Phonemic awareness involves recognition of letter sounds. Before children ever associate letter names or recognize what letters represent, they can simply learn to listen to the sounds of letters. Initial letters sounds are the first ones that children can learn to distinguish if parents and teachers simply emphasize similar sounds. For example, in the phrase that introduces this short blog, you might emphasize the sound “huh” as you say, “hop up the reading hill at home.” Which three words start with the “huh” sound? To further emphasize the “huh” sound, you can place a thin napkin in front of your mouth and say a variety of words that start with “huh,” demonstrating that the napkin moves as you begin to say each word, e.g., hop, happy, home, hill, hurry, hair. This is also a good way to help young learners say the “huh” sound correctly.
Phonemic awareness can be part of your conversation as you drive down the road with your child with statements such as, “we are going down the right road, not the wrong road.” You would follow with the question, which words begin with the ‘rrrr’ sound?” Remember, this exercise is designed to help children distinguish sounds, not identify letters. You want your child to hear the “rrrr” in right, road, and wrong.
Creating games such as picking out the two words that sound alike is another great way to engage children. For example, you can ask which of the three words—can, bike, carpet— have the same beginning sound? When you emphasize the “k” sound, children will begin to distinguish the words with that initial sound.
One of the fun Montessori games that Dancing Moose teachers like to engage in involves having children hunt for items around the classroom that correlate with a learning activity. For phonemic awareness you could identify an object such as a table that begins with the “t” sound, then challenge your child to find items around the house that begin with the “t” sound. Playing games is a great way to make learning fun.
Phonemic awareness is an important pre-reading skill, and helping your child recognize sounds is the first step in reading. Once children begin to isolate sounds, they readily associate them with letters when they are introduced.