Learning to read is a gradual and sequential process that is developed with explicit instruction and exposure. In the late preschool years, children begin the reading process by listening to stories and chanting nursery rhymes so that they can hear the similarities and differences in the sounds of words. Through this process, the children begin to manipulate and understand sounds in spoken language and proceed by taking the next step of making up rhymes and words on their own.
As the children get older, they begin to learn the names of the letters in the alphabet and the different sounds each letter represents. Subsequently, they begin to write the letters and numbers that they already recognize by their shapes. Finally, the children associate the letters of the alphabet with the sounds of the words they use when they speak. At this point, they are on their way to learning to read!
The key to the entire reading process is phonological awareness. This is where a child identifies the different sounds that make words and associates these sounds with written words. A child cannot learn to read without this skill. In order to learn to read, children must be aware of phonemes. A phoneme is the smallest functional unit of sound. For example, the word ‘bench’ contains 4 different phonemes. They are ‘b’ ‘e’ ‘n’ and ‘ch.’
Some examples of phonological awareness tasks include:
1. Identifying rhymes – “Tell me all of the words you know that rhyme with the word BAT.”
2. Segmenting words into smaller units, such as syllables and sounds, by counting them. “How many sounds do you hear in the word CAKE?”
3. Blending separated sounds into words – “What word would we have if we blended these sounds together: /h/ /a/ /t/?”
4. Manipulating sounds in words by adding, deleting or substituting – “In the word LAND, change the /L/ to /B/.” “What word is left if you take the /H/ away from the word HAT?”
Through phonological awareness, children learn to associate sounds and create links to word recognition and decoding skills necessary for reading. Research clearly shows that phoneme awareness performance is a strong predictor of long- term reading and spelling success. In fact, according to the International Reading Association, phonemic awareness abilities in kindergarten (or in that age range) appear to be the best single predictor of successful reading acquisition.
Karina Richland is the Founder and Director of Pride Learning Centers, located in Los Angeles and Orange County. Ms. Richland is a certified reading and learning disability specialist. Ms. Richland speaks frequently to parents, teachers, and professionals on learning differences, and writes for several journals and publications. You can visit the PRIDE Learning Center website at: www.pridelearningcenter.com