Frequently Asked Questions

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Here are some common questions and my responses. I hope these help. Feel free to ask about anything to do with early literacy learning on my blog or you can email me at fiona@gettingreadytoread.com

What are Phonological Awareness skills?

Phonological Awareness is the ability to hear, say and play with sounds in words and sentences. All these skills should be able to be done by the child without the words in front of them (except for word awareness). It is a talking and listening activity only. When the letters and words are introduced this is called Phonics.

Skills for children to learn:

• Word awareness
Counting how many words are in a sentence. Counting the gaps between words.

• Syllables
Counting the beats or chunks in words. Each beat has to have a vowel sound in it.
E.g. caterpillar has 4 syllables; cat/er/pill/ar.

• Rhyming
Identifying rhyming and non rhyming words and creating new rhyming words.

• Alliteration
This is when beginning sounds in words match. E.g. Silly Sally sits on sticks.

• Isolation of sounds at the beginning, ending and middle of words
This is when children can hear the first, last and middle sounds in simple words.
E.g. 'cat' starts with the 'c' sound; ends with the 't' sound and has the short 'a' in the middle.

• Sounding out words called 'Segmenting'
This is where a child sounds out the word 'cat' into each individual sound that they can hear.
E.g. They say the whole word 'cat' and then stretch it out sound by sound 'c', 'a', 't'.

• Putting back together separated sounds in words called 'Blending'
This is where you stretch a word out into its sounds and the child tells you what the whole word is.
E.g. You say 'c – a – t'. What word is that? 'Cat'.

• Deleting and exchanging sounds in words
Deleting and exchanging sounds in words is a more advanced skill usually acquired at the end of the first year of formal schooling (Kindergarten in NSW).

Deleting sounds in words is when children can take away a sound in a word and say what is left. E.g. Say the word 'spot' now take away the sound 's'. What word is left ('pot')? This is without the word in front of them. It means that they are relying on hearing the sounds rather than seeing or reading them. They should be able to do this without the word in front of them.

Exchanging sounds in words is when children can take away a sound in a word and exchange or put in another sound to replace the original sound. E.g. Say the word 'stop' now take out the 't' sound and change it to a 'l' sound. What is this new word ('slop')? This is without the word in front of them. It means that they are relying on hearing the sounds rather than seeing or reading them. They should be able to do this without the word in front of them.

Does my child need Phonological Awareness skills?

Yes, all children need strong Phonological Awareness skills. In fact we all do. As adult readers we use these skills all the time. Think of a time when you have had to read something that is not in your field or life experiences. Good readers stop and re-read, think about the words they are reading and break the new unknown words into syllables. So if an adult needs to be taught to read, then I would start with teaching them Phonological Awareness skills.

At what age should I start helping my child with Phonological Awareness skills?

You are doing it already! From the day a baby is born, you as parents use sounds and noises to communicate. These sounds grow and develop into words and then sentences i.e. spoken language. After that we have to help our children move from spoken to written language.

It is really important to work on Phonological Awareness skills in the year before a child attends school. Strong Phonological Awareness gives your child a head start at the beginning of formal schooling. Literacy teaching starts on day one of Kindergarten.

Don't they teach those skills at school?

Yes, they do. Your school should be teaching Phonological Awareness skills daily as part of their literacy sessions in Kindergarten, Year 1 and Year 2. However, it is best for your children to arrive at school with really strong and confident Phonological Awareness skills so that they can instantly use all the new Phonics skills they are being taught.

What is the difference between Phonics and Phonological Awareness?

Phonological Awareness is the ability to hear, say and play with sounds in words orally. Phonics is where the letter/sound relationships are introduced and words are broken down into their letter sounds. We all remember learning the alphabet and the letter sounds in school. In English we have 26 letters in the alphabet and around 44 sounds in our language. Therefore, we have to be taught all the different combinations of letters to match the sounds. However, we cannot read, write and spell accurately if we don't hear and say where the sounds in the words are (Phonological Awareness).

Why do I have to start so early?

If you start talking and listening and interacting with your child from birth, think of how advanced their Phonological Awareness skills will be by the time they are 4 or 5 years old! Talking and listening with your children, as well as reading to them every day, is so important for their school preparation. If you haven't focused on books or vocabulary, then it is really important to start that in the year before your child goes to school.

Can you use technology such as apps or the internet to teach these skills?

Yes and No.

Yes. It if fine for children to access apps and interactive books. This keeps them entertained and happy and to a certain extent it is educational.

No. However, this is still a passive exercise because the children are not talking. They are sitting quietly (I know this is lovely and essential at certain times). If they love to do these activities on the smart phone or tablet, then you need to ask them questions about what they were seeing, hearing and doing. You need to talk with them afterwards about what the story was about and find out what they learnt. This makes the whole exercise an active and educational experience and you get to know what your child is thinking!

Remember, all technology should be used in moderation. Human interaction is still the most important thing for children to have.

Just think how many forms of screens a young child is exposed too. Too many to list! They are all wonderful and exciting and really helpful BUT they should not dominate a child's life. Think of their poor little eyes after all that screen time, trying to adjust to catching a ball outside in the sun. It makes it harder for them.

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