Phonological Awareness (PA) is a continuum of development in listening to the sounds in language. This means that there are important stages or levels when you think about a child’s ability to master skills.

Research has identified different stages of phonological awareness, this is the ability to understand:sentences, words, syllables, onset-rime, and individual phonemes or sounds. For your child to complete tasks at any of these levels, they must think about the sounds they hear. This is separate from thinking about the meaning of the words or sentences.

Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, why nursery rhymes are important

Your child begins phonological skills very early on. As early as infancy, they are exposed to the sounds of their native language and the intonation of speech. Soon after, toddlers are introduced to wordplay. This includes rhyming and rhythmic hand-clapping games. These games include playing with the sounds and words of language. Remember those days of nursery rhymes, where you clapped your baby’s hands and chanted that cute rhyme? There was a reason for that!

Children then begin to learn to separate words into syllables, and eventually, separate those syllables into individual sounds. And guess what?  This can all be done through play! That’s why games that match rhymes and initial sounds using picture cards can always be found in early childcare centers.

What does Speech-to-Print mean?

Children are exposed to these activities sometimes before learning the letters that make those sounds. And that’s okay! This is often referred to as speech-to-print, learning the sounds first and then identifying the letters later. Speech-to-print learning is also associated with the Science of Reading. Research has shown that children learn pre-reading skills better this way.

When you say rime, do you mean rhyme?

Rhyme is not exactly the same as rime. Rhyme refers to the same sounds of two or more words, starting after the first accented vowel. The rime of a word are the letters starting with the vowel, through to the end of the syllable.  

Learning the onset-rime of the word is the ability to segment just the first sound in a word. This step comes before breaking apart each sound separately in a word. For example, in the word “mat”, /m/ is the onset. Rime refers to the part of the syllable that includes the vowel and the sounds that follow, /at/. Your child will explicitly learn to correspond, or map, that initial sound of /m/ to the letter M. This stage of mapping sounds is typically introduced in early Kindergarten. 

Reading and Spelling

Being able to break words into their individual sounds, called phonemes, is the most critical step for a developing reader. It begins with knowing most, if not all of the letters in the alphabet, and the sound(s) each letter makes. At this level, your child will break apart, or segment and combine or blend sounds together. Segmenting sounds leads to better spelling and blending sounds leads to better reading!

This leads us to the last skill of manipulating sounds. By getting rid of or adding sounds to make new words, your child will gain practice in phoneme manipulation. Phoneme manipulation is thought of as one of the most advanced skills in the continuum of phonological awareness. Children who reach this level are often well-prepared for later reading and spelling success.  


How to Help Your Child

If you find your child is stuck at any one of these levels of phonological awareness, don’t wait. Research has shown a link between poor phonological awareness skills and reading struggles, including dyslexia.  and that early identification and intervention yield future reading success.

We developed EarlyBird at Home to provide that identification and intervention for children ages 4-9. Start with the award-winning EarlyBird Assessment to understand your child’s unique literacy profile and get access to our science-backed skill development app, Pip School, support from a dedicated Literacy Specialist, and resources designed specifically for parents. Learn more and get started today!

Janice Weissinger
Janice Weissinger is a Reading Specialist who specializes in the treatment and early intervention of Dyslexia. She is also a second grade teacher. Janice is an OG certified tutor and specializes in helping parents advocate for their child within the public school setting.

Get your child started on their reading journey with EarlyBird at Home