Phonemic awareness
         A phrase that you may have heard your child’s teacher use is phonemic awareness. It sounds a little like a word you probably know - phonics - and they are related because they both have to do with sounds.

        Phonics refers to the relationship between letters and their sounds that are used in writing and reading. The premise of phonics is that every letter (or, in some cases, combinations of letters) has its own sound (in some cases, more than one sound).

        Phonemic awareness refers to the ability to hear and tell the difference between words, sounds, and syllables in speech. These are four elements of phonemic awareness:

        Children can recognize rhyme when they hear it and they can produce rhymes on their own. Poems and songs are excellent for teaching rhymes. If you know the song “Down by the Bay,” this is an excellent way to teach this aspect:
         Down by the bay, where the watermelons grow, 
         Back tp my home, I dare not go,
         For if I do, my mother will say,
        “Have you ever seen a goat
         Sitting in a boat
         Down by the bay?”
         There are many possibilities, all of which need to have rhyming words: Have you ever seen a whale with a polkadot tail; Have you ever seen Daniel with a cocker spaniel, etc.
Hearing syllables
         Children begin to understand the concept of syllables when they clap them out for their own names. They can identify how many syllables are in words they or you say, and they can come up with words that have the number of syllables you ask for: two, three, four, etc.

         This is an important concept because many words in our language have consonants that blend into each other. On the simplest level, we say or read the letters of words, like the sounds of “c,” “a,” and “t.” Then the child repeats them in order, first slowly,  and then more quickly, until she is saying “cat.” In the reverse process, this is what we usually mean when we suggest that children “sound out” an unfamiliar word to see what it says.

         When a child is writing a word, saying it slowly can help with the spelling. She may need adult help at first. The best thing you can do is help her to hear the word sound-by-sound: ba-na-na, ta-b-le. Of course, letters that aren’t heard won’t be written, but we accept the phonetic representations with beginning writers.

         This column has been incorporated into Teach Your Children Well: A Teacher’s  Advice for Parents.

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