Teach Your Child to Read by Promoting Phonological Awareness

Updated on November 3, 2017
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As an educator, I know parents are best suited to teach their children to read. It's that loving bond and one-on-one time that make it work.

Unlike speech, which develops naturally as children are exposed to it, reading must be taught in a direct and systematic way. It all starts with building a youngster's phonological awareness, the foundation for early reading. Not surprisingly, parents are the best ones to do this.

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Why Is Phonological Awareness Important and How Can Parents Promote It?

In the heyday of Whole Language instruction, its proponents argued that reading aloud to students and exposing them to good literature was sufficient to turn non-readers into readers. Yet, classroom teachers often saw that this was untrue, especially for children with dyslexia and other learning issues. Now experts agree that teaching phonological awareness is essential to any solid reading program and a necessary stepping stone to reading, writing, and spelling.

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.

What Is Whole Language?

Whole Language is an approach to reading instruction in which the search for meaning is paramount. It emphasizes quality literature, reading aloud, and the combining of reading, writing, and spelling activities. Whole Language gained popularity in the 1990's after phonics instruction had reigned supreme during the previous two decades.

Teaching Phonological Awareness and Phonics to the Kindergarten Child

One of the best parts of being a kindergarten teacher is interacting with parents. They're so enthusiastic about giving their children the best start on their educational journeys. While eager to help, some parents have the false notion that workbooks and flashcards are the best tools to achieve this. Book stores such as Barnes & Noble have entire sections stocked with these products, attractively packaged by publishers to tempt zealous parents. While there's nothing wrong with using them, I encourage parents to try more creative ways to help their children – activities that have a far greater impact. But, before I do that, I explain two important terms -- phonological awareness and phonics – and how they're essential to building a strong reader.

8 Fun Ways to Promote Phonological Awareness

Reciting Nursery Rhymes Is a Fantastic Way to Promote Phonological Awareness

Some parents worry about the violent imagery in nursery rhymes. But there are gentler modern versions to alleviate their concerns.
Some parents worry about the violent imagery in nursery rhymes. But there are gentler modern versions to alleviate their concerns. | Source

While phonics is a prerequisite for reading, phonological awareness is a prerequisite for phonics. It's defined as the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds inside spoken words. During the past 20 years, phonological awareness has received a lot of attention. Researchers have 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 reversed their position and now strongly believe adults should teach phonological awareness in an explicit way, providing direct instruction and ongoing feedback.

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).

3 Fun Game to Promote Phonics

Reading Dr. Seuss Promotes Phonological Awareness!

Dr. Seuss books teach children about rhyming words in a delightful way.
Dr. Seuss books teach children about rhyming words in a delightful way. | Source

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.

Promote Phonological Awareness With "Boggle, Jr."

When my sons were little, they loved playing this game and so did I. It's ideal for beginning readers because it teaches letter sounds and consonant-vowel-consonant words. It promotes fine motor skills and beginning reading. I love the simplicity of it and that the boys could play with me or by themselves.

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.

Books! Books! Books!

Surround your children with books and read aloud to them.
Surround your children with books and read aloud to them. | Source

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    • letstalkabouteduc profile image
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      McKenna Meyers 2 years ago from Bend, OR

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

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 2 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      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!

    • chuckandus6 profile image

      Nichol marie 2 years ago from The Country-Side

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

    • letstalkabouteduc profile image
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      McKenna Meyers 2 years ago from Bend, OR

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

    • chuckandus6 profile image

      Nichol marie 2 years ago from The Country-Side

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