There are few things as thrilling as seeing your child learning to read, but a lot of development needs to happen long before children are ready to read. Before they can learn to read, they need to develop something called phonemic awareness, or an awareness of how words sound. Children who have phonological awareness are able to:
- identify and make oral rhymes like, ‘cat, hat and mat,’
- clap out the number of syllables in a word,
- and can recognize words with the same initial sounds like ‘cow’ and ‘cat.’
- Isolating different parts of how a word sounds
So how can you as a parent or caregiver help to develop these phonological skills in children at home? The activities below can be used to help your child understand the relationship between the letters of the alphabet and the sound associated with each letter.
- First, remember to make this learning fun! Before focusing on letters and sounds, be sure to dance, sing, clap and play. Games like ‘Simon Says,’ help children copy your actions and develop their own ‘body awareness’ as well as concepts like ‘left’ and ‘right.’ Clapping the number of syllables in a word is always a hit, too.
- Enjoy poems and songs with rhymes, repetition, and rhythm together with your child. Be sure to incorporate movement, actions, and dance to these.
- Play simple rhyming games with your child, such as taking turns coming up with words that rhyme like ‘cat and rat,’ or by asking: “I am thinking of an animal that rhymes with ‘log.’ What is the animal?” (Answer: ‘dog.’)
- Have fun with the letters and sounds. Play ‘I Spy with my Little Eye,’ to introduce your child to ‘beginning’ sounds. This is a good one for long drives together.
- Make up silly sentences with words that begin with the same sound, such as, ‘Sally says snakes sing silly songs!’ ‘Tongue twisters’ like this, in which the sound you’re focusing on is repeated, can be an enjoyable way to practice with sound. Focus on one sound at a time to start with. The ‘s’ sound is distinct and can be exaggerated easily. ‘There’s a ssssssssssnake!’ Exaggeration, repetition and action of the sound will help young children associate the letter with the sound we make when reading it. ‘Slithering snakes’ made with an arm or hand movement can make the ‘s’ sound easier to remember.
- Make letters in exciting ways with paint, playdough, sticks, or sand. Look at the letters, say the letter sound, then say a word that begins with that sound.
- Look for letters wherever you go. Point them out on posters, signs, cereal boxes, book covers or wherever you see them, and apply the relevant letter sound.
- Go on a letter hunt. Write a letter on top of a sheet of paper, like ‘c’. Look for all of the words of objects around the house that begin with that letter or sound. Draw pictures or write words.
- As your child grows older, putting these skills to work within a book is a good 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 ‘f’ sound we’ve been having fun with! It’s at the beginning of the word ‘fish’.” There is no need to worry if your child doesn’t get all this immediately. It may take a lot of examples and a lot of practice. Start with simple words, like ‘cat.’ Write the word on a piece of paper, point to the first letter, and ask for the sound. Continue with each subsequent letter. Making flashcards with words and associated pictures can be very helpful, too.
- Work on names. Teach your child to spell his or her name. Write the name on a piece of paper. Ask your child to trace over it and then copy. (Warning: this may become a bit tricky with names that do not follow usual sound–symbol relationships. Point out the exceptions.)
These ideas and activities take time and a commitment from someone at home, whether a parent, guardian, sibling or relative to work with young children in developing their phonemic awareness but if you can start incorporating them in everyday life, the children who have been exposed to these types of activities are going to benefit by finding learning to read so much easier and more enjoyable.