Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate sounds, called phonemes, in spoken words and later the understanding that spoken words are made up of different auditory sounds. This is the first step in teaching your child to read. Do you read to your child? If so, you are already fostering phonemic awareness. Babies and toddlers who get to handle and listen to books on a regular basis have a foot up on this skill. Children who lack phonemic awareness cannot group similar words together like, /hat, bat, sat, pat/. Reading books that rhyme, nursery rhymes or children’s songs can help immensely with phonemic awareness setting them up to later master reading and spelling which is ultimately blending sounds together which is phonics.
A little girl had just turned 2 years old and insisted she be read The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss, EVERY night at bedtime. You know how persistent a 2-year-old can be. A few months later, she could recite the name game. She had only heard it a couple of times from her older sibling. It goes something like this: “Tom, Tom bo-bom, banana fana fo-fom, Me my mo-mom, Tom.” She could do this with ANY name given to her. People were amazed that a child so young could rhyme like this. You are probably thinking that she started talking at a young age. No, actually she could not hear due to constant ear infections and 3 sets of tubes, the last of which happened around the time she turned 2 years old. They also removed very infected adenoids. Before that she couldn’t talk except to babble like a baby. Later when she started to read, she picked it up quickly because rhyming unknowingly taught her to segment sound blends which is an important precursor to reading.
Children need to hear rhymes and identify the similarities or differences in the words. When singing the song, “Twinkle, twinkle little star….” Change the word /star/ to /car/ and see if they can hear the difference. Later they will blend and segment syllables and phonemes in words. Research shows that the difference between children who read poorly and those who read well is their phonological processing ability. Most children learn to hear specific words you say in a sentence between one and two years old even if they are not talking yet.
The more you talk with your children and read to them the better they will be at processing sounds they hear in words. Children who are introduced to books early become familiar with these sounds. Take them to the library and explore books together or sign them up for a book program. There are many free ones out there like “Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library” where your child can get free books until they are 5 years old, if they service your region. Ask family and friends to get them books for birthdays and holidays. Start a book exchange with other parents. Place books at their level so they can go get a book anytime they wish. Have a puppet show and act out a book. Use a felt board and make the characters and props to tell the story. If they like dinosaurs, read about that.
Phonemic awareness starts young. The moment you show your child their first book, you are helping them learn to read. Ultimately that is what parents want. A favorite quote by Dr. Seuss, “The more that you read, the more you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”