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.
Treasure hunt and hide & seek games are a great way to teach a child directional and placement (prepositions) language. It is important for a child to learn directional and placement vocabulary so that they can both understand instructions given and share information themselves, such as; ‘put your cup on the table’ or to say ‘teddy in car’.
Through treasure hunts and hide & seek games you can introduce new directional and placement language in a fun and exciting way. There are a number of different ways to approach this:
- You can give verbal instructions to the hidden treasure.
- You could create a map for them to follow and ask them to talk through the map, supporting with new language as necessary.
- You could use a mixture of verbal and map clues.
- For older children get them to hide the treasure and give you instructions, or draw a map.
- If you have more than one treasure to find make the most exciting piece more difficult to find.
The important thing is the language shared. Words and phrases to use are: left, right, straight on, forward, backwards, about turn, turn around, up, down, higher, lower, stop, next to, in front, beside, underneath, on top of, behind, on the left of, on the right of, outside, and inside.
Treasure hunts and hide & seek games are a great whole class or family activity and you are never too young or too old to join in!
At about the age of 4 years old children start to develop an understanding that words can be split into sound parts (syllables) and that these parts give the word its rhythm. 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.
They should be able to orally blend syllables together to form words and segment words into syllables.
A fun activity to help develop syllable understanding:
How Many Syllables?
Children love to clap out the number of syllables in a word. It is important to say the word at a normal speed rather than really slowly as this can distort the word and make it difficult to hear the syllables. To start with a child just needs to be able to recognize them by clapping, stamping or jumping for each syllable of a word; they don’t need to be able to count them. It is thought that only about 50% of children can count out the syllables by the age of 4, so you can do the counting for them.
Spoken syllables are organised around the vowel sounds, making counting them easy; as the jaw drops when the vowel sound is spoken in the syllable. Try placing your hand under your jaw with your mouth closed before you say a word. Start with ‘cat’ you will notice the jaw drops once, this is because it is a one syllable (monosyllabic) word.
Most children will find it easier to identify syllables in compound words to start with. A compound word is formed by two words (root words) put together such as: sunset, hotdog, snowman and postman. They find it easier because the jaw tends to drop quite distinctly as we say the vowel sound in each of the root words and because we tend to say these words slowly.
Young children develop their vocabulary and understanding of sound patterns within words through word play.
Rhyme awareness and the enjoyment of alliteration begins early, usually between the ages of 2 and 3 years old (Stage 3 of phonological awareness). This develops in to an important tool, supporting a child in developing an understanding of how words are formed and the sound patterns within them. These are important pre-phonics skills a child needs to develop to support their future ability to succeed with phonics, reading and writing.
This Rhyme awareness is supported and developed through the singing of songs and nursery rhymes and finger chants. Alliteration (words that begin with the same sounds) such as ‘Sammy snake slithers silently’, which children love to hear in rhymes and stories, also supports their word knowledge and understanding of sounds in words.
Being able to repeat, and join in with, short phrases they have anticipated in a story or rhyme, is another important step in a child beginning to understand the use of words in stories and story structure; such as, “I’ll huff and puff and blow your house down!” in the story of The Three Little Pigs.
For more information on this, and other pre-phonics skills (Phonological Awareness) your child develops through from birth to 7 +years old, check out the Pre-phonics section of our website: https://www.teachphonics.co.uk/phonological-development.html
Helping a child build their vocabulary (word awareness – receptive & expressive language) is vital if they are to continue to develop good communication skills. Talking, explaining, sharing and playing are all important as well as making sure that you pronounce words clearly and correctly for a child to hear. A child may not have developed all the skills needed to copy you accurately but they will store the sound pattern information for later use. The more they hear the correct sound patterns the sooner they will start to use them themselves.
Click the link for ideas & activities to support a child’s vocabulary development: http://bit.ly/29LajVk
Receptive & Expressive Language
Receptive language is how we take in and understand language; it is what we hear, see and read. This also includes body language and environmental clues. All these elements help us to interpret a situation and give it its meaning, so that we can understand what is being communicated. We do not need to be able to produce language to receive and understand it, so infants and toddlers understand far more than they can express (expressive language).
Expressive language is our ability to put our thoughts, needs and wants into words and sentences in a way that makes sense and is grammatically correct. A baby’s expressive language to begin with is based on cries and gestures and then moves to sound making, gestures and body language signals. We use this expressive language when we speak and write. Even when babies and toddlers move to speaking words they have a limited vocabulary which is why they can get frustrated when we do not understand them.