Did you know that human brains are not hard-wired for learning to read? It is not a natural process, like learning to understand language and like learning to talk. Learning to read and write needs to be directly and explicitly taught and takes many years of schooling to fully master.
The good news is that you, as a parent, can play an important role in getting your preschool child’s brain ready for mapping letters to sounds once they enter school. This can be done by focusing on a skill called phonological awareness. Phonological awareness can be defined as the ability to “hear” and manipulate the spoken parts of words and sentences. This includes the ability to break up (segment) a spoken sentence into words, being able to identify the syllables in words and being able to recognize alliteration and rhyming patterns.
Being aware of these larger units of spoken language sets the stage for the development of an awareness of smaller units (sounds of a language). The ability to identify and manipulate single sounds (phonemes) is called phonemic awareness. Once learners are aware of the single sounds in a word, they are ready to notice how letters represent these sounds during reading instruction.
Research evidence indicates that phonological and phonemic awareness are good predictors of later reading success or difficulty. Working on developing phonological awareness skills at home doesn’t have to feel like work at all! It can be done through incorporating fun and engaging stories and sound games into your child’s daily routine.
Start by exposing your child to books that have rhyming patterns or that focus on words that start with the same sound (alliteration). A few of my favourite rhyming books include: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see? (Bill Martin Jr. & Eric Carle), Goodnight Moon (Margaret Wise Brown) and The Gruffalo (Julia Donaldson & Alex Scheffler). Children’s songs and nursery rhymes also emphasize rhyming patterns and help children to develop an “ear” for sounds.
Once children are more aware of these patterns, you can start asking them to identify if words rhyme or not. Try and incorporate it into daily activities, for example at breakfast, ask them if “egg” and “leg” rhyme or at bath time, ask them whether “soap” and “rope” rhyme. Many commercial games, like rhyming bingo and Rhyming Fun are also readily available on Takelot and in educational toy shops.
The idea of syllables can be introduced through asking your child to place their hands under their chin. Ask them to say a word like “Christmas” and ask them to count how many times their jaw drops when saying the word. The number of jaw drops is equal to the number of syllables in a word. Once your child gets the hang of it, you can also ask your child to start “clapping words” (clapping once for every syllable). Include this skill in daily tasks, such as asking your child to clap the words on the grocery list while shopping, for example: “le-mon” (2 claps), “Coke” (1 clap), “wa-ter-me-lon” (4 claps).
You can even incorporate phonological awareness while watching TV, by drawing your child’s attention to words that start with the same sound, for example “Peppa Pig, Micky Mouse and Spongebob Squarepants”. In this technological era where children spend so much time on devices, you might as well tap into what they already like to do by downloading some educational apps that also help to develop their phonological awareness, for example “Bud’s Rhyming Words” and “Little Owl”.
If your preschool child struggles to develop the above skills, do not hesitate to contact our speech therapist team at My Online Therapist, for an online screening of these skills and to provide further support, should it be necessary. Early intervention remains the most effective method for helping to minimize or prevent later literacy difficulties.
One of the speech therapists on our team, Lize van der Merwe, developed a special course for parents on speech and language therapy techniques to improve their children’s phonological awareness. To find out more about this online course https://www.udemy.com/course/youre-the-speech-therapist-support-your-childs-reading-1/
and to apply for a coupon code to access the course at a reduced rate, contact us at https://myonlinetherapist.co.za
Al Otaiba, S., Allor, J. H., Baker, K., Conner, C., Stewart, J., Mellado de la Cruz, V. (2019) Teaching phonemic awareness and word reading skills: focusing on explicit and systematic approaches. Perspectives on Language and Literacy, Vol 45 (3) 11-16.