Phonemic awareness is the foundation of reading success; however, many parents have not heard of this skill. Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate sounds in words without the association with specific letters. A young child’s ease in acquiring reading skills is closely related to strong phonemic awareness skills. One way to think about phonemic awareness activities is that you should be able to do them in the dark. There is no need to read or use letters, just sounds.
Your child should begin to understand basic phonemic awareness concepts like rhyming and initial sounds around the age of three. As they advance in the understanding, most kids should master more complex skills like segmentation and substitution around the age of five or six.
Even older children will still need phonemic awareness skills like phoneme and syllable segmentation to read and spell more complex words. If your child struggles with phonemic awareness, it is very likely that they will have reading and spelling difficulties.
Here are a few activities you can do to help your child develop phonemic awareness:
- Rhyming games: ask your child to produce words that rhyme with ______. This is a great activity because you can do it anywhere. I often play this with my four-year-old while we drive to school. You can also increase the difficulty by making it a game for points where you take turns and whoever cannot come up with a rhyme loses.
- Beginning, middle, and ending sounds: Knowing the first sound in a word is important to develop reading skills later. You can say a word and ask your child to repeat the first sound (important note, this is about sounds, NOT letters. If you say bird your child should say the /b/ sound, not the letter name b). You can repeat this activity with ending sounds then middle sounds, which are more difficult to hear. If you are feeling ambitious you can also do initial sound sorts. You can purchase them online or you can create your own. Basically you find objects or pictures that have the same beginning sound. Your child would take two to four beginning sounds, mix them up, and sort them. You can also do this with ending then middle sounds for an extra challenge.
- Segmenting and blending sounds: According to many experts, these are the most important phonemic awareness skills when it comes to reading development. Children must be able to stretch out sounds in words and put them back together. An easy way to do this is to say a word like cat and have your child tell you the sounds (important note, your child should say /k/ /a/ /t/ the sounds, not spell the word cat). You can also say the sounds in a word and ask your child to put it back together. Another way to practice is to use rubber bands. Have your child hold a rubber band on their thumbs and literally stretch the sounds in a word. Then they can put it back together by blending it into a word. You can also use blocks or other objects you have around the house. Line up the objects and say a word. Have your child pull down an object as they say each sound. The number of objects should match the number of sounds.
Practicing these phonemic awareness skills with your child will strengthen their understanding of the foundational elements of reading. If you have an older child who struggles with reading, you might try some of these activities to see if they are able to do them. Keep in mind that phonemic awareness skills are well established by the age of 5 for students who are not at-risk for reading problems. Typically, students as young as kindergarten and first grade are able to manipulate sound patterns without difficulty; however, bright older students may have difficulty with these tasks. Maturation does not lead to spontaneous development of phonemic awareness.
If you child struggles with these activities or other phonemic awareness skills, it is imperative that you get them help from a reading specialist trained in structured language therapy (formerly known as Orton Gillingham method). This underlying elemental skill is essential for the acquisition of reading and spelling. Without phonemic awareness skills, your child will always struggle with reading and spelling.
Our online tutoring program offers phonemic awareness instruction with each and every session utilizing structured language therapy during live video conferencing. Our trained clinicians understand this foundational concept and its importance in improving reading and spelling at every level. Phonemic awareness is necessary in order for phonics to make sense. Watch for our blog on phonics coming soon! If you want to learn more about phonemic awareness, contact our office today.
Becky Welsch has a Master’s degree in K-8 Education. She is certified to teach in the state of Arizona and has special endorsements in the areas of English Language Learners and Reading.