Developing Phonological Awareness: the foundation to reading and writing!

Phonological Awareness is the ability to hear and understand sounds and sound patterns within words. A child’s phonological awareness abilities at the preschool age have been identified as the biggest predictor of early literacy development. Phonics is the ability to link sounds and letters and develops from phonological awareness.

Why is my child having trouble with early literacy skills?

When looking at our child’s skills, we will commonly be puzzled to why they are having so much trouble completing a task that we take for granted. The role of a speech pathologist is to break down the smaller steps that are required for your child to be successful in completing a skill such as phonological awareness

Phonological awareness it is actually really complicated and requires a huge number of smaller skills to be developed first. These skills include (but are not limited to):

  • Syllable awareness (e.g. 3 syllables in ‘ba-na-na’)
  • Rhyme awareness and production (e.g. Do these words rhyme? Hat/cat)
  • Identifying beginning sounds in words (e.g. What’s the beginning sound in mat? /m/)
  • Identifying final sounds in words (e.g. What’s the last sound in bus? /s/)
  • Blending sounds into words (e.g. ‘d-o-g’ makes ‘dog’)
  • Segmenting words into sounds (e.g. What are the sounds in ‘mug’? m-u-g)
  • Deleting and manipulating sounds (Say ‘sold’ without the /s/ ‘old’)
  • Letter-sound knowledge

Is there anything I can do at home to support?

Read, read, read – You can support your child’s early literacy development by making it a habit to read books together every day. Reading to your child is the one thing that has the biggest impact on your child’s ability to learn to read. When you start reading to your child at an early age, your child grows up with reading as an enjoyable part of their daily routine. Mem Fox, author and educator, believes that children need to hear 1000 books before they begin to read themselves. This is easy if you begin when your child is a baby, but much harder if you wait until they begin school.

Talk about what you read – You can support your child to develop their early literacy skills by reading books and talking about what you are reading. When you read together, talk to your child about what you read to develop their comprehension. Talk about what is happening, what you think about the characters, how they are feeling, what they might think, what they might do, what you would do, what might happen next.

Talk about sounds - You can support your child’s early literacy skill development by talking about sounds your child hears as a part of their life. Sing songs, tell rhymes and listen to music and stories on CD. Talk about the sounds in words. Clap out syllables and count them, talk about long words and short words. Read rhyming stories and talk about how rhyming words sound the same. Have fun making up your own rhymes. Talk about the sounds in your child’s name. Talk about beginning and ending sounds in words and match things with the same sounds. Break up words into separate sounds. Play I spy. Resources to support your child’s development of early literacy skills can be found here https://www.talkingmatters.com.au/about-us/resources/phonological-awareness/

Talk about words and letters – You can support your child’s early literacy development by looking at words everywhere and talking about them. Count the letters in words and talk about long and short words. Talk about the sounds that letters make. Look at alphabet books and help your child to understand the name and the sound of the letter such as “B” is called “bee” and it makes a “buh” sound. Cut letters out of magazines and paste them. Make your own alphabet book. Find the letter your child’s name starts with anywhere you can. Look at common words and see if you can find them on the pages of a book. Show your child that a word such as “the” has the same letters each time you find it and look for it in different places.

How can a speech pathologist support these skills?

It is common that families and teachers will identify concerns with specific skills such as early literacy development. Speech pathologists are trained to analyse your child’s current skills and difficulties to identify smaller goals your child will need to achieve as stepping stones towards achieving a larger goal, such as reading and spelling. As every child is different, the skills that one child needs support in, is likely to be different to another child. Hence a thorough assessment is always the place to start. Supports for working towards developing early literacy skills may include, but are not limited to:

  • Identifying is any of the above skills are lacking through the assessment process
  • Developing skills through fun and creative play-based activities
  • Supporting parents to develop their child’s skills at home, at school and in the community

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