One thing that I think is important to recognize in the Charlotte Mason community is that delayed formal reading lessons doesn't translate to a lack of learning in the early years. There were many skills, including the ABC's and building short words, that Charlotte Mason expected children to learn in the early years. Children will also acquire literacy skills through the environment, a box of wooden letters, or the books they read with a beloved adult.
There is one set of skills that is especially crucial to reading development. Phonemic awareness is the ability to differentiate the sounds in words. Since this is only a listening skill and not a skill involving print, I think it's perfectly playful for the early years.
When older children struggle with reading, the answer is often to go back to phonemic awareness skills. A knowledge of phonics is built upon these skills, and if they aren't developed naturally when I child is young, they have to be developed through lots of instruction later. And if it can be done playfully in the early years, then why wait?
There are three specific skills that I'll be sharing with you today: rhyming, blending, and segmenting. This is the fourth post in my Charlotte Mason reading series. You can go back to the first post here.
This post was originally posted in April, 2017. I've used affiliate links to share some things with you. You can read more about them in my policies.
Rhyming with little ones is such a fun way to play! It allows children to hear similar sounds in words, like tree and free. This is the first step in phonemic awareness.
When our children are young, we read nursery rhymes and sweet rhyming prayers. Soon, the rhyming language starts to stand out to them. Sometimes, I'll say a familiar rhyme and leave out the rhyming word. "1, 2, buckle my _______."
At about the age of three, both of my older children began to make rhymes on their own. We often play a rhyming game in the car. Someone will say, "What rhymes with cat?" All together, we'll look for words that rhyme with cat, until all of the options are exhausted and someone recommends a new word.
Little ones love stories, but make sure to round out your library with nursery rhymes, poetry, and rhyming books.
The Real Mother Goose- I mentioned this one in my nursery rhymes post, but it is so timeless that I couldn't leave it out.
Mother Goose, Illustrated by Gyo Fujikawa- This has some of the same rhymes as the aforementioned book, but the illustrations are stunning.
Prayer for a Child- This is a sweet little rhyming prayer book that is a classic and has been loved for generations. It would make a good bedtime book, but to be honest, it has never held my little ones' attention for very long.
Each Peach Pear Plum- This is a beautifully illustrated book that has references to beloved nursery rhyme characters. There is a page that mentions the "wicked witch," so skip this one if you avoid magic.
In this skill, single sounds (phonemes) are isolated, laying the ground work for sounding out phonics patterns later. You can start 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. When Miss H was four, she started with saying the middle sound in a word, and then I taught her how to isolate the initial sound.
Initial sounds- When your child is ready, it's easy to start noticing initial sounds in a word. E(4) often asks me what letters a word starts with. Instead of telling him, I say the sound. He might ask, "What letter does 'Mommy' start with?" And I'll answer "mmmmmmm-ommy!" Sometimes he'll say the letter name, but in Charlotte Mason's approach, knowing the sound is more important than knowing the letter name.
We also play with initial sounds through little games while reading or driving. In an interesting illustration, I might say, "Can you find something that begins with the same sound as 'ball?" While driving, we play a variation of I Spy, and say, 'I spy, with my little eye, something that begins with /r/." We say the sound only, and then E can play too, even though he doesn't know the entire alphabet yet.
Middle sounds and final sounds- It's a bit more complicated for young children to segment middle and final sounds in a word. When my children start showing interest, I model how to segment all of the sounds in a word. A question that Miss H often asked during this stage was, "What makes 'look'? " Instead of spelling the word for her, I would say the sounds- /l /oo/ /k/. She had fun playing the segmenting game until she learned how to read.
This is a skill that is pretty challenging, and doesn't really need to be addressed until a child is about ready to read. I do think it’s important to work on blending 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. Since we're focusing on phonemic awareness here, we are talking about blending the sounds into words, not letters into sounds and then into words. That makes this another fun, playful game for the early years.
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?”
A Guessing Game- I start playing this game by saying, "I'm thinking of something that starts with s!" When my kids have no idea what I'm talking about, I say, "It starts with a s-n!" Then, "It says s-n-a!" By this point, they usually guess the word- snack! When I do this, I make sure to say the letter sound and not the letter name, but it's hard to communicate that in a blog post 🙂
My early years literacy guide introduces the alphabet, while using all of these early literacy skills, so that when it's time to start reading, you will have established a firm foundation. You can check out a sample here.