What is Phonemic Awareness?If you’ll recall from our last Reading Essentials post, there are five essential skills your child must learn in order to be proficient in reading. Over the coming weeks, we will be exploring each of these skills in-depth. In this first post, we’ll be discussing the first skill that your child must acquire—phonemic awareness—as well as tips and strategies you can use to support your child along the way to mastery of this skill.

Phonemic awareness is the awareness of sounds and sound patterns in a word. Eventually, your child will be able to associate these sounds with letters, but just recognizing sounds alone is the first step.

Your child hears and speaks sounds every day, but there are still plenty of things you can do to help accelerate his phonemic awareness. Some activities include:

  • Introduce syllables. Helping your child recognize syllables is a great way of helping her understand that words are made up of different sounds. Clapping or snapping out syllables together and counting the number of syllables in a word are fun activities that teach the concept of syllables. You can also compete with your child to see who can think of the word with the most syllables.
  • Teach your child songs and rhymes:  Children’s songs and nursery rhymes can give children practice with hearing the natural rhythms of spoken language. Introduce your child to books and materials that focus on rhymes. As with word families, rhymes help children hear the phonetic connections between words with similar spellings and sounds.
  • Play rhyming games: Increase your child’s familiarity with rhymes by having him or her make up songs or poems, play matching games with rhyming words, and come up with new or unusual rhymes. For more rhyming fun, check out these rhyming words activities.
  • Discover beginning middle and end sounds: Start with any given word and ask your child which sounds she hears at the beginning, middle, and end of each word. Start with short Consonant-Vowel-Consonant (CVC) words such as “cat,” “bug,” “map,” etc. As your child masters these simple words, you can move on to more complex ones. Be sure to check out this fun song set to the tune of Old MacDonald Had a Farm!
  • Play Phoneme isolation games: Give your child practice with hearing sounds within words. For example, you can go on a “sound hunt” around the home, finding all of the objects that have the /s/ sound in them (stove, soap). To make the game more challenging, you can look for objects that have the same vowel sound in them (s/i/nk, refr/i/gerator).
  • Practice with “Word Families”: Read books to your child or introduce your child to videos that focus on a particular word family, for example words that end in “-an” or “-ad.” There are endless ways to practice word families. Start with these creative activities from Education.com.

One note to keep in mind when practicing different sounds with your child is that individual phonemes are comprised of one sound only. For example, the /b/ sound in the letter “b” is a short sound, and should not be pronounced like “buh” or “beh.” When pronouncing letter sounds as a model for your child, try to keep each sound as distinct as possible—this will make it easier for your child to eventually blend multiple sounds together to make words.

For instance, a child who knows that the letters “b,” “a,” and “t” have the sounds /b/, /a/, and /t/ can eventually blend those sounds into the word “bat.” However, if the child hears those sounds as “buh,” “ah,” and “tuh,” he or she may attempt to blend the sounds into a multi-syllable or overly complicated word.

Phonemic awareness is one of the most important reading skills a child can learn. Once your little one understands that stories are made up of sentences, sentences are made up of words, words are made up of letters, and letters are made up of sounds, then you’ve won half the battle, and your child will be reading to you in no time!