A Sound Start

father and daughter reading

Learning to read is a challenge!  This challenge is due in part to the structure of our English language.  Words such as “rough”, “cough”, “through” and “bough” all contain the same /ough/ pattern, but each word is pronounced quite differently.  It is no wonder that many children have a difficult time learning to read!

We all know that words are made up of speech sounds (phonemes) and the awareness of the speech sounds in words is the foundation for learning to read.  Beginning as early as the age of four, children can learn the sounds of our language through language play known as phonological awareness.

Phonological Awareness and Phonemic Awareness

Phonological awareness is a general term that describes a myriad of linguistic concepts such as rhyme and alliteration, clapping syllables, blending word parts, isolating sounds in words, deleting syllables, phoneme blending, phoneme segmentation, and phoneme deletion.  Phonemic awareness is a term that specifically refers to the awareness that spoken words are made up of individual speech sounds (consonants and vowels) and that these sounds can be manipulated in a variety of ways. The majority of these skills are accomplished by the time a child completes second grade. According to the National Reading Panel (2000) phonemic awareness ability is strongly correlated to a child’s success with learning to read.  In addition, it is strongly believed that the majority of children that have difficulty learning to read demonstrate a deficit in their phonemic awareness skills.

How Parents Can Help

There are a number of things that parents can do to ensure the their child develops the foundation for learning to read.  Parents of students in preschool to third grade should ask their child’s teacher about the classroom literacy curriculum.  Specifically, parents should ask for information regarding how phonological awareness is taught during these formative years.  Most of today’s research-based reading curriculum embed phonological awareness activities within the curriculum.  If phonological awareness activities are not included in the reading curriculum, parents should ask how these skills are taught in the classroom. An effective phonological awareness program only takes 10-15 minutes per day to complete and can occur at any point in the school day.

For some students, participation in the reading curriculum alone does not provide the amount of support that a child needs to learn to read.  If you feel that your child is struggling with learning to read, talk with your child’s teacher about getting additional support for your child.  A referral to a reading specialist or a speech therapist may be beneficial, particularly when children struggle with phonological tasks.  A short intervention period with a reading specialist or speech therapist may be all that your child needs.

Finally, phonological awareness activities are fun and easy to do at home.  Dr. Seuss books are an excellent source for recognizing rhyme and tongue twisters are a fun way to learn alliteration (beginning sound repetition).  Clapping the syllables that make up the names of friend, family members and pets are an easy way to learn that words are made up of syllables.  Guessing the secret word is a fun way to teach phoneme blending.  Parents can say the individual sounds that make up a word and the child guesses the secret word by blending the sounds (d-o-g is dog).  Phonemic segmentation is a more challenging activity.  Parents slowly say a word such as “dog” and the child puts up a finger or moves a penny for every sound heard.

Parents are their child’s greatest advocates.  Talk to your child’s teacher about the reading curriculum and phonological awareness to ensure that your child has a strong foundation for learning to read.

written by Diane Bradley M.Ed.

Speech & Language Therapist/Reading Specialist

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