We often wonder what to do to help our preschoolers get set for kindergarten. Reading aloud to little ones is probably the single most important thing, but helping your kids develop their phonological awareness is also a huge stepping stone to becoming future readers.
Phonological awareness is the ability to recognize and manipulate units of oral language. Units can include syllables, individual letter sounds, or rhyming phrases. The key is that this awareness is developed orally — and not associated with written letters or words.
There are oodles of playful, oral games that are engaging and filled with language learning. Playing these a few minutes each day will help build your child's phonological awareness. Give it a try!
1. Rhyme Time
Rhyming is one of the easiest activities to do with your little learners to develop phonological awareness. Call out a simple word such as cat, bun, or dig. Say another word that rhymes with the first word. Then, ask your kids to name another word that rhymes with your pair. Continue to trade turns until no more rhyming words can be named.
Adult: I'll say a word and name another word that rhymes with it.
Adult: Can you name a word that rhymes with bun and sun?
Child: zun (nonsense words work too)
2. Silly Sayings
Build alliteration recognition and generation by calling a sound to work within the first round. The first person names a word that begins with the chosen sound and then each player takes a turn adding a word to the saying with the same beginning sound.
Here are a few examples that my kids and I created:
Grandma gave Gabriel gobs of green grapes.
My mom must make millions of mushy marshmallows.
Jumping Jack just joined the jelly jamboree.
Not only will your kids be laughing with their silly sayings, they will be brainstorming words that begin with the same sounds.
3. Not Like the Others
Ask your kids to tell you which word is not like the others. Tell them that three of the words have the same ending sound and one word has a different ending sound. Then, call out four words. Here are a few sets to try:
bug, rig, bed, hog (bed) bed, road, loaf, pod (loaf)
rat, sock, hit, that (sock) duck, has, was, does (duck)
4. Stomp the Parts
This activity gets the wiggles out and encourages kids to break down words into syllables or word parts. I like to model it for the kids first and then invite them to join me in stomping the word parts. Start with your child's name and then move to other family member's names.
You'll break each word into parts while stomping as you emphasize the parts. For example, the name Jodie would get two stomps for Jo-die. You'll do three stomps for Ben-ja-min.
You could also clap the parts instead of stomping. I've even used straws as drumsticks to hit the table for each word part.
5. Change a Song
In this activity, your kids will add a phoneme (a specific unit of sound that distinguishes one word from another) to the beginning of a familiar word. This phoneme manipulation is one of the more advanced pieces of phonological awareness. It’s a little more tricky, so singing and playing with a familiar song is helpful in the learning.
Pick a familiar tune or nursery rhyme that the kids know — one of our favorites is "Old McDonald Had a Farm." Sing it a few times to refresh yourselves with the song. Now, it's time to tweak the song to make it your own. Here is how we changed the song:
Old McDonald had a farm
And on his farm, he had a pig
With a poink poink here and a poink poink there
Here a poink, there a poink, everywhere a poink poink
Old McDonald had a farm
The frog would make the sound, "fibbit" and a cow would say, "coo." Making the changes in the song helps your child manipulate phonemes which builds phonemic awareness.
A few minutes of playful oral language games each day will impact your child's journey on the road to learning to read.
Connect with Jodie Rodriguez on her site, Growing Book by Book.
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