Welcome to part one of our blog series “Supporting Early Reading Skills at Home” where you will learn how you can engage your preschool-aged child in fun, educational activities that will give them a strong foundation in reading. In this blog series, we will define phonological awareness, unpack why it’s important, and explore 10 activities you can do with your child to enhance their phonological awareness skills, including listening for environmental sounds, rhyming, and more!
💻 Free Webinars: To learn more about supporting children’s growth at home, check out our recent webinars 10+ Activities to Grow Your Child’s Phonological Awareness and 20+ Ways to Help Your Child Learn to Read.
What is Phonological Awareness?
Phonological awareness is a broad skill that includes identifying and manipulating, or changing, units of oral language. Because we do not speak in individual sounds, this is a skill that needs to be explicitly taught. In order for children to read words by saying each sound and blending the sounds together to say the word, they must first understand that words are made up of sounds.
Phonological awareness is critical for learning to read any alphabetic writing system.(Ehri, 2004)
📚 Blog Post: You can read more about phonological awareness and phonemic awareness in this blog post: What are Phonological Awareness and Phonemic Awareness?
10 Ways to Support Children’s Ability to Read
You might now be wondering, what can I do to support phonological awareness at home? Practicing phonological awareness skills doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, it can be quite easy and FUN. Here are 10 fun and engaging activities that you can do with your child at home to enhance their phonological awareness skills.
📥 Free Download: “Supporting Early Reading Skills at Home” guide – your one-sheet guide to practicing early reading skills at home with your child!
Practice With Environmental Sounds
One of the ways that we begin to build the foundation of phonological awareness is through practice with environmental sounds: sounds your child hears around the house, outside, in the car, at the store and beyond. These games are simple, can be played anywhere at any time, and are really encouraging your child to listen for specific sounds they hear in their environment.
Try playing each of the games below with your child:
⭐ Activity 1: What’s that Sound?
Have your child close their eyes while you make a sound with something in the room. See if they can guess what the sound is!
Example: Make your way around the house and have your child guess the sound of running water, pots and pans, doorbell, snap your fingers, crinkle paper, etc.
⭐ Activity 2: The Animal Name Game
Have your child close their eyes while you make an animal noise. See if they can guess what the animal is!
⭐ Activity 3: Same or Different?
Have your child close their eyes while you make two sounds with things in the room (ex: knock on the table, crinkle paper). Have your child say if the sounds are the same or different!
By playing these sound games, you are helping your child build awareness and understanding of the regular, day-to-day sounds around them, before introducing them to the sounds that letters represent.
Another basic phonological skill is rhyme. Words rhyme when we hear the same middle and final sounds. We can teach students to hear words that rhyme, recognize words that rhyme, and produce words that rhyme. Research shows there is a strong link between the nursery rhyme knowledge of Pre-K children and their future success in reading and spelling. (MacLean, Bryant, and Bradley, 1987) You can sing, dance, read or even listen to nursery rhymes together. Here are two games that play with rhyming words:
⭐ Activity 4: Let’s Rhyme!
Say two rhyming words and have your child repeat them.
- Parent: go, no Child: go, no
- Parent: no, so Child: no, so
- Parent: so, bow Child: so, bow
- Parent: bow, toe Child: bow, toe
- Parent: These words all have the rhyming part -o
⭐ Activity 5: Thumbs up or Down – Rhyme Edition
Say two words, and have your child repeat the two words. Then say, show me thumbs up if the words rhyme, or show me thumbs down if the words don’t rhyme.
- Parent: hop, mop Child: hop, mop – thumbs up (These words rhyme because we hear -op in both words.)
- Parent: pave, save Child: pave, save – thumbs up
- Parent: sat, pin Child: sat, pin – thumbs down (These words don’t rhyme because we hear -at in sat and -in in pin, and these are not the same middle and final sounds.)
- Parent: sun, hot Child: sun, hot – thumbs down
Add Visuals to Support Learning: Felt Board
Building Phoneme Awareness
Phonological awareness activities are great for younger learners as they are starting to learn about sound in bigger units of language. Phonemic awareness activities are a great next step for your child when they are ready to hear individual sounds in spoken words. To begin, we are going to practice identifying the initial phoneme, or the first sound in a spoken word. This set of activities will help teach your child what it means to listen for the initial phoneme:
⭐ Activity 6: The Name Game
Name objects or people in the house and then give the first sound in the word. You can grab favorite toys, play this game during dinner time with dinner objects, or at bath time with bath toys, or play in the carpool pick-up line!
- John, the first sound is /j/
- Dad, the first sound is /d/
- Book, the first sound is /b/
- Teddy, the first sound is /t/
⭐ Activity 7: Alliteration
Play with pairs of words or a series of words that have the same first sounds. You can also recite tongue twisters.
- Parent: bee, ball, /b/ Child: bee, ball, /b/
- Parent: Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, Child: Repeats this phrase and isolates /p/ as the first sound in all the words.
⭐ Activity 8: First Sound Game
Say “I’m going to say a word and just the first sound, then it’s your turn!”
Examples: (focus sound /m/)
- Parent: /m/, map Child: /m/, map
- Parent: /m/, mom Child: /m/, mom
- Parent: /m/, mitt Child: /m/, mitt
- Parent: /m/, man Child: /m/, man
Once your child is comfortable hearing the first sound in spoken words, you teach your child to hear the last or final sound in a spoken word.
⭐ Activity 9: Punch it up!
Say a word and punch up the final sound. Have your child repeat it. Use simple, single-syllable words.
Example: (focus sound /p/)
- Parent: cup, /p/ Child: cup, /p/
- Parent: top, /p/ Child: top, /p/
- Parent: cap, /p/ Child: cap, /p/
Add Visuals to Support Learning: Elkonin Boxes
📥 Free Download: Elkonin Box template
⭐ Activity 10: Let’s Make a Word!
Blending is combining parts of a spoken word into a whole word. You will say two word parts, blend them together to make a word, and have your child repeat it.
- Compound words: cup-cake → cupcake
Hand motion: palms up, with each palm representing a word. You can clap the two words together to make one compound word.
- Syllables: mag-net → magnet
Hand motion: choppers
- Body-Coda: /si/ -/t /→ sit
Hand motion: choppers
- Onset-Rime: /h/ – /at/ → hat
- Hand motion: choppers
💡 Tip: To see these hand motions in action, take a look at our YouTube channel
Remember, practicing phonological and phonemic awareness activities is simple, fun, and effective. You can engage with your child using any of these activities at any time – during breakfast, at bath time, on a walk, waiting at a restaurant – just any few minutes of spare time can be used to practice and play with words and sounds. Have FUN with your child, while encouraging their early reading skills, and don’t forget to download the free “Supporting Early Reading Skills at Home” guide now!
- Download: 10 Phonological & Phonemic Awareness Activity print-out
- Download: Elkonin Boxes Printable
- Download: Sample Lessons Early Pre-K Heggertry
- Watch: Sample Early Pre-K Lesson Videos: Heggerty on YouTube
- Watch: Nursery Rhymes- Mother Goose Club on YouTube
Kelsi also provides part two of our Supporting Early Reading Skills at Home series, where you’ll learn over 20 games and activities to help boost children’s alphabet knowledge, providing new opportunities to practice letters and sounds. You can find that webinar here: Supporting Early Reading Skills at Home, pt. 2: 20+ Ways to Help Your Child Learn to Read