I’m in no hurry to teach Miss H how to read (I wrote about it last year, but it still holds true now that she’s four!) Lately, she’s showing some signs of reading readiness and it’s getting me a little giddy. You see, I view getting to teach my daughter to read as a huge privilege!
Even though we won’t be doing formal reading lessons any time soon, there are some really important prereading skills that she needs to know: rhyming, segmenting, and blending. These skills fall into the categories of phonological awareness and phonemic awareness. The skills involve being able to listen to and identify sounds in a word and a word part. They don’t involve any letters, just sounds. Children who have a good grasp of these prereading skills tend to be better readers down the road.
Recently, Miss H started segmenting words on her own. She said, “Mommy! Boat goes with O!” This is what motivated me to get started on segmenting with her. I wanted to be sure to teach her the correct terminology so it didn’t become a hard to break habit. And she loves working with sounds, so I knew we’d both enjoy it!
There are lots of fun ways to experiment with sounds. I don’t think this falls into the “formal lessons” category, although I’m sure you could make these simple activities more elaborate if you wanted to!
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Miss H and I have so much fun rhyming together! We do this all the time- in the car, at the table, and on walks. Teaching this skill really takes no preparation, but there is research that says it should be taught directly.
The Real Mother Goose nursery rhymes book- This classic book is so sweet, and the rhyming language makes it a great way to introduce this skill.
Other Rhyming Books- You get decide if you consider these light reading or living books, but rhyming books are really enjoyable for little ones! Here are a few we love-
Rhyming Games from the Florida Center of Reading Research- I loved this resource when I was a public school teacher, and I’m still finding it helpful! The FCRR has simple printable games that teach lots of different reading skills. What I love about them is that you don’t have to use them exactly as suggested, but you can be creative and make it work for you. We love to play memory match games, and this rhyming memory match game one is cute, easy, and free! I truly believe we don’t always need to find the fun and cute activities, but some of these are pretty simple and don’t distract from the actual learning.
Rhyming Games from Reading Rockets– This link has videos and links to rhyming games and activities.
This is the stage we are in right now. In this skill, single sounds (phonemes) can be isolated, maybe by asking your child what the first or last sound in a word is, or your child can say each sound in a whole word. Miss H started with saying the middle sound in a word, and then I taught her how to isolate the initial sound. Together, we are working on say all of the sounds, but she needs some support with that skill right now. We are going to take it slowly!
This link includes a couple of different phoneme segmentation activities, but I love the puzzles! They are pictures broken into as many pieces as there are sounds. For example, egg and cow both have two pieces because they’re broken into two sounds (e-g and c-ow). Fish has three pieces for three sounds (/sh/ counts as one sound even though it’s made of two letters!)
(Officially called Elkonin boxes.) This is a great way to segment sounds! I made boxes with Washi tape on our chalkboard door, and then I segmented a word for Miss H. For every sound she heard, she drew a circle in a box. When she has a little more practice with segmenting, I’ll slowly say a word for her, and she’ll segment it herself, putting circles in each box for each sound. I expected to just do a few words with her, but she LOVED doing this and kept asking for more!
I used a chalkboard because Miss H loves drawing on the chalkboard, but in the past I used boxes that were printed on paper and laminated. Each child put a little Learning Resources Transparent Color Counting Chips, Set of 250 in each square as they heard a sound. You can easily make your own boxes in a program like Microsoft Word, or you can find printables all over the Internet (here’s one!)
With older children, Elkonin boxes can be really helpful to teach spelling, especially when your child tends to write a word without thinking about its individual sounds. For now, in our pre-phonics days, we’ll just stick to sounds.
Fingers, beads, and other objects can also be used to notice how many sounds are in each word.
This skills tends to be a little more difficult than the other two. I think it’s really important to work on in before phonics are introduced because once a child understands all the letter sounds, they won’t be able to read until they blend the letters together. The phonemic awareness version of this skill doesn’t involve any letters, which makes it a great prereading skill. You’ll probably find cute activities online for blending, but they’ll most likely include letters. The best way to teach the prereading skill of blending is through a good old fashioned game out loud.
Blending Out Loud–
Blending is the opposite of segmenting. Instead of giving the word and asking for the sounds, you give the sounds and ask for the word. For example, “What word do the sounds /d/ /o/ /g/ make?”
Blending on the Arm-
Many reading teachers have a child use their arms to blend a word. This works best for words with three sounds, but could also be adapted to words with four or more sounds. With the first sound, have your child touch their shoulder. They touch the inside of their elbow for the second sound, and their wrist for the final sound. Then, they sweep down from their shoulder to their wrist to say the word.
This link has one blending activity mixed in with other phonemic awareness activities (including Elkonin boxes). I don’t think we’ll use the activity because I think the overall concept is simple (even though it will take lots of practice!) and I don’t want to complicate it.
A Little Extra Explanation
This article from the University of Oregon clearly explains phonemic awareness.
This is a list of phonemes that might be helpful when using Elkonin boxes. Some sources I found said that there are 41 phonemes, but this list has 44. Bonus! 🙂
Also from the University of Oregon, this article explains different phonemic awareness skills that you might want to work on down the road.