Phonological awareness

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.

Children usually develop the ability to hear syllables, rhyme and beginning sounds prior to beginning school. Having these skills means that your child is ready for formal teaching in reading and writing. In the first year of school children typically develop the ability to break words into separate sounds (segmenting) and blend separate sounds into whole words (blending) as well as learning to link sounds to letters and recognise letter patterns (phonics). They also learn to recognise common sight words.

Ideas for preschool children:

Rhyme. Story books and nursery rhymes are often children’s first introduction to rhyme. Initially children need to be able to recognise if two words rhyme, e.g. “Do “big” and “wig” rhyme?” Later they will learn how to make their own rhyming words. Young children often enjoy playing with rhyme, e.g. “can I have cheese please” and “look at the funny bunny.” You can help your child learn about rhyming by reading stories and rhymes, listening to rhyming songs and making up your own rhymes.

Syllables. This involves being able to break up a word into beats. This is often learned by clapping out the beats in words. Start with your child’s name e.g. “Jess-i-ca” and other family names then move onto other words e.g. “el-e-phant”.

Identifying sounds in words. Children learn to hear beginning sounds first. Talk about the sounds words start with as you look at books and play games with picture cards. Look for other things that start with the same sound as your child’s name. Later look for and match other things with the same beginning sound. Once your child is skilled at listening for beginning sounds (they most likely have started school by now) you can listen to end sounds and later middle sounds (use simple words with three sounds such as “cup”).

Ideas for school aged children:

When children can hear individual sounds they can learn to:

Blend sounds to form words. Break down words into sounds (not letter names or spelling but the sounds you can hear e.g. “m-u-g” not “em-you-gee”) and see if your child can work out what you are saying e.g. “can you pass me a c-u-p please”. Make it a game and praise your child for success or for trying. Look at a book and see if your child can point to the picture that you sound out. Sound out your child’s name when you call them.

Segmenting words into separate sounds. Next your child can learn how to break words into sounds all by themselves. This is a skill which is needed for writing and spelling. Try the above activities and see if your child can break up words for you to guess.

Manipulating sounds. Once your child can break words down into sounds you can try:

  • changing sounds in words, e.g. changing the first sound in “pet” to make “get” or the last sound in ‘pet’ to make ‘pen.’
  • re-ordering sounds in words, e.g. re-ordering the sounds in ‘pan’ to make ‘nap.’
  • removing sounds in words, e.g. ‘spoon’ without the ‘p’ says ‘soon.’

By now your child is well on their way and can probably recognise letters so magnetic letters are a fun way to develop these skills. Once your child has mastered these skills they are well on the way to being skilled in the early stages of literacy.

If you are concerned that your child may be having difficulties consider an assessment by a speech pathologist. For details about assessments at Talking Matters see our website or contact a speech pathologist in your area. The starting school booklet on the front page of Our website has information and activities for developing phonological awareness and other pre-literacy skills and can be downloaded for free.

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