Helping a Pre-Reader (Phonemic Awareness and Resources)

“A room without books
is like a body without a soul.”

~G.K. Chesterton

In my pre-mama-days, I was a high school English and Speech teacher.  Though you’d never know it with all the errors I find after I hit “publish”.

In my pre-mama-days, I was also a certified Reading Specialist.
But even with all that…

I still didn’t really understand the importance of phonemic awareness.

But then, God gifted us with an incredibly incredible first child who is bright and creative and funny and kind and who we love beyond measure…

But who is also dyslexic and who really struggled with reading early on.  You can read about our journey with Laura in this post (which also contains a whole list of dyslexia-related-resources).

“Once you learn to read,
you will forever be free.”
~Frederick Douglass

And so began my real awareness…
Of phonemic awareness.

To give an over-simplified-definition–
Phonemic awareness is the ability to distinguish between different sounds and to manipulate sounds.  Phonemic awareness is an important basis for reading.

“The function of a good book is to stand like a signpost
guiding the reader to the Truth and the Life.”

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
~Psalm 119:105

Phonemic awareness is not

–the ability to recognize and name letters.
(Think… Sesame Street…and the “letter of the day”.)

–the ability to say what sound each letter makes.
(Think… Hooked on Phonics or The Letter Factory.)

–the ability to memorize sight words.
(Think… Dolch Sight Word Lists.)

Phonemic awareness comes before all that. 
And it has a huge impact on future reading skills.

Research shows that poor phonological awareness and phonological skills, often predict poor reading and spelling (and often speech) development.

Phonemic awareness is

–the ability to hear individual words in sentences.
(Think… clap for each word you hear in the sentence “The cat is fluffy”.)

–the ability to hear and divide words into spoken syllables.
(Think… clap once for each syllable in the word “television”.)

–the ability to differentiate sounds within a word.
(Think… tell me each sound you hear in the word “r-a-t”.)

–the ability to hear and produce rhyming words.
(Think… what words rhyme with “fox”?)

–the ability to substitute sounds verbally and come up with new words.
(Think… change the “kuh” in cat to an “mmmm” and now what word do you have?)

–the ability to blend sounds.
(Think… can you put together these sounds to make a word? 

–the ability to hear alliterations in words. 
(Think… what same sound do you hear in the words “fff-un, fff-ood, and fff-rog”?)

And it’s a lot more.

And it’s kind of confusing and it falls under a whole bunch of categories with similar-yet-not-but-yes-related-terms that I don’t pretend to fully understand or have the ability to explain in great detail…

phonological awareness
phonological processing
phoneme awareness
and the list goes on….

If you have a pre-reader or a struggling reader,
Or you just want to help your child become a better reader–

There are ways to encourage the development and improvement of your child’s phonemic awareness. Which in turn, will help your little one become a better reader.

There are many simple activities that promote phonemic awareness:

–Clap out the words in a sentence (one clap for each word).

–During car rides practice clapping out the syllables in words.

–Play a game of–who can think of 5 words that start with the sound “ssss”?

–Practice rhyming words.

–Read books that encourage phonemic awareness (see some of our favorites below).

–Use songs, rhyming games, nursery rhymes, and rhyming poetry as much as possible and let your child fill in the rhymes when you’re reading. (For example, from Green Eggs and Ham…”I would not eat them in a box.  I would not eat them with a _____”).

–Play the verbal game of “What’s left when you take away_____?”
(If we take away “ssss” from the word “star” what are we left with?”)

–Play the “What word does not belong game?”
(For example…”box, fox, rocks, cat” or “cat, cake, cord, ball”.)

–Sing songs that rhyme.
(“I spy with my little eye, something that rhymes with blue…it’s something in this room…it’s your shoe” or “Carrie-Carrie-bo-berry-fee-fie-mo-merry…Carrie”.)

–Use counters.  Give you child a pile of blocks and have them put down one block for each word in a sentence…or for each sound in a word.
(“I went to the zoo” = 5 blocks.  “candy= 5 blocks…I try to choose words they like. smile.)

–Use rhyming pair puzzles or make your own by printing out simple object photos of words that rhyme.

–Play with compound words.
(Say the word “horseshoe” and then ask “If you take away shoe…what do you have left?”)

“No man can be called friendless
who has God
and the companionship of good books.”
~Elizabeth Barrett Browning

These are some of the books (we love) that encourage phonemic awareness:

Sing a Song of Popcorn
One Wide River to Cross
Buzz Said the Bee
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
Moses Supposes His Toeses Are Roses
Down By the Bay
Green Eggs and Ham
Fox in Socks
There’s a Wocket in My Pocket
Mother Goose’s Nursery Rhymes
Jesus Loves You
Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain
Is Your Mama a Llama?
Don’t Forget the Bacon
Amelia Bedelia books
Where the Sidewalk Ends
Sheep on a Ship (the whole series)
All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir
Barn Dance
Jesse Bear (the whole series)
Each Peach Pear Plum
Henny Penny
God’s Amazing Book
Hop on Pop
I Can’t Said the Ant (I don’t “love” this book, but our kids did :)
Mr. Brown Can Moo!  Can You?
Sheep in a Jeep
The Napping House
A Huge Hog is a Big Pig
Father Fox’s Pennyrhymes
Rumble in the Jungle
The Rhyme Bible

*I keep a list in my purse of the books we are looking for (just in case I run across a pile at a garage sale or Goodwill…and clearly…I have “issues” with book-collecting, but buying used off of Amazon is also a great option).

And here are a few of our favorite websites and other resources:

Between the Lions–Fuzzy Lion Ears Game
Clifford the Big Red Dog–Sound Matching Game
Get Ready to Read!!! (website)
K-3 Learning Page of Phonemic Awareness Resources (includes assessment tools)
Have More Fun Headquarters (includes TONS of online games for rhymes)
Help Reggie Find the Rhyme Game
Lakeshore Learning Resources (type in phonemic awareness and you’ll find pages of not-free-but-great items)
Super Duper Publications (we found Super Duper during our years of speech therapy–again, great-but-not-free-resources)
Phonemic Awareness Fun Deck (from Super Duper)
Billy Jonas’ “I Spy With My Little Eye” song is a car-ride-favorite!
Get Ready for the Code (curriculum series of A, B and C book levels)
Explode the Code (curriculum series with MANY different levels)
*For more reading and dyslexia related resources, please visit this previous post.

And above all…
If you want to develop your child’s phonemic awareness…

Read to them.
Read with them.
Read around them.
And then–
Read some more!

“We read to know that we are not alone.”
~C.S. Lewis

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