phonological awareness

The Importance of Developing Phonological Awareness Before Reading and Writing

Written by Fatima McConduit-Waheed



One of the greatest human intelligences to this day is the ability to acquire language and communicate. Speaking, listening, reading, and writing allow us to communicate, deliver messages and information, express our thoughts with the world, learn, acquire knowledge and figure life out.  Wow! That’s a lot of responsibility on literacy, language and the ability to speak from a child, let alone an adult. Do we give this the gratitude it deserves? More specifically, do we appreciate our children’s amazing ability to acquire words rapidly at a very young age? It is a normal part of human development, we just … begin speaking as children.


Early Literacy and Language Development

Children typically speak their first words at age one, as opposed to reading or writing them. They can read and write their first word by 3.5 years of age, with some exceptions. This makes sense because of their lack of physical development. Their fine motor skills haven’t quite developed at year one; they are still gaining gross motor strength and are still learning to crawl, walk and feed themselves. What does begin to develop is their sense of hearing; their ability to identify monosyllabic sounds and consequently reproduce them in different ways.


What is Phonological awareness and why is it important?

Phonological awareness is the ability to identify and manipulate sounds and sound structures in spoken language.phonological awareness It is a key stepping stone for learning how to decode letters leading to successful reading in later years. In fact, phonological awareness is a prerequisite to putting sounds and letters together, also known as the alphabet principle or phonics.


Yes, children acquire language naturally, and eventually understand that life can be represented by spoken words, which can also be represented in the form of complex written words. Children need exposure to sound structures to understand the complexities of written structures. Schickedanz and Collins, authors of the book, So Much More than ABC’s, say “… as vocabulary increases and phonological structures of some words overlap (e.g., cut/cat; mouse/house), words in these clusters are reorganized and stored as smaller units of sound.” This awareness of vocabulary and oral language manipulation is the foundation of phonological awareness.


Here are some examples of phonological awareness

If you walk into a Pre-K or Kindergarten room and wonder why children are clapping words out loud, making “nonsense words” by taking out beginning sounds and replacing them with alternate ones, or tugging at their ear while listening to a rhyming story, it is because they are practicing phonological awareness activities.


Phonological Awareness vs. Phonemic Awareness

Phonological awareness is a larger umbrella which includes identifying syllables in spoken words, alliteration, rhyming and a subcategory called phonemic awareness. In phonemic awareness, children show the ability to manipulate smaller segments of individual words and identify the sounds heard in a word. Once a child has gone through all the steps and mastered the ability to orally differentiate sounds from one another, for example /b/ for ball and /l/ at the end of ball, and much more, they can begin to associate this sound with a letter. This is the importance of phonological awareness. Before learning to identify sounds with letters, they identify what the sounds are.


For specifics of teaching phonological awareness to children visit Victoria state government education and training website.


When does the development of phonological awareness begin?

Children can learn to read and write simultaneously and should do so when they are ready. However, before they can learn to read they are more capable of rhyming, identifying syllables, and performing alliteration tasks orally without the use of objects, alphabets or books. Adjusting children’s education to their current capability and physical development rather than pushing them to learn outside of their zone of proximal development can be digressive to their learning. In this case it can affect their proficiency in reading and comprehension.


For more information on phonological awareness vs phonemic awareness visit reading rockets.

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