What Is Phonemic Awareness?
Phonemic awareness is a concept that deals with identifying and manipulating single sounds in words, known as “phonemes”.
A phoneme is the smallest possible unit of sound in a language. Phonemes blend together to form words, and every word we use is made up of a combination of them.
Even though there are only 26 letters in the alphabet, there are 44 unique phonemes in English (and 250 different ways to spell them!). Fortunately, especially in words beginners need to read, most of the sounds are linked to one main letter.
If you change any letter in a word, though, you change everything! For example, take the word “rag.” If the first sound, or phoneme, of the word is changed to a “b,” then you’re left with an entirely new word (bag) with its own distinct meaning.
So when you think about it, building phonemic awareness is really about your child playing around with sounds and then switching sounds in words. It’s like a Dr. Seuss book come to life!
Why Is Phonemic Awareness Important?
It’s hard to learn how to read if you can’t match sounds to letters. That’s where phonemic awareness comes in.
Kids are often asked to “sound out” words they don’t recognize or understand. A firm grasp of phonemic awareness is the backbone of this technique!
Understanding how to break down unfamiliar words into individual phonemes can be an incredible, powerful tool for your child to use on their learning journey.
Phonemic awareness skills can also help build your child’s confidence and familiarity with the sounds and letters they are trying to read. The more comfortable they are with letter sounds the better prepared they will be for a lifetime of learning and reading!
Fun And Easy Phonemic Awareness Activities
Now that we’ve discussed what phonemic awareness is and why it’s important, we’ll walk you through some fun and easy activities you can use to help develop your child’s phonemic awareness skills.
If you’d like to give this activity a go, lay out a few items or pictures in front of your child. Aim to use familiar objects that they can easily name.
Let them know you’ll be using “snail talk” or “slow-motion” talk, meaning you will be announcing the names of the items in a funny voice. Their goal is to guess the name of the item or picture in question before you finish saying the word.
For example, if there’s a picture of a cat in front of your child, drag out the C, A, and T sounds as long as you can. Your child can jump in anytime and shout the word of the object as loudly as they can!
This game works on blending phonemes, an essential part of phonemic awareness. The game helps encourage children to pay attention to the individual sounds that make up words.
Those little plastic letter magnets that are probably hanging out on your fridge will come in handy for this one!
If you choose to do this activity, you’ll need a spare box or paper bag. Place three plastic letters that can be used to make an easy-to-sound-out word (pat or cat, for example) inside the bag.
Suggest your child pull out one letter at a time. Ask them what sound each letter makes. For younger children, you can place the letters together to spell a word and sound it out for them. Then let them copy you.
You can ask older children to try to make a word on their own. If they make tap instead of pat that’s fine, of course! With more advanced readers, also consider adding more letters to make longer words.
Additionally, you can try letter swapping or letter deletion. Your child makes slip but what happens when you “steal” the “s” or the “l”? This kind of letter change is challenging but is also excellent practice!
Finally, you can also put lots of letters in the bag and then pull out a few and see if you can make a real word, a nonsense word, or (lacking a vowel) no word at all.
The mystery of the Mystery Bag is how versatile it is!
Clapping It Out
If your child loves to sing, this might be the activity for them!
You can sing any song or nursery rhyme. Simply have your child clap with the different syllables. Make sure you encourage them to clap loudly and enthusiastically for a fun learning experience!
This activity is great for helping your child with their syllable awareness as well as their segmentation skills.
Make Some Noise!
If you’d like to explore this activity with your child, grab a few things from around the house that make a lot of noise. Whistles, pots and pans, bells, or bubble wrap are all great options.
Instruct your child to close their eyes (no peeking!) and listen to the sound you make. Once the sound is over and they think they know what caused it, they can take a guess.
Encourage them to give their answer in full sentences (“The sound I heard was a door opening.”).
After your child is able to correctly identify several individual sounds, you can mix things up by adding more noises one after another. For example, if you close a noisy door, ring a bell, then delicately tap a glass cup with a fork, your child would try to identify all three sounds.
Although this game does not deal explicitly with letter sounds, it works on an extremely important skill — listening!
By helping your child practice their detailed listening skills, you can help them engage in more focused ways when they are listening and playing with word sounds.
I-Spy With Words
Another fun way to engage phonemic awareness skills is by playing the game I-Spy, but instead of colors, play with sounds. Plus, it’s mobile; you can take this game anywhere, so it’s perfect for busy families on the go!
You can say, “I spy with my little eye something that starts with the /a/ sound . . .” and wait for your child to shout out something they see that begins with that sound.
This helps them with focusing and identifying the initial letter sound in words, an important building block for strong reading as they grow.
Rhyme Matching Game
If you want to try this activity, print out pictures of common items that rhyme. For example, chair/bear, rat/mat, and so on.
Your child will try to match the pictures to make rhyming pairs. This activity could take some getting used to for your child, but patience and practice are on your side!
If you find that your young learner needs a little bit more exposure to rhymes in order to understand how to match up the pictures, don’t be afraid to break it down for them.
You can tell them that rhymes are words that sound the same at the end. If it seems helpful, you can sit with your child and brainstorm rhyming words with them. Having you walk them through it step-by-step could be the extra support they need!
Make Your Own Rhyme
We mentioned that all of these phonemic awareness activities may make you feel like you’re living inside a Dr. Seuss book. But your child will love becoming their very own tongue-twisting, silly master of rhyming!
Dr. Seuss makes up all kinds of words in his books in order to create rhymes. Your child can do the very same thing (and learn a lot from it!).
You can get them started by providing them with a funny example. Something like, “There’s a noodle in my schmoodle.” Encourage them to come up with their own funny rhyme!
Drawing A Phonetic Alphabet
If you feel like your child needs to focus specifically on the phonetic sounds our alphabet makes, this might be a great exercise to choose.
You can work with your child to draw animals that make the same sounds as alphabetic letters.
For example, draw a big, winding snake in the shape of an “s.” Since snakes hiss, they’re a wonderful representation of the sss sound.
Another option could be a buzzing bee. When bee’s fly near your ear, they make a loud “buzzz-zzz,” sound. You could help your child draw a bee flying across the pattern, with a dashed line in the shape of a “z” to show their path!
Feel free to get creative, colorful, and fun here. This will help your child hone in on their isolation skills, as well as help them learn to pay attention to their phonemes!
Find The Best Phonemic Awareness Activities For Your Child
We know your child is unique. Which learning activities they respond to best might be slightly different from those a child in their class or the kid next door responds to.
This is normal! Phonemic awareness activities are all about what helps your child learn in the most fun, effective, and easiest way possible.
We hope some of these suggestions gave you creative, new ideas for working on phonemic awareness in your home. If you ever find yourself wanting to explore more ideas, try our learning quiz to find more options that are just right for your child!
No matter which of these phonemic awareness activities you choose, your child is on their way to a happy, lifelong love of learning. We’re so excited to be on this journey with you!