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Reading 101: The Importance of Phonemic Awareness

By Renee Cayer B.A.

Did you know that children need to have a strong understanding of spoken language before they can understand written language? This article discusses the importance of phonemic awareness—-the ability to differentiate and manipulate letter sounds— that will surely lead your child to reading success!

What is Phonemic Awareness?

Phonemic awareness is the knowledge of how language works. It is the ability to understand how different sounds make up words, understand the relationship between words, and rearrange sounds to create new words. Essentially, it is the ability to think about and work with the individual sounds in words. It is important to recognize the difference in sounds, but children need to understand that sounds are manipulative elements of our language. Hearing different sounds, knowing their positions and understanding the role they play within a word will help them read efficiently.

Why is Phonemic Awareness important?

Children in the early stages of language development sometimes have difficulty sequencing sounds. It is essential for the progression of reading that children are able to hear sounds and patterns used to make up words. It requires children to notice how letters represent sounds. Children who lack phonemic awareness skills do not understand what letters represent. If they were asked to name the first letter in the word “duck,” they would likely say “quack quack.” Sounds are abstract in nature, which makes this a hard concept for children to grasp.

Phonemic Awareness and Reading:

Children need to know letter sounds, but it is crucial to successful reading and spelling that they know how to apply these skills and recognize the necessary print-sound relationship. For example, children must be able to identify the letter d in the words duck, dish, and bad and separate the phoneme from others before they can understand what the letter d represents in those words. Studies show that a lack of phonemic awareness is characteristic of students who are failing to read or at risk for reading difficulty compared to their peers.

Things you can do at home:

You are probably wondering what YOU can do to help your child become a better reader. There are many short and fun activities that can help your child build sound skills. These activities include singing silly songs and poems, which draws your child’s attention to the sounds of their language. Some favorites are “Down by the Bay” by Raffi & “If You’re Happy and You Know It” by Nicki Weiss. Another way to practice phonemic awareness is to read and reread stories that play with language (books with rhymes). These books include “There’s a Wocket in My Pocket” by Dr. Seuss & “Silly Sally” by Audrey Wood.

Information cited from Jo Fitzpatrick, author of Phonemic Awareness: Playing with Sounds to Strengthen Beginning Reading Skills.

For more information about this topic, please refer to the following blog written by our PediaSpeech owner, Jennifer McCullough:

Renee is currently a speech pathology intern at PediaSpeech. She received her Bachelors of Arts in Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of South Florida in 2017. She is a second year graduate student at the University of Connecticut obtaining a Masters of Arts in Speech-Language Pathology and will graduate in May 2019. She would love to work with the pediatric population in the future, which has made her time interning at PediaSpeech so fulfilling. Renee loves to travel, exercise, and spend time with family and friends.