Phonemic Awareness & Your Child
Written by: Director of Early Learning, Cathy Bonnaventure, B. Ed., M. Sc., R. Psych.
As a parent of a daughter who started University this September, I find myself having the same thoughts and feelings as I had when she started kindergarten. Will she make friends? Will she enjoy what she is learning? Will she like her teachers? Will they like her? How well will she adjust to a new environment and large groups? How can I support her? Surely many other parents ask these same kinds of questions when their children enter school for the first time especially when it comes to helping their child learn to read.
Many parents believe that if their child knows the letters of the alphabet before they go to school, they will be off to a good start. While knowing the letters of the alphabet is one important prerequisite skill, scientific research tells us that just being able to name the letters and identify the sounds they make does not necessarily mean a child has one of the most critical skill they will need to have an easier time learning to learn to read and spell. Children need phonemic awareness. That is to be aware of how the sounds in words work. They must understand that words are made up of speech sounds or phonemes. Phonemes are the smallest parts of sound in a spoken word that makes a difference in the word’s meaning. For example, changing the first sound or phoneme in the word hat from /h/ to /p/ changes the word from hat to pat and so changes the meaning. A letter between slash marks shows the phoneme or sound that the letter represents and not the name of the letter. For example, the letter h represents the sound /h/.
Phonemic awareness is a term that is often misunderstood. One misunderstanding is the phonemic awareness and phonics are the same thing. Phonemic awareness is not phonics. Phonemic awareness is the understanding that the sounds of spoken language work together to make words. Phonic is the understanding that there is a predictable relationship between sounds and the letters that represent those words in written language.
Children can show us they have phonemic awareness in several ways:
- Children recognize individual sounds in a word.
Parent: What is the first sound in van?
Child: The first sound in van is /v/.
- Children recognize the same sounds in different words.
Parent: What is the same in fix, fall and fun?
Child: The first sound, /f/, is the same.
- Children recognize the word in a set of three or four words that has the ‘odd” sound.
Parent: Which word does not belong? Bus, bun, rug
Child: Rug does not belong. It does not begin with /b/.
- Children listen to a sequence of separately spoken phonemes and then combine the phonemes to form a word.
Parent: What word is /b/ /i/ /g/?
Child: /b/ /i/ /g/ is big.
- Children recognize the word that remains when a phoneme is removed from another word
Parent: What is smile without the /s/?
Child: Smile without the /s/ is mile.
While teachers use many of the activities above to build phonemic awareness, parents can support their child in learning phonemic awareness by doing any number of the following:
- Read rhyming books together. (Public Libraries have many rhyming books.)
- When you say, or read, nursery rhymes, say the rhyming words a little bit louder, e.g. “Jack and JILL went up the HILL.”
- Once a rhyming book is familiar, pause before the rhyme so your child can complete it.
- Don’t direct attention to the spelling of the rhyming words; in fact, unless the rhyming words are similarly spelled, it may confuse the child.
- Enjoy rhyming songs together like “Down by the Bay” (You Tube - Raffi or the poem “Willoughby wallaby wagon, An elephant sat on a dragon” (You Tube – Wiggles)
- Use a pattern for you and your child to create your own rhymes. E.g., Substitute ‘cry’ for ‘die’ in Dennis Lee’s “Alligator Pie”. (Alligator pie, alligator pie. If I don’t get some, I think I’m going to cry”.)
- Say 2 words, e.g. “sun”-”run” or “car”-”play”. Ask your child if they rhyme.
Ask your child’s teacher for more ideas. They have many they would love to share with you. While my daughter is now at the other side of grade school in, I fondly remember the days when I read to her and we sang nursery rhymes or played with the sounds in words. Although far from a perfect mother, I can say that I think we shared many fun times, laughter and jiggles doing these kinds of activities and I believe it has contributed to her love of books. This is a wish I have for all students.