phonemic awareness · teaching thoughts

Phonics and Phonemic Awareness

As I continue my series on topics for parents, today I will explain a few terms that are tossed around, especially when children are beginning to learn to read and/or struggling to learn to read.

Phonics is the connection between the printed letters and the sounds they make. Children need to have strong phonics skills to decode words. Typically they will learn that short vowel and consonant sounds first. Then they will move on to learn about long vowels, digraphs (th, sh, ch, wh, ck etc), vowel pairs and so much more. But, the thing to understand is that phonics is connecting the sound to print. This is reading and writing! This is key, but it is not all!

Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate phonemes (sounds). This is rhyming, blending onset and rime, syllables and more. Children need to be able to play with phoneme they hear, note these skills do not involve print! This is playing with sounds. Singing songs, manipulating rhymes, poetry, breaking words apart and putting them together… but out loud.

Here is the thing… strong phonemic awareness is the precursor to strong phonic skills. When children develop the skills and confidence in the ability to play with letters and sounds. The ability to isolate the sounds they hear and manipulate them to make changes, then the understanding of phonics becomes sooo much easier.

To give an example. When children develop an understanding of rhyme they know that they can remove the beginning sound of one word, replace it with a new sounds and the create a new word (real or nonsense). This is word families. Cake, bake, make, take, rake… word family… words that rhyme. Now, if I have a firm understanding of rhyming words and I learn to read one word in a word family, I can use my understanding of rhyming words to create new words to read and write.

Another phonemic awareness skill is blending words. This can be done with onset and rime (/b/ /asket/= basket) as well as with individual sounds (/f/ /l/ /a/ /t/ = flat). When you can take the sounds you hear and push them together in your mind and hear a whole word, it makes it easier to sound out the words and then hold them together to make a word. Sounding out words is just what I did, but reading the printed letters instead of just hearing them aloud.

So, if your child is just starting to read and write, or struggling to learn to read and write, you might want to step back and play with sounds. Build their phonemic awareness skills first… then the phonics will fall into place smoother.

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