Have you ever wondered why nursery rhymes are an important part of "preschool learning"? One very important reason is because they promote phonemic awareness which is the ability to hear and manipulate sounds in words. It is an oral ability therefore does not involve looking at print. Research has clearly demonstrated that there is a significant correlation between phonemic awareness and beginning reading acquisition. Reading nursery rhymes to your child is one important way to promote phonemic awareness.
Children go through stages as their phonemic awareness develops -first becoming aware that language is made up of individual words, next that words have syllables, and last that syllables have phonemes (smallest units of sound that help distinguish one word from another - like "r" and "l" rip/lip). Reading to your child is one of the most important ways to promote phonemic awareness particularly with text like nursery rhymes and Dr. Suess books. I am going to mention a few more activities that you can do with your child to promote phonemic awareness.
1. Teach children to clap the beats of words. For example, horse is a one clap word, dinosaur is a three clap word. You can do this with names of people in the family to begin with because children have a natural interest in the names of people in their lives. Not only will this activity help promote phonemic awareness but as they become early readers/writers, it will also be useful for breaking apart words to write.
2. Begin to talk about words that begin the same sounds and then to distinguish words that have different sounds at the beginning.
3. Count words by giving your children counters (can be food like raisins or non-food like pennies) and having them putting down a counter for each word that you say. To do so, tell the children a simple sentence like "The dog went outside" then repeat the sentence slowly while the children put out a counter for each word. Next have them count to see how many words you said. Making the counters edible will make this a VERY fun activity!
4. Play a blending and segmenting game using pictures or objects in the room. First demonstrate by saying the name of a picture one sound at a time. For example, show 5 or 6 pictures of short words like (cat, pig, dog, horse, frog). Choose one of the pictures without the child knowing which one and say the sounds separately "p - i - g". Have the children say the word with the sounds together "pig" and then point to the picture. You can eventually progress to making it an "I Spy" game using objects in the room.
5. Elkonin boxes are another wonderful method of developing phonemic awareness which can also be used later in early reading/writing. To make an Elkonin box you draw a rectangle horizontally and then divide it into boxes according to how many sounds are in a word. For example, for cat you would have a rectangle divided into three. Then you have the child say the word slowly and push pennies into the boxes to represent the sounds. Make sure that the child is not breaking up the sounds when saying the word so that there are pauses or breaks between sounds. I tell the children to sing the word. Each box should represent one unit of sound not letter. So for the word ship you would have three boxes to represent the sounds- sh - i - p and for house you would have 3 boxes h-ou-s. It would be best to start out with three and four box words. Below are a 3 and 4 sound Elkonin box and sound cards you can use to get started. Please let me know if you have any questions!
Elkonin Boxes Cards