One way preschoolers and kindergartners get ready to read is by noticing and playing with the words, rhymes and syllables they hear in everyday speech. This called phonological awareness.
Kids also start to tune in to the individual sounds or phonemes in words. This is called phonemic awareness. The more you can build on these early “pre-reading” skills, the more prepared your child will be for the challenge of learning to read.
1. Listen up.
Good phonological awareness starts with kids picking up on sounds, syllables and rhymes in the words they hear. Read aloud to your child frequently. Choose books that rhyme or repeat the same sound. Draw your child’s attention to rhymes: “Fox, socks, box! Those words all rhyme. Do you hear how they almost sound the same?”
It also helps to point out repeated sounds. For example, if you’re reading One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, ask your child to listen to the /fffff/ sound in fish. (Really stretch the sounds out at first.) Outside of story time, try pointing out other words that start with the /fffff/ sound, just like in the book.
2. Focus on rhyming.
Ask your child to pick out the rhyming words in books by himself. Ask, “Did you hear a word that rhymes with fox?” Teach your child nursery rhymes and practice saying them together. Or say four short words, like log, cat, hog, frog. See if your child can pick out the word that doesn’t rhyme.
3. Follow the beat.
Teach your child about syllables by clapping the “beats” he hears in words. Let’s say you choose the word elephant. Pause as you say each syllable—e-le-phant—and clap out each syllable together. You can also get your child up and moving by having him stomp or jump with each syllable.
4. Get into guesswork.
Guessing games such as “I spy” can be used to work on almost any phonological skill. Want to practice noticing what sounds word begin with? Try “I spy something red that starts with /s/.” Want to work on rhymes? “I’m wearing something warm that rhymes with boat.”
5. Carry a tune.
Singing in general is a great way to get kids rhyming. There are also good songs teachers use to focus on other kinds of phonological and phonemic awareness skills. “Apples and Bananas” is a fun one. You can search online for more songs about phonemic awareness or ask your child’s teacher for recommendations.
6. Connect the sounds.
Sound blending is an important skill for early readers. They need to put sound units—phonemes—together to be able to read a word smoothly. You can help your child start working on this by putting together the sounds he hears. Ask him to connect the beginning sound with the rest of a word. For example, tell him, “Start with /p/ and add /ig/. What do word do you hear if you put them together?”
7. Break apart words.
Have your child work on hearing a word and taking it apart. Start by using compound words such as cowboy, baseball or firefly. Tell him, “Say the word cowboy. Now take away boy. What word is left?”
You can also use Lego bricks to make this point. Give your child two attached Lego bricks to represent parts of the word. Then have him physically take the Lego pieces apart as he removes part of the word.
8. Get creative with crafts.
Kids respond to hands-on learning. Try making a collage of items that start with the same sound using pictures from magazines. Sock puppets can be another fun way to work on these skills. Make one that likes to munch on words that start with a certain sound. Let your child have fun “feeding” his puppet different objects or pictures that start with that sound.
9. Search online.
There are many resources and ideas online to work on phonological and phonemic awareness skills. Check out YouTube for teaching videos, Pinterest for phonology games and crafts, or the app store for nursery rhymes, sound games and songs.
Whatever you do, keep the activities short and fun. If your child finds one activity too difficult or boring, try something different. If you find that activities of this type are really hard for him, talk to your classroom teacher or your district’s early childhood department to see if extra help is available.