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  • Lindsey O'Neill MA, CCC-SLP

Promoting Literacy in Young Children

As your eyes scan the words on this page, your brain is doing amazing things. Unlike speaking, reading is not innate; instead, reading must be explicitly taught. If you've been reading for years, it may feel as though it is automatic and effortless, but at one point in time deciphering words on a page, let alone deriving meaning from a written text was a daunting task. If you now find yourself thinking, Ok...I can read but how in the world do I help teach my child how to read?, this post is for you!

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I recently became more interested in the topic of promoting early literacy skills because in a few short years, my own son will be entering preschool. Additionally, many of my clients struggle with not only speech-sound production and language, but also reading. Yes, reading entails language comprehension, semantics, morphology, and more!

Speech-language pathologists often work with facilitating the language comprehension piece of reading, so lately I've found myself wanting to learn more about "word reading", where we decode the words on a page.

If you are not an early childhood educator, the thought of teaching a child to read may seem overwhelming. Why is reading so hard? Because reading is complex! It doesn't "come naturally". Countless research articles and books have been written on the topic of literacy instruction and best practices. I won't be getting into the nitty gritty of literacy instruction today, because...simply put, this is a blog and not a book.

That being said, I do feel compelled to share the overarching finding of many research studies: phonological awareness is crucial to reading. We need phonological awareness to be good readers.

Think of phonological awareness of an umbrella. Overall, phonological awareness entails the ways in which we are aware of various components of our oral (spoken) language.

Another helpful tidbit: the key to reading success is not a secret!

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Researchers have found that phonemic awareness (which falls under the umbrella of phonological awareness) is the number one predictor of future reading success. If you aren't an SLP, you may be wondering what a phoneme is...

Phonemes are the individual sounds of our language. For example, the word "big" is made up of 3 individual sounds (b-i-g) or as transcribed using the International Phonetic Alphabet, /b ɪ g/. The word "touch" is comprised of 5 written letters (known as graphemes), but like the word "big", "touch", is also made up of 3 individual sounds or phonemes: t-ou-ch or in IPA, /t ʌ ʧ/.

Word reading is not memorization. It is a skill that requires exposure, practice, and more practice!

Today, I will be sharing ideas for promoting early literacy skills at home. These activities will allow you to encourage phonological and phonemic awareness, which will prepare your child for reading!

Tip 1: Exposure! Talk to your child. Then, take the time to read to your child. This seems obvious, but help point out to your child that the print on the pages is read from left to right. For example, point to the title and say "The title of the story is...." and "The author is (name). The author is the person who wrote the story!".

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You can help your child develop print awareness by sliding your index finger below the print as you read aloud.

Tip 2: Help your child with word awareness. This can look as simple as asking your child to clap their hands for every word you say. (e.g. "You make me happy" (4 claps)).

Tip 3: Expose your child to the alphabet. Many young children enjoy puzzles or alphabet magnets. Sing the A,B,C's with your child and let them explore various letters through play. Here is a fun song for introducing letter sounds to your child.

Tip 4: Have fun with rhyming! Nursery rhymes and Dr. Seuss books are full of rhymes.

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You can play a game while doing routine activities like riding in the car. "Let's think of words that rhyme with bat". Model correct rhymes and see if your child can catch your "mistakes" (e.g. bat, cat, boot- "No, boot and cat don't rhyme").

Tip 5: With preschoolers and kindergartners, incorporate syllable awareness activities. "Let's stomp our feet for every syllable in the word today". Take it to the next level by introducing phonemic awareness practice too!

You can help your child practice their phonemic awareness through fun movement activities, such as having them hop for each sound in a word (e.g. s-u-n- hop 3 times). Make sure you say the word aloud rather than writing it down. The aim of this activity is to help your child hear the different sounds in the target words.

You can also help increase your child's phonemic awareness by talking about sound positions. Make a point to talk about where sounds are in words (e.g. "go, goat, and guy" all have a /g/ at the beginning, but "bug" has a /g/ at the....).

By incorporating phonological and phonemic awareness activities into your child's daily life, you can help set the foundation for their future reading skills.

If you'd like more information about reading development and skills, check out Reading Rockets' website.

As always, if you have concerns regarding your child's speech and language skills, please contact me. I offer free telephone consultations and am accepting new pediatric clients at my Mason, OH office. Thank you for reading! :)

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