Teaching Tuesday: Phonemic Awareness Phun

I judge all reading curricula, reading teachers, reading tutors and reading programs by their treatment of phonemic awareness. When I first started teaching in my old district, there was nothing in any of the suggested reading resources that included phonemic awareness. Many of the teachers hadn't learned about it in their education programs, either. Luckily, my "vast" experience (I was the most experienced first grade teacher that year - and all four of us were new to the district) of long term subbing north of Seattle had taught me all about it.

I swear it was the only reason any of our students learned to read that year at all, what with there being no actual reading curriculum or anything.  Things have improved there in the last 15 years, but I still feel that there's not enough emphasis on phonemic awareness. Later on, I used to have fifth graders come to my reading group because, while they could sort of read, they couldn't sound out multi-syllabic words. You know why? Because if you said, " /b/ /a/ /th/ /t/ /i/ /m/ "to them, they wouldn't realize you'd said, "Bathtime."

Regardless of your district's or homeschool curriculum's attitude, you don't have to let that happen to your child. Phonemic awareness games can be semi-fun and need only take 5 or 10 minutes a day. You can play them in the car or at the dinner table or right before you read to your kiddo.

  • Rhyme Time: say 2 words, have your kiddo give a thumbs up or a thumbs down if they rhymed. 
  • I Spy: instead of using a color as a clue, say, "I spy with my little eye something that rhymes with ____". 
  • Find a Rhyme: say a three sounds word, such as cat or pig, and let your child come up with a rhyme for it. Don't worry if it's not an actual word, just worry about the rhyme. If your child can't, focus on playing the two games above for a while longer. 
  • Guess the Word: say a two syllable word, but with the pause between the syllables. Such as, "/play/ /ground/". Then see if your child can guess the word. Work from compound words like playground to regular two syllable words like later to three syllable words like broccoli. 
  • Clap It Out: Clap out the number of syllables in names and common words. For example, Triplezmom 4 claps, so it has 4 syllables. 
  • Make a Word: Instead of separating syllables in words, now you are going to separate the sounds. Try saying /a/, then saying /t/. Hopefully, your kiddo will be able to blend those sounds together to say the word "at". If not, try saying each sound without pausing and see if your kid can hear the new word then. Start with two sound words like at, ate, it, to, my, by, in, on, up and move on to three sound words like pig, mop and dime. 
Somewhere around 3 or 4, your preschooler is ready to learn about rhyming. I would not move on to the syllables or blending until your little one is much closer to kindergarten, though. The last thing you want is for your child to dread phonemic awareness games because they're too hard. And if your older child is struggling with reading, ask his/her teacher about phonemic awareness, find a tutor who's familiar with it or try these games. 

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