Ask Reading Kingdom: What’s Phonological Awareness?

My son is in kindergarten and I was told that if I want his reading to progress well, I should start him on activities to teach phonological awareness. What does this mean?

Phonological awareness refers to a cluster of skills that are considered to be essential precursor skills for phonics (i.e. sounding out.) They are language related to, but are not, by themselves, meaningful language. For the most part, they are skills that allow a person to talk about language, think about language or play with language.

For example, one of these precursor skills commonly used in kindergartens is to have the children clap for each syllable in a word–so Christ/mas gets two claps while el/e/phant gets three. Children, of course, have been saying these words perfectly well before they learn to segment them into syllables. But “saying” of the words is not the goal. The idea is that activities of this sort will get the children ready to do the sounding out and related activities required for reading words.

Other sound analysis skills that you may be familiar with include activities where children are required to rhyme (e.g. Give me a word that sounds like “man.”) or to dissect the sounds of words (e.g., “What would send sound like without the ‘sss’ sound?”)

There are lots of resources on the Internet offering activities in this realm. Some children, however, find it difficult to accomplish what is being asked. When that is the case, you should discuss it with his teacher and see if the school has programs that might be of help.

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