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Teach Your Child to Read by Promoting Phonological Awareness

As an educator, Ms. Meyers knows parents are best suited for teaching their children how to read and fostering a lifelong love of books.

  • Did you know that parents are far better suited to help their children become readers than teachers are?
  • Did you know that promoting phonological awareness is the most effective way to help youngsters learn to read?
  • Did you know that parents have everything they need to enhance phonological awareness (nursery rhymes, kids' music, Dr. Seuss, and other rhyming books) and don't need to buy expensive phonics kits?
  • Did you know that workbooks do very little to promote phonological awareness and a playful, organic, and oral approach is far superior?

As a long-time preschool and kindergarten teacher, I want to empower parents to promote phonological awareness at home, helping their kids become efficient and enthusiastic readers. It's fun, easy, and comes naturally to playful moms and dads. Plus, it's far superior to the tedious and ineffective letter of the week approach that's used at most preschools and kindergartens.


How Can Parents Build a Positive Connection Between Their Children and Books?

Unlike speech, which develops naturally as children get exposed to it, reading needs to be taught in a direct and systematic way. While some youngsters just pick it up naturally, most don't. They need their phonological awareness, the foundation of reading, to be heightened.

It should come as no surprise that parents are best-suited to do this, starting when their youngster is a baby. They should continue each and every day in a playful, organic way. By doing so, parents can not only turn their kids into strong readers, writers, and spellers but also give them a love books... something that schools struggle mightily to do.

What Is Phonological Awareness?

Phonological awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds inside spoken words. During the past 20 years, it's received a lot of attention because researchers found that children with weak phonological awareness become weak readers. In the past, researchers thought phonological awareness was akin to speech; it would develop naturally over time as children received more and more exposure to it. However, they have recently reversed that position and now strongly believe adults should teach phonological awareness to kids in an explicit way, providing direct instruction and ongoing feedback.

Why Is Phonological Awareness the Foundation for Reading Success?

During my first few years working in kindergarten, I was struggling to teach my students how to read and was getting frustrated. While earning my credential, I had been assured by professors that reading aloud to students and exposing them to good literature was all that was needed to turn them into readers. Yet, my colleagues and I quickly realized this wasn't the case, especially for young children with dyslexia and other learning issues.

Fortunately, new research now acknowledges that reading aloud to kids isn't enough; we also need to give them a foundation in phonological awareness. Contrary to what some parents believe (and what some teachers convey), there is nothing complicated about promoting phonological awareness. A person doesn't need specialized training nor do their need to purchase an expensive phonics kit, workbooks, worksheets, flashcards, or computer games. They just need to have fun and act silly with sounds and words. Some parents do this naturally without realizing how valuable it is, and everyone else should join them!

How Do Parents Promote Phonological Awareness?

The good news is that parents—often without even knowing it—start teaching phonological awareness to their children as soon as they're born and sometimes even sooner in utero. Who knew that by grabbing a baby's toes and saying coochie, coochie, coo moms and dads are teaching about alliteration? By reading, singing, playing word games, and making those delightful sounds that come so naturally between parents and children, moms and dads are building phonological awareness in an organic way, setting the groundwork for their youngsters to become readers.

Are Workbooks a Good Tool for Promoting Phonological Awareness?

One of my favorite parts of being a kindergarten teacher was interacting with young parents because they're so enthusiastic about giving their children the best start on their educational journeys. In conversations with them over the years, I found many had false notions about what they should do to help their children become readers. Many thought workbooks were the answer. Book stores such as Barnes & Noble have entire sections stocked with these products, attractively packaged by publishers to tempt moms and dads.

I warned parents, though, to be wary of these materials because they could turn kids off to learning, especially when used as a substitute for parent-child interaction. Kids want to learn with their parents, not be banished to a table to work by themselves like some sort of punishment. Besides, promoting phonological awareness involves children hearing the sounds of the letters and words so talking and listening are essential.

Most children today don't know nursery rhymes, which is sad because they're great for promoting phonological awareness.

Most children today don't know nursery rhymes, which is sad because they're great for promoting phonological awareness.

What Are Some Activities That Heighten Phonological Awareness?

Parents can promote phonological awareness from the very beginning, and it requires no workbooks, no games, no special skills, and no money. Phonological awareness is void of print. It focuses on sounds, not the alphabet. Some good activities include the following:

  1. Read aloud to your child. Include rhyming books and have her fill in the rhyme.
  2. Have your child listen to and recite nursery rhymes.
  3. Say two words and have your child clap if they rhyme: car-star, boy-toy, frog-log, fish-dish, flower-power.
  4. Have your child produce rhyming words. What rhymes with bat? What rhymes with cow? What rhymes with red? What rhymes with book?
  5. Ask your child to tell you the beginning, middle, and end sounds of CVC words such as cat, big, fan, ham, nut, pot, rat, tub, van.
  6. 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).
  7. Put out some household items. Ask your child: Which one starts with puh (pencil)? Which one ends with tuh (hat)? Which one has the middle sound aaa (map)?
  8. Have your child clap out the parts (syllables) she hears in each word: boy (1), fish (1), flower (2), garbage (2) umbrella (3), restaurant (3).

What Store-Bought Games Promote Phonological Awareness?

Most parents have an idea of what phonics is and may have bad memories of it from their childhoods. They may recall tedious worksheets with instructions such as: Circle the word that begins with the t sound. Underline the word that rhymes with boy. Color the picture that ends with the z sound. They might have flashbacks of teachers urging them to “sound it out” when they struggled with a word. They may have disliked phonics because it was presented in a “stay in your seat and work quietly” manner.

Teaching phonics in this way is odd because phonics involves making noises. It focuses on matching letters of the alphabet with their corresponding sounds. For example c-a-t is kuh-aaa-tuh. When a child is learning phonics, she connects graphemes (letter symbols) with sounds. Phonics, therefore, is a necessary prerequisite for becoming a reader. Instead of relying on boring workbook pages, parents can play these fun, interactive, and, yes, vocal games with their kids:

  1. Boggle Junior – This is a marvelous game for sounding out 3-letter consonant-vowel-consonant words (CVC words) such as dog, cat, pig, pan, sun, fan, ham, bed, 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 – The game is a kid favorite but needs some modification for teaching phonics. It creates camaraderie and laughter so it's worth the 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 make this game applicable for phonics, create some cards with words that can be sounded out: cap, man, jam, lip, van, nut, fish, 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 collection. The playing cards include short, simple directions that children love to read aloud because they rhyme. While your youngster will need your help, she'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 her such as nine, fast, last, face, skip, and four.

When It Comes to Building Phonological Awareness, Parents Are Definitely the Best Teachers!

Teaching young children phonological awareness gives them a great head start in their journeys to become readers. Parents can provide that direct one-on-one instruction that tops anything a teacher can do in the classroom. The very essence of phonological awareness lends itself to fun interactive games in which sounds create words and words create sentences and sentences create communication. Parents, as so often is the case, are the best teachers and can instill phonological awareness that helps their children become readers.They have the power to make phonological awareness a part of their youngsters' lives in a rich and meaningful way and create future readers.

What do you think?

© 2015 McKenna Meyers


McKenna Meyers (author) on April 08, 2015:

What a fun game, Denise! Thanks for sharing and for reading my hub!

Denise W Anderson from Bismarck, North Dakota on April 08, 2015:

Our children loved these types of games when they were young. We used a travel came called "Come-G-Come" where one person would say "Come-G-Come" and the others would respond with "What do you come by?" The person would then say, "I come by something that starts with ____" and they would name a letter. The others would ask questions to try to guess what the item was. Our children quickly learned that there are some letters that have more than one sound, and that not all words started with what they thought. This game not only increased our children's phonemic awareness, but passed the many hours we spent on the road much more quickly!

Nichol marie from The Country-Side on April 05, 2015:

Your welcome.I look forward to Reading more Of your hubs.

McKenna Meyers (author) on April 05, 2015:

Thanks for reading my hub. I'm a newbie so it's exciting to have a reader!

Nichol marie from The Country-Side on April 05, 2015:

Great hub. I love Headbands game and it Does help build reading.skills