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Is Your Child Ready to Read: Why Phonemic Awareness Is So Important

Written By: Michele Blend, M.A., CCC-SLP and Sarah Ahearn, M.S. CCC-SLP Certified Speech Language Pathologists, Co-Directors for Hear to Read Over the years, strategies for teaching reading to children have varied from phonics to whole language and back again. Before learning to read and spell, children must firmly grasp that sounds are like building blocks. They must be able to break apart (segment) and put together (blend) sounds in order to read and spell efficiently. Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words. By providing children with solid phonemic awareness skills, we can equip them with the foundation needed to become good readers and spellers. Research in the areas of literacy and reading instruction has found that a student’s phonemic awareness skills upon entering school are a strong predictor for later success in reading and that developing solid phonemic awareness via direct instruction increases the rate of progress in the areas of reading and writing. The key to phonemic awareness is in listening and attending to sounds. In today’s world, children are constantly being bombarded with visuals, from Smartboards, iPads, computers, and T.V. While these forms of technology are excellent for promoting learning, children have fewer opportunities where they are truly required to attend to what they hear. By participating in activities that develop active listening, increase auditory memory, and work on sound discrimination, children can develop stronger phonemic awareness and become better able to manipulate sounds for reading and spelling success. Use of a multi-sensory approach, such as Sounds In Motion ©, can be especially helpful for developing these skills in young children (preschool and early kindergarten) or children who are having difficulty with letter sound association. In addition to a strong reading program that incorporates phonemic awareness, there are activities that parents can do at home with their children to further develop these crucial listening skills. Ideas include playing with rhyming, reading books without showing the pictures, playing listening games such as “telephone” and “going on a picnic”, and practicing blending and segmenting the sounds in words (without focusing on the alphabet letters). Michele Blend and Sarah Ahearn are licensed, certified Speech Language Pathologists and the Co-Directors of Hear to Read, a listening and reading program in Westport, C.T. Collectively, they have worked for more than 20 years with children of all ages with a wide range of hearing, speech and language disorders in a public school setting, hospital setting, as well as private practice. For more information about the Hear to Read groups contact Michele Blend at (917) 892-7053.

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