my new word if I change the /w/ to a /ch/? Cheek.
RELATED: Keep these sound strategies in mind when having children learn sight words.
Phonemic Awareness Key Takeaways
- Start with simple conversations
- Go in the order of this post
- Invite children into exploring sounds in daily conversations
This Blog Post was Co-Written with Juli
Juli is an educator passionate about the early identification of learning differences and the science of teaching reading. She is Orton-Gillingham trained and has worked with students with dyslexia, ADHD, and other learning differences.