What is phonological awareness?
Phonological awareness is the ability to recognise sounds in spoken language. It is the foundation to learning to read. Phonological awareness is an auditory skill – activities that develop phonological awareness can be practiced with your eyes closed.
Most children do not need to be taught phonological awareness skills. However, children who do not develop phonological awareness need direct, explicit instruction.
What about phonemic awareness?
Phonemic awareness is a subset of phonological awareness. It is the last skill to develop within phonological awareness. It is the ability to identify and manipulate the smallest units of sound (phonemes) in spoken words. For example, being able to hear /m/ and /a/ and /p/ in the word “map” requires phonemic awareness. Significantly, according to David Kilpatrick, 30-40% of children need to be taught this skill.
How can I develop my child’s phonological awareness skills at home?
The phonological awareness activities that you practice with your child should be appropriate for their level. They should gradually increase in complexity and at a pace suitable for them – you don’t want to overwhelm them!
Begin by exposing your child to songs and poems that rhyme. Recite your favourite nursery rhymes, watch rhyming songs on YouTube or sing and dance the Hokey Pokey with them. This is a fantastic way to help develop your child’s phonological awareness skills at home because it’s fun and enjoyable.
Progress by marching or clapping the words of a sentence (I – like – Ice – Cream) and then clapping or marching the syllables of a word (El – e – phant). As your child develops these skills, you can move onto more complex activities, such as:
- Identifying rhyming words (“Do these words rhyme? / What word rhymes with ____?”)
- Identifying the first, last and middle sound they hear in words, in that order
- Blending individual sounds into words (“What does /m/ /a/ /p/ say?”)
- Segmenting words into sounds
Once they have mastered these skills, the last step is learning to add, subtract, and substitute sounds to make new words.