Supporting your children in literacy work can feel like an impossible task.  Beyond sounding things out, where do we begin if our kids are having trouble learning how to read?  Before racing to the library, there are a few important phonological awareness skills that serve as the foundation for reading.  Mastering these skills will reduce the perceived “difficulty” of reading, improve motivation when reading, and maybe even have your child seeking out reading opportunities independently!

The areas of phonological awareness to focus on are the following:


  1. Alphabet Awareness:  Knowledge of the letter shapes and names (reciting, not singing, the ABCs, identifying upper and lowercase letters) is a strong predictor of their success in learning to read.  Knowing letter-sound correspondences is strongly related to a child’s ability to remember forms of written words and their ability to treat words as a sequence of letters.  Focusing on letter sounds as opposed to letter names will help your child’s ability to blend sounds together and form words.
  2. Sound Segmentation:  Being able to split up words into individual sounds (e.g. cat = c-a-t, spoon = s-p-oo-n) will help children to decode unfamiliar words using letter-sound patterns when reading.  Students must be able to decode words into their basic phonemic chunks before they will be able to read fluently and with comprehension.
  3. Sound Blending:  Blending sounds together to form words (e.g. c-a-t = cat) supports reading fluency.  When a child is able to blend segmented sounds, they can decode familiar and unfamiliar words independently.  Elongating sounds and connecting them together supports sound blending to form words.
  4. Syllable Counting:  Counting out syllables in words is a necessary skill for decoding multisyllabic words.  This skill allows children to break words into digestible, small units.  Once split into syllables, a child can implement sound segmentation and blending to read long words.
  5. Rhyming Skills:  Rhyming helps children learn about word families such as let, met, pet, wet, and get. Rhyming also teaches children the tone and cadence of spoken language. This awareness leads to reading and writing success (More fun when you let the kids invent silly “nonsense” rhyming words!).

Once these primary phonological awareness (or pre-reading) skills are mastered, your child will be ready to implement their skills to read and spell!  First thing’s first – lets make reading FUN!  Focusing on FUN when targeting reading is key for retention of skills.  When children are not motivated, they can have difficulty retaining reading strategies, recalling sight words, and responding to reading comprehension questions. 


How to target pre-reading and reading skills in a motivating way!

father reading a book to his daughter while picnicking in the woods
  • Reading Scavenger Hunt:  Write sight words, sentences, or clues on post-it notes and hide them around the house.  Each time your child finds a word, they need to read the note aloud to earn a point or find their “prize.”
  • Word of the Week Hunt:  Pick a word of the week and have your child be a detective around town running errands, watching TV programs, or completing school work to find that word (e.g. If the word is “The” look for it on toy boxes at target, grocery items at Harris Teeter etc).  This is a particularly good activity for sight words.
  • Spell words/practice alphabet letters using alphabet crackers (usually can find some at Trader Joes!).  Once your child reads what’s spelled, they get to have a snack.  Taking this even further, using alphabet stencils, you can have a baking activity to make letter cookies from scratch!
  • Writing in foam/shaving cream/kinetic sand:  This tactile approach is hands-on, making reading more engaging.
  • Graphic novels are a great starter for emerging readers since the illustrations are typically more engaging.  Another method would be pursuing wordless picture books and encouraging your child to generate the narrative, writing 1-2 sentences for each page.
  • Author’s Play:. After a book, do a simple thumbs-up, down, or in between. Or be more elaborate with a book review notebook and star stickers. Ask, “Would you change the story at all? What should happen next?”  Although this may not target reading, it practices engaging with reading via critical thinking, perspective taking, and inference skills.
  • Cooking Class:  Find a simple, kid-friendly recipe and work with your child to read through it and make something delicious!
  • Instructions:  Read instructions for games/toys (e.g. Legos, board games).  Preferred games and toys are highly motivating!  If the instructions are too challenging, reduce the demand and have your child hunt around for a target letter/sight word within the instructions.
  • Parent Modeling:  Seeing adults reading at home (newspapers, magazines, books, emails) will help provide a positive reading model.  Kids often will be more willing/excited to participate in reading if they see their parents do it too. Monkey-see, monkey-do!
  • Turn-taking:  For more challenging reading, you can reduce the demand on your child by taking turns reading during all of these activities listed above.  Taking-turns demonstrates “fairness” to your child.  Sharing the workload often helps keep frustration low by providing breaks to your child.
Blog by Megan Church, MS, CCC-SLP


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