Do you know about phonemic awareness and why it’s important?

Teacher reading to a toddler at our childcare center

If you are not an early childhood educator, chances are you are not terribly familiar with the term ‘phonemic awareness’. However, you may be aware that the spoken word fly is made up of three distinct sounds: /f/-/l/-ī/. This ability to hear and manipulate sounds in spoken words is known as phonemic awareness. ‘Phonemes’ are the smallest part of sound in a spoken word that make a difference in the word’s meaning. For example, changing the first phoneme in the word hat from /h/ to /p/ changes the word from hat to pat. It is the phoneme that determines the difference between dog and hog, and between look and lick.

Phonemic awareness starts with babies hearing and repeating consonant sounds like “bah bah” or “dah dah” and progresses over the course of several years to:

  1. recognizing individual words in a sentence;
  2. recognizing individual sounds in a word;
  3. recognizing rhyming words;
  4. identifying syllables (word parts)
  5. recognizing or matching identical consonant sounds at the beginning, middle, and end of words; and
  6. recognizing or matching identical vowel sounds in the middle of words.

Research suggests that children who know about the connection between a letter and its phoneme have an easier time learning to read. Here are some tips to support your child’s phonemic awareness (from Certain sounds, such as /s/, /m/, /f/ are great sounds to start with. The sound is distinct and can be exaggerated easily. “Please pass the mmmmmmmmilk.” “Look! There’s a ssssssssssnake!” “You have fffffffive markers on the table.” It’s also easy to describe how to make the sound with your mouth. “Close your mouth and lips to make the sound. Now put your hand on your throat. Do you feel the vibration?” Once your child learns a few phonemes, it will be easier to keep talking about letters and sounds.

Help your child listen for the sounds
One part of learning letters and sounds is being able to figure out if a word contains a particular sound. “Do we hear /mmmmmmm/ in the word mmmmmmoon? Do we hear /mmmmmmm/ in the word cake?” These sorts of activities, done orally with your child, can help him begin to listen for and hear sounds within words. Putting these skills to work within a book is a great way to help your child see the connection between letters, sounds, and words. As you’re reading together, find places in the book to point out the letters and sounds you’ve been working on together. “Look! This page says, ‘Red fish, blue fish.” There’s the /fffffff/ sound we’ve been having fun with! It’s at the beginning of the word fish.”

These tips can help your child develop an important awareness of phonemes which will put him/her on the road to reading!

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