Phonological Awareness Is Not As Tricky As It Sounds

What is Phonological Awareness?

Phonological awareness, no it’s not dangerous or catchy. Your child does need it to read. If your beginning reader is not moving ahead and you don’t know why, start here.

Developing Phonological Awareness skills means your child understands the link between spoken and written language. They have the concept behind phonics. It can mean generally they have linked written words and the sounds in spoken words. It can also mean they have more specifically connected letters to sounds.

Under this concept is Phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness means that spoken words are made of individual sounds called phonemes and these sounds join together to make a whole word. Understanding these two concepts is the start of reading and spelling, prior to word recognition.

Overall look for these indications. Does your child ever ask you to “read” a picture without text? This question could pop up when looking through the mail. If yes, they have not made the written-spoken language connection yet.

When you are reading a book ask your child to point to where they would look if they were reading the book to you. They should point to letters not pictures.

If they can repeat the story that you have read them they are building a foundation. They know that you are not just making up a new story to go with some words every time you pick a book up. Maybe, God built the “Could you read this again?” reflex into children for just this reason.

More specifically, you can see phonological awareness skills in a child who asks you how to spell something so they can write it on their picture. If they tell you the individual sound to a letter, even if it is not the right sound, they have achieved this understanding of sounds (phonemes) joining together to form words.



Tips to help build phonological awareness

  • Point to the words as you read them in a picture book occasionally.
  • When your child builds a word on the fridge jump on the opportunity to encourage them. Even if they build XPBMV (because they are all the same color 😉 sound it out. Then smile. They will be giggling or wiping the letters off.
  • Build a few words of your own to sound out. You can ask them to put your words on anything metal like the “wash” machine or “dry” er. Better skip the oven for a couple reasons. “Door” could work on a garage door.
  • You could write on painter’s tape on another day and put simple words on almost anything. I would not leave them for days though. First, because it will leave a mark. Second, because you are aiming towards matching letters to sounds not memorizing whole words.
  • As you progress from basic word/ sound awareness to letter/ sound awareness you want to make sure that your child can break up, or segment, the sounds in a word. It’s possible to hear whole words as one big sound.
  • More commonly, children do not hear the “t” in left or the “l” in slip initially.

Ideas for isolating sounds in a word

  • Practice isolating just one sound from a picture name. You can use our flashcards. Working with picture names along with your child will tell you a lot about how they are organizing what they know about our language.
  • Point out a picture and ask your child what it is. Then tell them I heard you say (whatever the first sound was) first. Tell them to listen for the first sound and you say the picture name with an exaggerated emphasis on the first sound.
  • This is easiest to do with words beginning with m,n,l,f, r , th, and any sound that can be held for a little longer. Then ask “Did you hear the first sound, that came out of my mouth?” Example: “Can you hear the first sound in rrrrrrrr ose?”. They answer yes. “OK, now you say the first sound in rrrose.”
  • If your child cannot pick out the first sound, try this: Ask them to say sun. Explain “When you said “sun” you started with your teeth together and then opened your mouth and your teeth came apart. When your teeth were together the /sssss/ sound came out. When they came apart the /u/ sound came out.” Do this in front of a mirror if needed.
  • Most children will get the whole isolating a sound idea easily, but it is so critical that you need a few options available to you should you find that your child has really memorized words as a whole and needs to relearn them as a group of sounds.
  •  Children without phonological awareness do not understand what it means for words to rhyme. So if this occurs, keep isolating sounds and identifying them.
  • If it is any encouragement, very bright children normally begin speaking in full words, rather than sounds, so an extra step here may be indicative of a gifted thinker.

We hoped this has helped you understand how to help your beginning readers master their blending and segmenting skills while they are learning to read and spell. We recommend the following product to Phonemic Awareness from Hooked on Phonics here.

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