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A house is only as strong and stable as the foundation upon which it’s built. The foundation for learning to read is phonological awareness. It is one of the biggest predictors for future reading success. Phonological awareness refers to a hierarchy of skills which involve the ability to hear and manipulate sounds in words. They are skills which must be taught and practiced and are usually taught during pre-school and kindergarten. True phonological awareness involves only sounds. I think about it as something you could do over the telephone because there is no need for sight. It’s all about the ear.

Remember that this is a hierarchy so I’ve begun with the easiest skills and progressed to the most difficult. Here is a summary of the skills involved:

* Word awareness—knowing that words have meaning and being able to identify individual words.
children must know that a cat is an animal with four legs that says meow so that     they can properly understand the printed word

* Syllable awareness—knowing that words can be divided into parts.
bat has one syllable
puppy has two syllables

* Rhyme awareness—knowing that certain words contain the same ending parts.
tree, me, he, we, see, three, bee

* Onset and rime—the onset is the initial consonant in a one syllable word and the rime is the vowel and remaining sounds.
/s/ + /un/ = sun
/c/ + /at/ = cat

* Phonemic awareness—knowing the smallest units of sound in a word. Children must be able to segment, blend, and manipulate the individual sounds in words.
/b/ + /a/ + /t/ = bat
bat = /b/ + /a/ + /t/
change the /b/ in bat to /m/ = mat

Teachers are trained in teaching these skills and for parents it can be overwhelming so I want to offer a few ideas for helping with this so you can help lay that solid foundation.

First, talking and reading with your children is the best thing you can do because it gets their ears open to listening to new language and vocabulary. You can never read too much to your kids and it’s ok if you read the same books over and over because that’s how they learn that vocabulary more deeply and meaningfully.

Second, we play a bunch of “games” in the van while we drive that the kids love. Phonological awareness should be practiced for 10-20 minutes a day so that drive to school or the grocery store is a perfect time to get in some practice while also avoiding fights in the car! (Is it just my kids who do that???) These can be differentiated based on the child’s age.

* The rhyming game: I say several words that rhyme and have them tell me one more. As they get better at this, you can make it more difficult by saying one word and having them give you a word that rhymes. To make it easier, you can also give them three words and ask them to tell you the word that doesn’t rhyme.

* The alliteration game: I give the boys a letter sound /f/ and ask them to tell me all the words they can think of that start like that sound.

* I tell the boys a letter of the alphabet or I give them a sound and they tell me the corresponding sound or letter.

* We sing/say nursery rhymes or tongue twisters.

* I tell them a word and ask them how many syllables.

* I tell them a word and ask them to tell me how many sounds are in the word. For example, I will say “bug” or “tree” and they will tell me that each has three sounds.

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