Helping young children develop phonemic awareness early on is one of the keys for children to develop exceptional reading and writing skills once they begin attending schools. Did you know that studies have indicated that phonemic awareness is the single best predictor of reading success for young children once they begin school? In fact, studies have found that phonemic awareness is far better than IQ at predicting the reading and spelling abilities of young children.
Most people know about phonics, and what it is; however, far fewer people know what phonemic awareness is. In short, phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and work with the phonemes. For example, /d/, /o/, and /g/, are the individual sounds of the word “dog”. Please note, the letters enclosed in the slashes denote the sound of the letter and not the name of the letter. Phonemes are the smallest units of individual sounds that form a word.
Phonemic awareness is not something you’re born with, and it is an ability that’s gained through repeated exposure to listening, speaking, and reading. As parents, there are many different strategies you can use to help your children develop phonemic awareness such as playing simple word segmentation or oral blending games.
Like most parents, we (my wife and I) read bedtime stories before we put our children to sleep, and one of the best strategies that we like to use to teach phonemic awareness to our children is to mix in word segmenting and oral blending when we read bedtime stories for our kids. This is an exceptional method because it doesn’t take any extra time or effort, since reading bedtime stories is something you already do. So, here’s how to go about it.
Let’s say that you’re reading a nursery rhyme “Jack and Jill”:
Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown
And Jill came tumbling after.
Instead of reading each word straight through the rhyme, you can randomly mix in oral blending on various words in the rhyme. Please note: instead of using slashes “/” to denote phonemes, we’ll simply use hyphens to make it easier to read. So, let’s assume that your child is very young, perhaps 2, 3, or 4 years old, and you want to start helping them develop some phonemic awareness. You can read Jack and Jill like so:
J-ack and J-ill went up the h-ill
To fetch a p-ail of water.
J-ack fell down and broke his crown
And J-ill came tumbling after.
As you can see, when you read the rhyme, you simply make an effort to separate several of the first letters sounds from the words, such as /J/ from “ack”, and /J/ from “ill”. As your child begins to grasp the concept of individual sounds making up words, you can slowly increase the difficulty by breaking down each word further. For example:
Repeated exposure of this type of word segmenting and oral blending will slowly help your child develop a sense and an understanding that each word is made up of individual sounds – in other words, you are teaching phonemic awareness to your children during bedtime stories without them even knowing that they are being taught to!
1. Cognition. 1991 Sep;40(3):219-49.
The relationship of phonemic awareness to reading acquisition: more consequence than precondition but still important.
Wimmer H, Landerl K, Linortner R, Hummer P.
University of Salzburg, Austria.