Phonological Awareness

by Care Speech Pathology 
25 January 2022

Phonological awareness is the ability to recognise the sounds and sound patterns in words. Children are developing phonological awareness when they notice, listen to, and play with words and their sounds. Phonological awareness is an important skill in all languages that use alphabet symbols when they are written. Having good phonological awareness makes learning to read and spell a lot easier.

Which phonological awareness skills are important to start school?

At school children are taught to refine their phonological awareness skill and match them to letters and words when they are learning to read and spell. Having a basic level of phonological awareness before starting school assists children to pick up this new content easily. Below is a list of the phonological awareness skills which will benefit a child when they start school.

  • Word awareness – when we speak in conversation, we run the sounds in our words together, without clear boundaries. It is because we write them that we understand that the sounds in words are separate. It is helpful for your child to know that the sentence, ‘Put your coat on’, has four words in it. Children can also be taught that little words can make up bigger words, called compound words. For example, the word ‘teapot’, is made up of two smaller words, ‘tea’ and ‘pot’.
  • Syllables – all words can be broken up into syllables, or beats. The number of syllables in a word depends on how many vowel-sounds there are. For example, the word ‘cat’ has only one syllable, whereas the word ‘caterpillar’ has four syllables. The easiest way to hear the syllables in words is to clap or tap them as you say the word.
  • Rhyming – rhyming words end with the same sound, regardless of how they are spelt. For example, the words ‘hair’, ‘chair’ and ‘bear’ all rhyme, because they end with the sound /air/. However, the words ‘bear’ and ‘hear’ do not rhyme, even though they end with the same spelling. One of them sounds like /air/ and one of them sounds like /ear/. Rhyming can be one of the most fun phonological awareness skills to work on with your child.
  • Alliteration – alliteration describes words that begin with the same sound. Again, spelling is not important when learning to hear sounds. The words ‘cup’ and ‘kangaroo’ both start with the same sound, even though they are spelt differently.
  • Alphabet awareness – although this is not strictly a phonological awareness skill, it is helpful for children to start school with a basic knowledge of the alphabet. Knowing the names of the letters and their link to common sounds will help your child when introduced to reading at school. The letters of your child’s name can be a good place to start with this.

Ways to develop phonological awareness

Children learn best when they are having fun! Luckily there are lots of fun ways to help develop your child’s phonological awareness.

  • Talk to them – the more language children hear, the more opportunity they have to hear the sounds in words. Talking with children helps develop their vocabulary and a better vocabulary is linked to more opportunity to develop phonological awareness.
  • Encourage listening – make sure you’ve got your child’s attention when you speak to them. Face them and get on their level (if possible). Give them a cue that you are about to say something, like “listen carefully!”. We learn a lot about sounds not only from hearing them but also by watching the face and mouth of a speaker.
  • Read with them – books, especially those that rhyme, alliterate or have target vocabulary with more than one syllable are great for developing phonological awareness. Pointing to the words while reading, especially when there are only a few words on each page, can help develop word awareness. You can also talk about syllables, rhyme and alliteration in the same sitting. For example, you might say, “ball and wall rhyme, can you think of another one?” or “dog starts with a /d/, just like your name!”.
  • Sing and play – Traditional poems and nursery rhymes are full of rhyme (it’s in the name!) and alliteration, and the regular rhythm in which they are sung or chanted is great for tuning children into sounds. I Spy is another fun game to play that can develop phonological awareness. Remember to ask the child to find something that begins with a sound, not a letter name. You can also create fun games on the go by making up nonsense rhymes, rhythmically clapping the syllables in long words or by moving your body to show the number of words in a sentence.
  • Toys – Interactive toys, games and puzzles that practice first sounds, rhymes and alphabet are available. These need not be expensive and you can find a number of them available online or even at your local K-Mart.
  • Sing and say the alphabet – As already mentioned, this is not strictly a phonological awareness skill, however being familiar with the alphabet will help your child when they are first exposed to reading instructions at school. There are many songs and chants available to practice with. Try searching YouTube to see if you can find one that is based on a theme your child loves.

Helpful Resources

Sourcing children’s books can be overwhelming, with so many on offer. Below is a list of suggested books which feature phonological awareness targets. While by no means exhaustive, it’s a good place to start. You will find many of these at your local library.

Title: Ribbit Rabbit Robot, The Bark Book | Author: Victoria Mackinlay

Title: Wacky Wednesday, The Cat in the Hat, Fox on Sox, Hop on Pop | Author: Dr Seuss

Title: The Very Cranky Bear (and others in series) | Author: Nick Bland

Title: The Gruffalo, The Snail and the Whale, A Squash and a Squeeze | Author: Julia Donaldson

Title: Our Daft Dog Danny, Who Sank the Boat? | Author: Pamela Allen

Title: Shark in the Park | Author: Nick Sharratt

Title: Pop and Posy | Author: Axel Scheffler

Title: Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy Slinky Malinki | Author: Lynley Dodd

Title: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? | Author: Eric Carle

Title: Piranhas Don’t Eat Banana’s, Pig the Pug (and other Pig books) | Author: Aaron Blabey

If you would like to find out if your child’s Phonological Awareness skills are sitting at the appropriate skill level for their age, please contact us on 1300 086 280 or at [email protected] to book an initial consultation with a Speech Pathologist from our team.

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