Every parent wants their child to succeed. No one wishes on their child literacy difficulties. Reading can be fun. Writing can be exciting. Yet, how come so many children struggle through school and then consequently in the workforce? And what can we do as parents and teachers to help prevent
Adequate literacy and numeracy skills are hugely important as children become adults and enter the workforce. Studies show that there is a direct link between low literacy and numeracy scores and being employed versus unemployed. This means that we need to do what we can do to ensure our children get the best instruction in literacy and numeracy in their early years. In saying all this, I need to acknowledge that not every successful person did well in school and high literacy and numeracy scores are not a guarantee to life success. There are other very important skills like problem solving, resilience, perseverance and so on that are also super important to foster in your young person’s life! However, proficiency in literacy and numeracy only make it that much easier!
As a parent or preschool teacher, you may be wondering what you can do to best support your preschooler as they prep for school. What can you do to build their understanding of reading and how it works?
You may have heard about how important it is to read to and with your child and this is so true! I cannot stress this enough. Your child seeing and hearing you read has a huge impact on how much they enjoy reading and see themselves as readers. Furthermore, it helps them develop essential concepts about print like which way up a book goes, where the front page is, which way we read, what a sentence, word or letter is and understanding that print conveys a message. Learning to recognise alphabet letters and say their sounds is also a good way to prepare your child for school.
However, I am guessing that if you are reading this article you have already heard about the importance of reading with your child and you probably already talk about alphabet letters with them on a regular basis. You want to know what more you can do to reduce the risk of them becoming struggling readers and to help make learning to read much easier and enjoyable.
Today I am going to talk to you about 5 ways you can build phonological awareness in your child. What is phonological awareness you might ask? Great question! Phonological awareness is the foundation of learning to read and learning it starts long before your child starts school. Phonological awareness is the ability to hear, recognise and manipulate sounds and syllables in spoken language. Some examples of phonological awareness are recognising rhyming words, being able to clap the syllables in a word, being able to say the first, middle or last sound in a word, and being able to blend single sounds (called phonemes) together (d-o-g makes dog). None of these skills require the ability to read as they can all be done orally. As psychology professor David Kilpatrick says, “Students with good phonological awareness are in a great position to become good readers, while students with poor phonological awareness almost always struggle in reading” David A. Kilpatrick
Building your child’s phonological awareness does not have to be tedious. It can be fun and easy. I have come up with 5 different ways that you can start building your child’s phonological awareness.
1. Nursery rhymes and rhyme
“Experts in literacy and child development have discovered that if children know eight nursery rhymes by heart by the time they’re four years old, they’re usually among the best readers by the time they’re eight.” – Mem Fox, Reading Magic
Nursery rhymes and rhyme are a fun and developmentally appropriate way of playing with language for your child. There are numerous benefits to learning nursery rhymes including increasing their working memory, recognising patterns, counting, vocabulary building and of course developing phonological awareness by being able to hear, identify and produce identify rhyming words and syllables. Nursery rhymes also help to develop a positive association with word play. You can build your child’s knowledge of nursery rhymes by reading and singing with them daily. Here are some fun ideas to help you:
- Find a good nursery book full of nursery rhymes and incorporate reading one each night into your bedtime routine
- Download a good nursery rhyme playlist on your spotify account and play while you are in the car or at home
- Try reading a nursery rhyme and doing a matching craft as a fun rainy day activity
- Play I spy something that rhymes with…
- Read lots of rhyming stories and talk about the rhymes you find – try asking your child is that can think of any other words that rhyme
2. Clapping syllables
One of the foundational stages in phonological awareness is being able to hear and clap syllables in words. I like to describe syllables as mouthfuls or beats in a word. An easy way you can help your child to recognise syllables is by placing your hand underneath your chin, then try to say a multisyllabic word like ‘lunchbox’. Did you notice for each syllable your hand was pushed down by your chin? Try clap each time you say a syllable – how many claps in the word ‘lunchbox’? Once your child is able to clap syllables in words with ease you can start teaching them how to delete and substitute with other syllables.
Here are some exercises to try with your child – feel free to change them up by changing the words used:
- Count syllables Adult: ‘I am going to clap for each mouthful in the word ‘classroom’, class-room. How many times did I clap?’ Child: 2 Adult: ‘Can you do it after me? Class-room’ Child: ‘class-room’
- Delete syllables Adult: ‘Say classroom.’ Child: ‘classroom’ Adult: ‘Now say classroom but don’t say class’ Child: ‘room’
- Substitute syllables Adult: ‘Say classroom’ Child: ‘classroom’ Adult: ‘Now say classroom but instead of saying class, say bath’ Child: ‘bathroom’
3. Puppet talk
Another fun way you can build your child’s phonological awareness – particularly when it comes to phonemes (the smallest sounds in a word) is through Puppet talk. Puppet talk helps children learn to blend sounds together. Introduce the puppet to your child and explain that they can only speak in phonemes (which are the smallest sounds in a word). For example, the puppet can’t say dog – he would say d-o-g. Make sure that you only use words with three sounds like cat, dog, hat, fan, run, pop etc. We call these CVC (consonant, vowel, consonant) words. Say to your child ‘Can you understand what the puppet is saying? M-a-t?’ The child should respond with ‘mat!’ Once your child has mastered this you can make it a little more difficult by trying to add in a fourth sound with words like jump, stop, black etc. If your child is not developmentally ready to work with phonemes, try doing puppet talk with two syllable words like ro-bot, pump-kin, play-ground etc. The video below shows another way that you can use a puppet to help your child learn to blend sounds together.
Often, the importance of play in literacy success is hugely underestimated. Although play doesn’t specifically fall under the umbrella of phonological awareness – play builds the foundation blocks for learning, including in literacy. Without building these foundational skills, a child will struggle to learn to read and write. Play builds the core muscles needed to sit on the mat and listen for longer periods of time, play builds the fine motor skills needed to successfully hold and write with a pen, play encourages children to be curious, ask questions and explore new concepts. Play with other children builds essential social and emotional skills needed to positively interact with their peers, it helps develop their vocabulary and gives them opportunities to explore the words they have learnt, the list goes on. Multiple studies show that play has a significant role in brain development as well as in childhood happiness. So switch off the telly, put away the iPad and let them just play!
This is another aspect of learning not directly under the umbrella of phonological awareness – however it is deeply important to understand, particularly as a parent. We all know that sleep is a vital component in the health of our bodies. No one functions at their optimal level lacking sleep. However, do you know how important sleep is when it comes to learning? Neurologists have found that children revisit new learning when they are sleeping. This happens many times over and at a much higher speed than the learning would have happened in real time. Deep sleep reinforces and secures new learning in the brain. It is especially beneficial to do a small amount of learning before nap time as it will be consolidated straight away. Sleeping at night is even more important. At night, children fall into a deep sleep and repeatedly go over the learning that occurred that day while they sleep. This makes it crucial to ensure that your child receives an adequate amount of quality sleep everyday.
Bradley, L., & Bryant, P. E. (1985). Rhyme and reason in reading and spelling. Anne Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Bradley, L., & Bryant, P. E. (1983). Categorizing sounds and learning to read—a causal connection. Nature, 301, 419-421.
Ford, V., Ford, A., & Masson, C. (2020). Ready 4 learning ready 4 life. Ready 4 learning.
Harper, L. J. (2011). Nursery rhyme knowledge and phonological awareness in preschool children. The Journal of Language and Literacy Education [Online], 7(1), 65-78.
Kilpatrick, D. (2016). Equipped for reading success: A comprehensive, step by step program for developing phonemic awareness and fluent word recognition. Casey & Kirsch Publishers.