Literacy is the ability to read, write and use written language in a variety of settings. It is a critical part of daily life and academic success.

Early Literacy is what children know about reading and writing before they actually read or write. Pre-reading skills get children ready to learn how to read. Knowing the ABC's is only one of these skills. Beginning at birth, what parents do every day helps prepare their child to become a successful reader. For example, when parents sing songs or recite nursery rhymes to their baby they are already teaching a pre-reading skilled called Phonological Awareness.

Phonological Awareness refers to the ability to hear and play with the different sound structures in spoken words. It includes the ability to hear and create rhymes, to say words with sounds or chunks left out e.g. say ‘say bathroom now say it without room’, to put two-word chunks together ‘yel—low’ to make a word e.g. ‘yellow’, and to put sounds together to make a word, ‘c-a-t’.

Why is Phonological Awareness important? Phonological awareness is a strong predictor of future literacy skills including reading and spelling. Research shows that children with strong phonological awareness skills generally do better with beginning reading and spelling. And the gap between good and poor readers will widen over time if these phonological awareness skills are not addressed.

  • Your child may be experiencing phonological awareness difficulties if he/she:
  • Has difficulty thinking of rhyming words for a simple word like cat (such as rat or bat)
  • Doesn't show interest in language play, word games, or rhyming
  • Doesn’t understand what sounds are in the word
  • Doesn’t know how many syllables are in their name
  • Doesn’t know what sounds are the same in cop and hop

What is Phonemic Awareness? Phonemic Awareness refers to the specific ability to focus on and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words.

Phonemic awareness and phonics are not the same thing. Phonemic awareness is the understanding that phonemes (the smallest unit of sound) can be strung together to make up words whereas phonics is understanding that written letters correspond to certain sounds. A child can know his letters (ABCs) but still have difficulty hearing and manipulating individual sounds to take apart or put together in words. If a child has a difficult time hearing and manipulating the sounds in spoken words, he will likely be challenged to connect the sounds to their corresponding written letters for reading and spelling tasks. For example, if a child cannot hear and pull apart the letter “T” from the other sounds in the words top, table, and cat he will not understand what that letter represents in those words.

Research indicates that teaching phoneme awareness clearly benefits future reading success. Those children who are at risk for reading challenges may fail in classrooms where phoneme awareness is not included in their reading curriculum. It is critical to avoid a ‘wait and see’ approach as the learning gap created is shown not to close.

If your child is displaying difficulties with phonemic awareness you may notice:

  • Avoidance of reading and writing based activities
  • Guesses words
  • Has a slow, labored way of reading
  • Memorizes text
  • Writes very short sentences
  • Doesn’t like going to school
  • Poor attention and concentration
  • Negative attitude towards reading/writing leading to
  • Low self-esteem

With the help of a speech language pathologist, kids can learn to cope with phonological and/or phonemic awareness problems that affect his or her reading.