Lots of people have heard of phonics and indeed there has been a heavy focus on them in schools for years, and then not so much of a focus as we looked at whole language approaches, and then back again to a phonics-intensive focus (don’t you just love the education pendulum?).
But before phonemic awareness can develop, or at least before it can develop effectively, a child has to have a grasp on phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, differentiate, and manipulate individual units of sound (or phonemes). This includes tasks like segmenting a word (“cat” is “c-a-t”), blending a word (“caaaatttttt”… “cat”!), making substitutions (Say “sat” with an /m/ sound instead of /s/… “mat”!), deletions (say “and” without the /d/ sound… “an”!) playing with onset and rime (cl-ap) and finally rhyming – both identifying rhyming words and creating their own.
Most children develop these skills naturally, especially when exposed to a rich environment of talk, music, and literacy from infancy through the preschool years. However, some children do not, either because they are going to have learning needs that require more explicit instruction in these skills, or they lacked the rich early learning environment so necessary for later literacy success.
Whatever the case, we know that children who struggle with phonics may actually first have a deficit in phonemic awareness, and that needs to be addressed before phonological awareness and reading can really thrive.
For the most part, you won’t need to teach phonemic awareness explicitly, but you will want to integrate lots of play with sound and words into your daily activities. It doesn’t have to involve print, in fact, it often shouldn’t, since it is essentially children’s auditory processing you are focusing on here. There are lots of other chances for great print experiences, and of course you should go for those too!
If you teach Kindergarten or even first or second grade, be on the lookout for those struggling early readers and make sure to get a formal check on those phonemic skills. Sometimes all it takes is a little extra attention in this area and kids begin to thrive with reading!
What sort of fun activities do you use that invite children to play with phonemic awareness?