By: Katrina Wasserman MA, CCC-SLP
Phonological awareness refers to the knowledge of sounds and how sounds can be manipulated to form words. It is a crucial foundational skill, as it is correlated to success in reading and writing. Prior to phonological awareness, a child must have strong basic listening skills.
Pre-phonological awareness skills include word awareness and enjoying rhyming and alliterations in songs and stories. These skills are generally acquired before the age of 4, and children learn them through songs, nursery rhymes, and finger play songs. Some songs that highlight these skills include B-I-N-G-O, Hickory Dickery Dock, and Down By the Bay.
The first phonological awareness skill to develop is rhyming. Between the ages of 3 and 4, a child begins to generate rhyming words. At this time, the child may have a mix of real and nonsense rhyming words. Children frequently enjoy playing with rhyming words and get excited when they produce a real rhyming word that they haven’t heard before!
Between the ages of 4 and 5, many phonological skills develop. Children will break words into their individual syllables; this is usually achieved by clapping or tapping out the individual sounds in multisyllabic words such as butterfly. Children will begin to recognize two words that begin with the same sound (e.g., dog and dance). Word segmentation and blending are also acquired at this time.
Segmentation refers to the separating of sounds in words and blending refers to the combining of sounds into words. For example, given the sounds S- U- N, the child would blend these sounds together to form the word sun. Conversely, segmentation is when a child is given a word like boat and segments it into its individual sounds B-OA-T. Both sills involve the manipulation of sounds within words. After the child has acquired this skill, he/she should be able to count how many phonemes (sounds) are in a word. (e.g., boat = 3 sounds)
Between the ages of 5 and 6, the prior phonological skills are expanded and more finely tuned. Children will be able to blend and segment words that have 4 sounds, specifically with consonant blends (e.g., hand). Children will be able to identify the first and last sounds in a word. Once this skill is achieved, a child will be able to generate words that begin with the same sound.
For example, given the word mop, a child would be able to generate other words that begin with the M sound such mat, make, milk. Auditorally, the child will be able to determine which word does not rhyme in a set (e.g., fin- win- car) and which word is different in a set of three (e.g., pick- pack- pick).
Between the ages of 6 and 7, children’s skills include a variety of higher-level sound manipulation. Children should be able to delete syllables from words (e.g., say the word cowboy, now say it without boy) and delete sounds from words (e.g., say the word mice, now say it without M). Sound and syllable substitutions will be acquired during this time. For example, say the word fast, now change the f to a p (i.e., past).
By the age of 8, children will use their phonological awareness skills in their writing to spell words correctly. Phonological awareness is crucial in a child’s ability to read and write. It enables them to understand that our language is comprised of sounds that work together to form words and is a predictor of reading success.
If you have questions about your child’s phonological awareness skills or would like to know if therapy is appropriate for your child, contact us today!