Phonological Awareness Games and Book Sharing Ideas
Phonological awareness relates to our sensitivity and understanding of the sound structures of our oral language. It enables us to progress from our awareness of large sound units (words in sentences) to smaller sound units (phonemes in words).
Our phonological awareness develops over time and the depth of that awareness is based on the range of experiences we have. Research suggests that our phonological awareness begins in the womb at about 24 weeks and is continually built upon throughout our lives. We tend to think of children going through ten distinct phonological stages; the later stages being related to phonics.
Children are taught to read in schools through phonics; the association between sounds (phonemes) to written alphabet letters (graphemes).
Phonics reading is the process of firstly segmenting the written word into letters, or letter combinations, then associating known sounds to those letters and finally blending the sounds together to form words (decoding). If a child is weak in any of the phonological awareness stages before those relating to phonics then they will struggle with learning to read.
Because of the nature of how we develop our phonological awareness games and activities cannot easily be split into categories. Playing, drawing, writing, singing and book sharing all require you to talk with your child highlighting sounds, words and rhythms of language.
Here are some games and activities to help you:
- Singing and sharing nursery rhymes is a great way to help children hear sounds in words because the words are drawn out and the sounds highlighted or exaggerated.
- Clapping, bouncing or tapping to songs and rhymes helps to highlight the syllables of the words. A syllable is the largest phonological unit (one or a group of sounds) of a word and is like the rhythmic beat of the word.
- Pointing out the sounds you hear, such as animal or environmental noises, and explaining what is making that noise.
- Playing games or sing songs where you and your child can make noises such as animal sounds (Old MacDonald had a farm) or vehicle noises (The Wheels on the Bus).
- Drawing animals or other everyday objects that have a distinct sound, name them and make the sound they produce.
What books should you choose?
- Books with sounds of animals and other objects that make sounds
- Nursery Rhymes
- Books formatted from songs
- Books with rhyme and alliteration
- Poetry books
- Any book really, remember your local library can help you to choose a good range of books to share with your child if you are not sure.
Book Sharing Tips
- Don’t be shy, make animal and object noises. If you are self-conscious about it your child will pick up on this. No one thinks twice about an adult making what may appear to be strange noises if they are sharing them with a child (it’s when you forget they are not with you and you do it that they tend to look at a you a bit funny).
- Talk about whether the words in a book rhyme or not. Point out the rhyming words, make up other rhyming words for any of the words in the book. Remember they do not have to be real words they can be silly funny words that pick up the rhyming sounds in the original word.
- It is important to remember for some children saying a word that rhymes with one you have given that can be very difficult, if not impossible. So, don’t stress them out with this, it is often easier for them to recognise a rhyme than to make one. You could ask them to tell you if two words you give rhyme or not. If they find this easy try giving them three words with only two that rhyme and ask them to identify the rhyming words.
- After sharing the book pick out words that you can clap out the syllables for. You could make this into a jumping or hopping game instead. With older children ask then to tell you how many syllables the word has and then to check their answer by counting the number of claps or jumps they make.
- Play an ‘I Spy’ game using the pictures in the book looking for rhyming words for instance by giving clues such as; “It is red and rhymes with the word sock.” The answer is clock.
How to Develop a Child’s Interest in Books and Reading
Research suggests that children who enjoy books are more likely to want to learn to read and will keep trying even when they find it hard. Therefore, it is important to keep their interaction around books a positive one.
Books come in all shapes and sizes and are made from various materials.
- Have a few bath books. even if most of the time your baby or toddler just chews on them, they will be handling a book and possibly turning the pages. Giving you the opportunity to talk about the pictures with them.
- Try to have a range of cloth, hard books and suitable picture books around the house and in your child’s play area so they can pick them up at any time. This way they can explore them for themselves, (even if it is to give them a quick chew on) not as an adult sharing activity.
Through Drawing & Writing
Drawing and making your own simple story book can be a great way of getting your child interested in books and reading. Children love to hear stories about them. Simple homemade books about them can be a great way of introducing children to books and reading. This can be a very effective approach to encourage reluctant readers.
- Draw simple pictures with, or for, your child and talk through what you are drawing, for example; a picture of a house with matchstick people. The pictures could be telling the events of the day for example going to the park or walking the dog.
- If drawing is not your thing (like me) use fuzzy felt instead to make a picture to share the story of their day.
Through Songs and Nursery Rhymes
Children’s songs and nursery rhymes cover a wide range of concepts such as going through every day sequences in the nursery rhyme ‘Here we go Round the Mulberry Bush’ which uses the phrase ‘This is the way we…’ to order the event of getting up in the morning. Some introduce concept such as size, numbers, colours and shapes. While others tell stories for example ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ or ‘We’re going on a Bear Hunt’ by Michael Rosen & Helen Oxenbury.
Sharing books that enable you and your child to sing along (retell) their favourite songs and nursery rhymes means that the child knows what to expect and that they are going to have fun and enjoy the experience. Over time you will then be able to introduce books with new songs and nursery rhymes, building on your child’s positive experience of other book sharing sessions with you. Remember you may have to revert back to the old favourite time and time again, but stick with it.
Through Book Sharing
What books should you choose?
- Pick children’s books you enjoy
- Pick books your child enjoys
- Give your child time to choose and look at books (your local library is a great place for this).
- Follow your child’s interests
- Use ‘true’ books and stories (not those specifically written for developing phonics knowledge or rigidly structured reading scheme books for teaching and learning to read, these will come from school and serve a different purpose).
Book Sharing Tips
- Remember that a child’s age personality, mood and stage of development will affect how they interact with the book.
- Keep the interaction around the book positive and fun, if you are not enjoying it your child will pick up on this.
- Keep your child involved, remember you do not have to read the book word for word, it is the positive sharing experience that is important.
- If your child does not seem interested in reading or sharing books, start slowly by sharing /reading one or two pages at a time. Keep the interaction positive and over time their interest will grow.
- If your child is showing no interest then try again another time.
- When reading a book with your child that you really like then tell them that you like the book or story. Your child may not agree with you and insist on their favourite book which after reading for the 500th time you may be bored with but keep with it, there will be another favourite book!
- Try to share books throughout the day not just at nap and bed times. I found having a couple of books in my bag really useful as I could then share a book with one of my girl’s while the other was swimming or with them both while waiting for the bus or sharing tea and cake in a café.
- Read with your child every day. There are some days where this just seems impossible to manage. Remember one minute is better than no minutes and it does not have to be a book you are reading, there are lots of environment reading matter you could use such as painting/pictures, posters, advertisement, road signs and maps.
The importance of reading to, and with, your child can’t be overemphasized. The more your child is exposed to words and enjoys the reading experience the quicker they will learn to read for themselves.
Reading with your child enables you to introduce them to new words and language structures which they will not come across in their everyday interaction. You can explain these words, through reading with your child, and help them to develop an understanding of their meaning. If a child likes the sound and rhythm of these new words or language structures they will, overtime, start to use them in conversations with others and during imaginative play.
Reading to, and with, your child is such an important activity, however knowing how to keep it fun and to get the most out of the experiences is not always clear, which is why we are re-running our popular six-week series on ‘Developing and Supporting Your Child’s Reading Journey’
Each week we will look at a different reading skill element, giving example games and activities you can use to support and develop your child through:
- Book Sharing
- Talk & Song
‘Developing and Supporting Your Child’s Reading Journey’ Series:
- Week 1. How to develop a child’s interest in books and reading.
- Week 2. Phonological awareness skills required for reading.
- Week 3. Vocabulary development for comprehension.
- Week 4. Print awareness to develop understanding of reading conventions.
- Week 5. Narrative skills to support the understanding of different writing styles.
- Week 6. Letter knowledge.