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by Bernice Kidd, married to Rory and has two daughters, Ella (7) and Grace (5).  She is the owner of 2littlegirls.co.za , an online children’s bookshop and is passionate about encouraging a love of reading!

Learning to read is not a natural process like learning to speak. Human brains are hard-wired to speak however learning to read and write are acquired skills by a process that requires early systematic and direct instruction.

Three recent studies have pinpointed the reason why some children lag behind with reading.  Up until a decade ago, it was widely believed that those children who lagged behind with reading were just what was termed ‘late bloomers’ and would eventually catch up when  their brains matured.  This was termed a ‘developmental lag’.  The more recent studies have found this to be incorrect and that these children lacked a crucial skill required when learning to read; Phoneme awareness.  This has been termed a ‘skill deficit’.

In the last few decades researches and educators alike have come to similar conclusions, which can be best summed up as follows;

1. Phonemic Awareness is the BEST predictor of reading success (Adams, 1991) and

2. Phonemic Awareness must be explicitly taught. (Brady, Fowler, Stone, & Winbury, 1994).

So what is phoneme awareness?

Credit: cpd.org

Credit: cpd.org

Firstly, it is important to know what a phoneme is. A phoneme is a basic unit of sound used to build a language. All spoken words are made up of one or more individual phonemes. For example the word DOG is made up of 3 phonemes D. O and G. Separating the word DOG into these three distinct phonemes, requires phonemic awareness. So basically phonetic awareness is the understanding that a word consists of a series of discrete sounds.

It is therefore crucial to help your children develop phonemic awareness if you want them to excel at reading. Here are some games and activities to help your children develop phonemic awareness;

1.      Provide alphabet flash cards and pictures of objects that start with these sounds. If your child finds a picture of a cat say the word “cat” with her and then see if she can find the letter “c” to go with it.

2.      Play rhyming Games. For example rhyming Pairs: Do these sound the same? (hand-band) or different (shoe-car)? Odd Word Out: What word doesn’t belong? (bed, shed, flower, ted)

3.      Talk about what sound their name starts with to develop phonemic awareness in a very personalized way. For example “Your name starts with the letter E; E is for Ella!” Once she becomes familiar with her name start saying other people’s names and talk about what sounds these names begin or end with.

4.      Exaggerate the sounds by holding on to them sssssnake. Or use rapid repetitions such as t-t-t-toes.

And one last (and most important) thing – Don’t forget to make it Fun!

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