Have you ever found yourself correcting your toddler or preschooler’s diction? “No, Abby. It’s not eye cream; it’s ice cream. Ice sounds like nice.” Then you start hissing like a snake to emphasize the /s/ sound in ice. It’s in those moments (ignoring the snickers of the adults around you) that you’re beginning to develop your child’s phonemic awareness.
Phonemic awareness happens when a child becomes mindful of the distinctive sounds that make up our language and can manipulate them. It’s an important skill for communication, but it’s also important as a pre-reading skill. In fact, many reading experts cite phonemic awareness as one of the best predictors of how successful a child will be in learning to read.
So how can you, as a homeschool mom, help your young child develop phonemic awareness? Here are a few ideas.
1. Read books (or poems) with a strong rhyme.
Teachers that specialize in early childhood education have good reason to love Dr. Seuss books. Just think of how many rhyming words are in the opening few pages of his book One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish (which many a mom has memorized). Since many of his rhyming words are not really words at all, they’re great for helping children focus on how the words sound. Other books you might want to check out include these:
- Sheep in a Jeep by Nancy E. Shaw
- I Spy A to Z: A Book of Picture Riddles or I Spy: A Book of Picture Riddles by Jean Marzollo
- Huck Runs Amuck by Sean Taylor
- Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? by Bill Martin Jr.
2. Play sound games.
Here are a few games that you can play with pre-readers to help them develop phonemic awareness.
- Choose a sound (such as /at/) and challenge your child to think of words that end with that sound.
- Choose a sound (such as /sh/) and challenge your child to think of words that begin with that sound.
- Make up silly sentences that have all the words starting with the same sound (like “Freddie Frog flipped flapjacks for Friday’s fellowship” or “Sandy Seahorse sorted six seashells.”)
3. Practice breaking words into syllables.
Sounding out words by syllables is also a good way to help children distinguish individual sounds. Encourage your kids to clap, jump, or stomp when saying each syllable so that they can get a sense of the word’s rhythm.
4. Consider a pre-kindergarten curriculum focusing on phonemic awareness.
If your child is four (or close to it), you may also want to consider using the K4 Foundations Distance Learning homeschool program from BJU Press to prepare your child for kindergarten. We’re using it for the first time with our four-year-old daughter, and she loves it. As a mom, I’ve been impressed with how well it holds her attention. And I love how she’s learning a lot of pre-reading skills, including phonemic awareness. You can also check out the Footsteps for Fours curriculum (not available on Distance Learning)—my older two daughters used this program, and it’s also wonderful for developing phonemic awareness and other pre-reading skills.