We know that the abilities to listen and speak precede reading and
writing. With this in mind, word play known as sound manipulation can be used to help strengthen reading and writing when children are ready to do so. Oral
language play like this can be fun for adult and child when they are traveling together or at home. It takes no equipment - just a basic understanding on the
part of the adult.
The first type of sound manipulation needs only an understanding of being
able to break a word into syllables, and the understanding that a syllable is
a part of a word that represents one sound. I have found in school that children
begin to understand the concept of syllables when we (1) use their names and names of people they know as examples and (2) clap as we say each syllable.
So we say Christopher as /Chris/-/to/-/pher/ with three claps and Eve with
There are six different approaches to helping children to work with
Find two words that contain the same syllable and ask your child to match
them. In our language, you can find many pairs, such as sandwich and sandbag, bookmark and bookend, airport and airborne,
Ask your child to name that sound she hears at the beginning of a word.
You are looking for the first syllable. With a little practice, children pick
this up easily. What do you hear at the beginning of igloo (/ig/), table (/ta/),
computer (/com/), etc.?
With the many words that rhyme in English, we substitute the beginning
syllable to create a list of rhyming words. We ask, “What word do we get if we
change the /can/ in candy to /han/? It’s handy.
The adult breaks the word into syllables, says them slowly, and asks the
child to put them together. Put these syllables together: /pup/-/py/ (puppy), /kit/-/ten/ (kitten), /san/-/dy/ (sandy).
This is the opposite of blending, above: the child takes a word and says
it slowly, by emphasizing the syllables. You ask the child to break these words into
syllables: table (/ta/-/ble/), garbage (/gar/-/bage/), candle (/can/-/dle/)
You leave syllables out of words. Say napkin without the /kin/, baseball
without the /ball/, Suzy without the /su/.
This column has been incorporated and expanded in Teach Your Children
Well: A Teacher’s Advice for Parents.
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