Phonological AwarenessBuilding a Foundation for Reading
Many children struggle with learning to read while others quickly master the ability to decode. For those children who are at risk for reading difficulties down the road, early development of phonological awareness can be the path to reading mastery. Research has repeatedly shown that a strong grasp of these foundational skills can truly predict future literacy development and strengthen emerging literacy knowledge. But what is phonological awareness? Phonological awareness is an understanding of words and their structure. Children with a strong knowledge of the phonological structure of words understand that there is a connection between sounds (i.e., phonemes) and letters and understand part-whole relationships (i.e., a sentence is made up of words, words are made up of syllables and sounds). Phonological awareness skills are truly the building blocks for reading and are a critical prerequisite for later literacy acquisition.
Typically, phonological awareness develops during the preschool years (ages 3-5). It is important to note that phonological awareness skills are acquired on a continuum, although not every child will begin to develop this knowledge at the exact same age. For example, early on, children begin to recognize rhymes and words that begin with the same sound. Later, they will begin to segment and blend words into syllables and phonemes. Similarly, within phonological awareness tasks, children typically grasp concepts that manipulate larger units (e.g., words broken down into syllables) before they begin to manipulate with smaller units (e.g., words broken down into phonemes). Yet, one child may begin at age 3, while another won’t begin this process until age 5. This range is typical, however, you can help your child your child acquire early phonological awareness with these five phonological activities:
Rhyming: Recognition of rhymes is an earlier phonological awareness skill. First, have your child identify words that rhyme out of three choices (e.g., “Ball, spoon, moon. Which words rhyme?). Later, ask your child to identify a rhyming word on his/her own (e.g., “Can you think of a word that rhymes with spoon?”). There are tons of great books that have rhyming built in. Some of our favorites include Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle and Is your Mama a Llama? By Deborah Guarino.
Alliteration: Alliteration is the ability to identify the initial sounds in words and find other words that begin with that same sound. Begin by asking your child to identify words that start with the same sound (e.g., “Does sun start with the sound ‘ssss’? Does hat start with the sound ‘ssss’?”). Put emphasis on the initial sounds to help your child hear the phonemes. Later, have your child express words that start with a particular sound on his/her own (e.g., “Can you think of a word that starts with ‘ssss’?”). You can also have your child identify the initial sounds in a word (for example, “What sound does nose start with?”). Playing “I Spy” is a great game to practice alliteration as well (e.g., “I spy something that starts with the ‘b’ sound”).
Segmentation: Your child can practice segmenting on a variety of different levels. Begin with segmenting sentences into words by having your child clap or count the words in a sentence (e.g., “How many words are in the sentence: ‘I want food?’”). Later, move on to segmenting words into syllables (e.g., “Butterfly” has 3 syllables – but-ter-fly) and syllables into phonemes (e.g., “Cat” has three phonemes c-a-t).
Blending: Blending is exactly the opposite of segmenting. Instead of having your child break down the sentences, words and syllables, your child can blend sounds and syllables together in order to create words. Start at the word level and have your child blend syllables (e.g., “But-ter-fly” – what is the word?). Later, have your child blend phonemes (i.e., sounds) in order to create words (e.g., “c-a-t” – what is the word?).
Manipulation: The ability to manipulate sounds and syllables within words is a more complex task and develops later than those described previously. Manipulation involves the ability to change phonemes and syllables within words in order to create new words. For example, you may tell your child, “Say snowball. Now change ‘ball’ to ‘man’ to create a new word” in order to practice manipulation at the syllable level. You can make the task even more difficult by practicing manipulation at the sound level (e.g., “Say ‘hog.’ Now change the ‘h’ to an ‘l’ to create a new word”).
Phonological awareness does not end in preschool. It is important to practice these tasks into your child’s elementary school years in order to ensure that he/she maintains a strong foundation in reading as he/she begins more advanced literacy instruction.