Try not to get confused by the fancy name “Phonemic Awareness.” It just means knowing sounds. Many research studies have shown that phonemic awareness is one of the strongest predictors of later reading success. Children who have phonemic awareness can tell you the sounds they hear in words, separate the sounds and change out sounds to make new words. They can hear the three separate sounds (s – u – n) and tell you it is sun. They can also tell you that if you change the letter “s” for a letter “f” it will make the word “fun”.
Phonemic awareness can and should be directly taught to children. Parents can be the best teachers by singing with their kids, rhyming words and asking them the sounds they hear in different words.
If you can sing a song or rhyme a word, you can build your child’s phonemic awareness.
Kindergartners should recognize rhyming words and create rhyming word pairs (top/pop), tell you the first and last sound they hear in a word, and show you how many sounds are in a word using their fingers (cat = c-a-t = 3 sounds).
When talking about letter sounds, show your child what your mouth does to create the sound. Describe where your tongue is and how you’re breathing.
“When I make the m sound, I press my lips together and make my voice hum like this “mmmmm”. My tongue is relaxed.”
What sound does each letter make in this word on the cereal box? Research suggests that seeing print, saying the sounds, and hearing the sounds while pointing at the letter with a parent or teacher has the greatest impact on learning “phonemic awareness,” or sounds.
Choose a letter sound, then have your child find things around your house that start with the same sound. This is great activity to do in the kitchen while making dinner. “Can you find something in our house that starts with the letter “s” ssssss sound? Stairs, sofa, sandwich.”
Have your child give a rhyme for a word you tell them. It can be a made up word, too. “What rhymes with “bindergarten”?
Make up your own rhymes, songs, or silly stories to focus on a particular sound. “Big Billy blows beautiful bubbles!”
When you’re reading together with your child, pick a word from the book and put emphasis on the first sound. Pick another word and compare them. “Aaaaaaalligator and eeeeeeeelephant. Can you hear what letter aaaaaligator starts with? Is it the same as eeeeelephant? What letter does elephant start with?”
Before kids are ready to read words, they need to be able to separate the sounds they hear in words. Tell them a whole word, such as “cat,” and they will separate the sounds as they touch their head /c/, then shoulders /a/, then knees /t/ (and toes for four sounds if they can handle it). At the end, they’ll say the whole word, “cat”, as they stand back up. If it’s too hard for them, slow down saying the word and stretch out each sound so they can better hear the individual sounds.
Take turns saying a word and the other person has to put up their fingers to match the number of sounds. For “cat,” they’d hold up their pointer finger for “c”, middle finger for “a” and ring finger for “t”.
Using Cheerios, rocks or beads, say a word and have your child show you how many sounds the word makes. For example, “cap” = c+a+p = three sounds, so they’d place three objects in a row. Then have them tap each object as they say the sound. Remember, your child is just showing you the sounds they hear. So the word “take” would be = t-a-k (silent e) = only three sounds.
Word families are words that rhyme. Tell your child the “mom’s” name is “bat” and ask them to tell you all the “kids’” names, like cat, fat, sat, rat, pat, mat, at, and hat. This will help children hear patterns in words.
Phonemic awareness is all about playing with the sounds your child hears, so it does not include reading or writing.