Skip to main content

How to Prepare a Preschooler to Read With Phonological Awareness

As a teacher, I know that children who enter school with a foundation in phonological awareness are equipped to become strong readers.

Research shows that children who can detect the individual sounds in words are more likely to become competent readers, writers, and spellers.

Research shows that children who can detect the individual sounds in words are more likely to become competent readers, writers, and spellers.

Did You Know?

  • parents who promote phonological awareness help their children become strong readers, writers, and spellers.
  • moms and dads have everything that they need to enhance phonological awareness in their homes (nursery rhymes, kids' music, Dr. Seuss books) and don't need to buy expensive phonics kits or send their kids to special classes.
  • workbooks do nothing to advance phonological awareness and can turn youngsters off to learning.
  • a playful, organic, and spoken approach is needed for championing phonological awareness, not a written one.

As a long-time kindergarten teacher, I want to empower parents of preschoolers to nurture phonological awareness in their homes. In doing so, they lay the groundwork for their kids to become competent and enthusiastic life-long readers. Instead of drilling them with boring sight words or making them sit at a desk and do phonics worksheets, they can boost their pre-reading skills in fun, lively, and developmentally appropriate ways.

What Is Phonological Awareness?

The term “phonological awareness” can seem foreign and intimidating to parents. However, it’s actually something that all of us were exposed to as kids when our moms and dads recited nursery rhymes to us, sang us silly songs, read us Dr. Seuss, and played games with us like I Spy and Uncle Wiggly. It simply involves the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds inside spoken words.

During the past 20 years, it has received a lot of attention because researchers discovered that children with weak phonological awareness became weak readers. In the past, experts thought it was akin to speech and would develop naturally over time as children received more and more exposure to it. However, they’ve recently reversed their position and now strongly believe that adults should teach phonological awareness to kids in an explicit way, providing direct instruction and ongoing feedback.

This video explains why phonemic awareness (aka phonological awareness) is key to helping children become efficient and enthusiastic readers.

Why Is It the Foundation for Reading Success?

Many of us grew up when whole language reigned supreme as the preeminent way to teach reading. At that time, scholars were firmly convinced that teachers could turn their students into competent readers by simply reading aloud to them and exposing them to quality literature. Yet, alarmed educators were experiencing a different reality in their classrooms as some students struggled mightily to read. They realized that a big piece of the puzzle was missing.

The latest research confirms that those teachers were right when thinking that reading aloud to their students wasn't sufficient. In addition to hearing good literature, children need a foundation in phonological awareness. The good news is that there’s nothing complicated about building them one. Moms and dads don’t need special training nor do they need to purchase an expensive phonics kit, workbooks, worksheets, flashcards, or computer games. They just need to have fun with their kids and act silly with sounds and words.

How Can Parents Promote It?

Parents, interacting one-on-one with their child, are more effective at instilling phonological awareness than teachers who have 20 or more students. Because it’s spoken, phonological awareness involves reading aloud, singing songs, reciting poetry, and playing games. It’s not the same as phonics, which involves the written word and is taught with workbooks and worksheets. Moreover, It’s not about learning the names of letters in the alphabet. Instead, it’s about learning the sounds that they make, which is necessary for kids to become readers.

  • Read aloud to your child. Include rhyming books such as those by Dr. Seuss. When you come to a rhyme, let your youngster complete it. For example, have them figure out what comes next: Would you like them in a house? Would you like them with a _______?
  • Recite nursery rhymes together. Keep a book of them by your child’s bedside and read a few before saying goodnight.
  • Say two words together and have your child clap if they rhyme: car-star, boy-toy, frog-log, fish-dish, flower-power. This is an easy activity to do while driving in the car or walking around the block.
  • Have your child produce rhyming words. Ask them: What rhymes with bat? What rhymes with cow? What rhymes with red? What rhymes with book?
  • Play I Spy. I spy something that's fluffy and starts with cuh (cat). I spy something that you put in your mouth and starts with tuh (toothbrush). I spy something that a baby likes and starts with buh (bottle).
  • Ask your child to tell you the beginning, middle, and end sounds of words. Use CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words such as cat, big, fan, ham, nut, pot, rat, tub, van. For example, the beginning sound for cat is kuh, the middle sound is aaa and the end sound is tuh.
  • Teach with household items. Grab some objects and put them on the floor. Ask your child: Which one starts with puh (pencil)? Which one ends with tuh (hat)? Which one has the middle sound aaa (map)?
  • Have your child clap out the parts (syllables) that they hear in words: boy (1), fish (1), flower (2), garbage (2) umbrella (3), restaurant (3).

What Board Games Promote It?

Promoting a preschooler’s phonological awareness should be done in a playful, organic, and interactive way. As such, board games are a wonderful means to accomplish just that. The three listed below are developmentally appropriate for young children as well as being lively, challenging, and entertaining. Designate a day of the week as “Game Night” and build a fun family tradition while simultaneously promoting phonological awareness.

  1. Boggle Junior—This is a marvelous game for sounding out simple 3-letter consonant-vowel-consonant words (CVC words) such as dog, cat, pig, pan, sun, fan, ham, bed, and tub. Players use large kid-friendly dice to roll and build words depicted on colorful playing cards. For more advanced players, flip over the cards to build 4-letter words that teach blends and digraphs such as frog, shoe, sock, and milk.
  2. Hedbanz for Kids—This popular game is a kid favorite but needs some slight modifications to promote phonological awareness. It creates camaraderie and laughter so it's well worth the extra effort. Each player wears a headband with a picture on it. The player asks yes/no questions to determine what's depicted on the headband: Am I food? Do you find me in a house? Do you wear me on your body? To boost phonological awareness, simply create some cards with words that can be sounded out such as cap, man, jam, lip, van, nut, fish, and lamp.

    3. The Uncle Wiggly Game—Once your child becomes proficient at sounding out CVC words, this classic board game is a good addition to your game collection. The playing cards include short, simple directions that children love to read aloud because they rhyme. While your youngster will need some help, they’ll be thrilled and empowered by decoding many CVC words such as hop, fun, ten, six, run, hat, and fox. There are also some 4-letter words to challenge them such as nine, fast, last, face, skip, and four.

What do you think?

© 2015 McKenna Meyers