“I’m a little teapot, short and stout,” mommy sings. The toddler leans over and puts his head on the carpet as he “tips over.” Mom and son laugh at his silliness, and sing the song again. Did you know this toddler is actually building his reading skills?
“Phonemic awareness” is the fancy term we use in schools to describe a child’s use of rhythm and rhyme. It describes the child’s ability to hear the elements of his language. “Do cat and kangaroo have the same beginning sound? Do hog and log rhyme? Do the words moon and can have the same ending sound? Whose name is longer, Colby or Madeleine?
As parents, we have heard about the importance of our children learning phonics. Many commercial programs help children build the letter-sound connection. But the ability to hear the difference in words and sounds comes long before children begin to tie these to the letter symbol.
Strong readers have good phonemic awareness skills. They can tell you about the words that rhyme or words that begin or end with the same sound. They know about syllables, and oral language patterns. When phonics instruction begins in Kindergarten, they are ready to fly.
So where do good readers gain this phonemic awareness? From their parents and caregivers, of course! Good readers have had many experiences with simple songs and rhymes. They have heard stories like “The Cat In the Hat” or experienced nursery rhymes like “Humpty Dumpty.” They have repeated sounds like ch-ch-ch-Chuggington, as they dance to their favorite videos. They say things like Wee Willie Winkie and Walmart sound like Wendy and Juan. (Notice here the children are listening to the sounds and not hung up on the letters that make those sounds.)
Begin building your child’s phonemic awareness today! Take a trip to the library. Pick out some nursery rhymes or other favorite rhyming books. Borrow some children’s music CDs and learn some new songs. Play with sounds; t-t-t-turtle, tuna, Tyrannosaurus Rex. As you go about your day ask your child, “What other words begin like your name, Mary?” “Let’s clap the syllables in our names, Kin-ley; Van-ess-a.” Read some silly stories like “One fish, two fish, red fish…”
Play. Laugh. Sing. Dance. Build phonemic awareness and a strong reader.