Understanding that words are made up of individual sounds is the very first step towards becoming a reader. Children who have developed a fundamental understanding of this will have a much easier time learning to read printed words. This is where phonemic awareness comes into play.
Phonemic awareness is the ability to understand how sounds work in spoken language. It is one of the five essential components of learning to read, and can be explicitly taught through a range of strategies and everyday activities.
Because phonemic awareness comes before learning to read text, it is mostly developed at home. Parents play a significant role in developing their child’s phonemic awareness.
Here are ten simple ways to build your child’s phonemic awareness and take those first steps towards learning to read.
1. Sing songs and nursery rhymes. Rhymes help children understand that sounds in our language have meaning and follow certain patterns. Have fun reading and reciting songs and nursery rhymes together, and exaggerate the rhyming words to highlight the different sounds in each word.
2. Encourage listening. Encourage your child to listen closely and pronounce the sounds in words. Help them listen for individual sounds in words, pull them apart and put them together.
3. Speak slowly and use repetition. If your child is struggling to hear sounds within a word, say the word slowly and repeat the word if necessary. This will make it easier for them to hear the individual sounds. The goal is to help them develop an “ear for sounds”.
4. Create word cards. Write some words that have three sounds on separate pieces of card, e.g. cow, bat, dog, lip, sun, pot. Let your child choose a card, read the word together, and then hold up three fingers. Ask them to tell you the first sound they hear in the word, then the second, then the third.
5. Create a print rich environment. Printed words allow children to see and apply connections between sounds and letters. Make an effort to draw your child’s attention to sounds by saying and pointing to letters at the same time.
6. Play “I Spy the Sound”. “I Spy the Sound” is a fun way to build phonemic awareness. In this variation of “I Spy”, spy words that begin with a certain sound, rather than a letter.
7. Word games. Have fun inventing word games based around listening, identifying and manipulating the sounds in words. Begin a word game with your child by asking questions like, “What sound starts the word __________”, “What sound ends the word __________”, “What words start with the sound __________”, or “What word rhymes with __________”.
8. Write together. Sit down with your child to write a greeting card or a shopping list together while slowly sounding out the word sounds you write. This will help your child understand that words are made up of different sounds that come together to create meaning.
9. Play board games. Family board games like Junior Scrabble or Boggle are fun ways to play with words and sounds. Place an emphasis on the sounds in words and encourage your child to do the same.
10. Read aloud regularly. Read slowly while pointing to each sound, and encourage your child to repeat them too.
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