Earlier in this chapter, Growing Up to Read, we presented language and literacy activities for adults and children in a variety of informal settings. In this current section we present activities for the preschool. As with the first set of activities, our main purpose is to illustrate the underlying concepts important for preparing children for reading instruction. We expect that the individual activities included will be helpful for most children; however, they are examples rather than comprehensive curricula in themselves.
As mentioned earlier in this book, phonological awareness involves an appreciation of the sounds, as well as the meanings, of spoken words. A child who is phonologically aware can demonstrate this, for example: by perceiving and producing rhymes (fan, tan, man, etc.); by dividing words up into their syllables (hel/i/cop/ter) and smaller components (sn/ake), and putting them back together; by noticing that groups of words have the same beginning (star, story), middle (bag, cat) or ending (pinch, lunch). Recent research has confirmed that children who have a greater degree of phonological awareness when they enter school are better equipped to learn to read.
A more advanced form of phonological awareness, called phonemic awareness, is the understanding that speech can be broken down into even smaller units (phonemes). This is very important for learning to read, because phonemes are what letters usually stand for. (The idea that letters, or groups of letters, represent phonemes is called the alphabetic principle.) For example, the word “book” is made up of three phonemes, represented in writing by “b,” “oo,” and “k.” Few preschoolers spontaneously attain phonemic awareness, but many studies have shown that they can acquire this understanding by engaging in activities that draw their attention to the existence of phonemes in spoken words.
Preschool teachers can use many appropriate activities to help build phonological awareness in young preschoolers and phonemic awareness in older children. Rhyming songs, syllable-clapping, and grouping objects according to how their names begin can all be used to draw children’s attention to the sounds of speech. Later, to promote phonemic awareness, the activities can include:
isolating the first segment of a word (Say the first little bit of “snake”);
finding all the objects on a poster that begin with the “nnn” sound;