‘Phonological awareness’ is a term that you may have heard used by your child’s class teacher or you may have found it when you searched online for information on reading and writing development.
Phonological awareness skills are the building blocks needed to develop competent reading and writing (literacy) skills. These skills are important at home, in school and for future employment. The different levels of phonological awareness (i.e., rhyming, sequencing, separating, and manipulating sounds) all contribute to your child’s literacy development and are linked to academic success.
How can I support my child’s phonological awareness development?
This lovely graph, courtesy of Southeastern University, highlights the different phonological awareness activities ranging from easier to more complex. Here are some activities you can try with your child at each stage:
1. Rhyming Songs
Rhyming songs/ nursery rhymes, that you will know from your own childhood, are a lovely way of introducing your child to rhyming words in a fun way (e.g. ins-wincy-spider, ba-ba-black-sheep). When your child is familiar with the nursery rhyme, try and pause before the second rhyming word in the pair to see if your child can remember it. This will also support their attention and engagement.
Children’s book’s containing rhyming words are also a lovely way to introduce rhyme to your child. Check out some of my book suggestions and activities in the Book Corner.
2. Sentence Segmentation
Sentence Segmentation (breaking sentences down into words) activities help your child to identify different words in a sentence, rather that hearing a continuous string of sounds. This is a nice activity to carry out with your child using familiar story books and nursery rhymes you have previously targeted.
Tell you child to “Listen carefully, we are going to play a counting game. Let’s see how many words we can hear in this sentence”. Read a line from a book or a nursery rhyme and put out bricks/ clap/ stomp to count each word you have both heard. Try to read the sentences at an even rate, not putting an emphasis on any particular sounds.
3. Syllable Segmentation & Blending
Help your child to recognise the different syllables in multisyllabic words by clapping out the syllables, putting out bricks to represent each syllable or writing each syllable on post-its and put them side by side. This will help your child to learn the skills needed to read new words.
Once your child is confidently able to recognise syllables in each word you can start supporting your child to blend the syllables together. This involves you saying the words, leaving a short gap between each syllable. Your child can then tell you what word you were saying. If he/she struggles to do this you can then model the word back to him/her.
A nice way to make this activity into a game is by telling your child that Robert the Robot needs help to say the words properly. You can use a puppet to say the words (with the gap).
4. Onset Rhyme (Rhyming)
Rhyme awareness is a wonderful way to help your child to develop their language development and to help them to understand the phonological features of language. These skills play an important part in your child’s literacy development.
Games you can carry out to support your child’s rhyme awareness are:
- “I Spy something that rhymes with ……”
- “I’m thinking of a word that rhymes with…”
- Activities with pictures that ‘rhyme’. Lay out a series of pictures and encourage your child to:
- Match ‘rhyming’ pictures from a set of picture cards (begin with a small number of cards and increase the number according to ability)
- Pick out the picture that doesn’t ‘rhyme’ from a set of pictures
- Ask your child to come up with other real or nonsense words that rhyme with one of the target pictures. Write down the spellings of each word and get your child to name what letters they have in common. It is important to explain to your child that sometimes rhyming words have different spelling patterns
5. Blending & Segmenting Individual Phonemes
Activities you can do to help your child to recognise and blend the sounds in words include:
- Start with short words (containing 2-3 phonemes) e.g. c-a-t; d-o-g; ch-i-ck. As your child correctly blends the sound produce an object/picture for the target word.
- Support your child to listen and identify the initial sounds in words. Play a guessing game with your child where you highlight the initial sounds in target words. Put out a series of toys in front of your child and say “what am I talking about? This toy starts with \s\..”.
- Put a series of pictures out and play a game with “I spy…” with your child e.g. “I spy with my little eye something beginning with ‘f'”
- Try the 2nd and 3rd activities focusing on identifying the final sounds in words
- Ask your chid to label the 1st and last sounds in the target words. Encourage them to think of other words which start/ end with the target sounds
- Encourage your child to break words down into their phonemes and blend the word back together.
- Say the word at a normal pace
- Then repeat the word slowly and get your child to put out a brick to identify each phoneme
- Repeat the word again at a normal pace. Join the bricks together as you repeat the word at a normal pace
- Weinrich, B. & Fay, E. (2007) Phonological Awareness/Literacy Predictors of Spelling Abilities for First-Grade Children. Contemporary Issues In Communication Science & Disorders, 34, pp. 94-100.
- Southeastern University (2017) https://online.seu.edu/articles/phonemic-awareness-strategies-for-building-literacy-skills/