3 Ways to Enhance Phonemic Awareness with Music

Mom and toddler son sing songs together to boost phonemic awareness

You’ve probably heard the word phonics, but what exactly is phonemic awareness? Phonemic awareness is the ability to identify and manipulate individual sounds—phonemes—in spoken words, a crucial pre-reading and speech skill.

Research shows that programs focused on phonemic and phonological awareness significantly increase children’s reading abilities in early years, and can be further enhanced by music. What does this look like at home? Here are a few things you can do that sound like learning, but feel like fun!

Start by selecting a letter sound, phoneme, or blend to focus on. Some examples include “lo,” “me,” or “shoo.” Next, try applying the following steps to enhance awareness of the sound:

Bring Attention to Mouth Shape and Tongue Position

As you teach a new sound, it is important to help your child understand how it relates to the shape of their mouth and lips, and position of their tongue and teeth. For example, if I am teaching the sound “lo,” I would show my son that my lips are preparing to make a circle and my tongue is curled against the roof of my mouth.

Use a Mirror to Visualize Phonemes

3-year-old enhances phonemic awareness by making mouth shapes with a mirror.

You can further enhance the experience by using a handheld mirror or the selfie camera on your phone. Let your child see their own mouth as they shape the sound and ask questions (Can you see your teeth when you say meeee? What shape does your mouth make when you say ohhhh?). Doing so will help them concrete the sounds they are learning through visualization. Also, kids love looking at themselves in the mirror!

Repeat that Sound to a Familiar Tune

“Apples and Bananas” is a perfect example of a song that already does this. The lyrics follow the pattern that whatever vowel sound you choose for “eat” (e.g., “oat,” “ite,” etc.), is the same sound you apply to apples and bananas (opals and ba-no-noes, eye-ples and ba-nye-nyes). Play this song below to get started or stream it from our free app.

“Apples and Bananas” | Kindermusik

It could be as simple as replacing all of the words with a single sound, kind of like how we naturally sing a song when we forget the words: “la, la, la…” or “da, da, da…” For example, you might change all of the words of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” to the sound “lo.”

Why Use Music to Boost Phonemic Awareness?

Music can help unlock language centers in the brain in ways that spoken language can’t. Plus, it’s fun! Children love to mimic and sing. So, whether you’re just starting to help your child sound out words or you’re in the middle of early speech therapy, remember to keep things simple at home and just turn up the music!


This post was written by Jared Trudel—a dad, Kindermusik Accredited Educator, owner of Trudel Music Studio in Clemson, SC, and music teacher at Montessori School of Anderson in Anderson, SC.

Want to take phonemic awareness to the next level with group musical play? Find a class near you or join a live virtual session!

Looking to enhance your speech therapy practice with pre-planned music activities? Check out our kits!

Simple Gifts for Kids: Batteries Not Required

Sandblocks and other handheld instruments are perfect gifts for older toddlers.

Is your head spinning in a whirlpool of holiday ads? Remember this: simple gifts for kids will keep on giving.

Between Black Friday deals, Cyber Monday savings, and all the other holiday sales, it’s hard to research before you buy. The one piece of research you can always count on?Simple toys are BEST for early childhood development.

Stay stress-free this season with our Top 5 Tips for Buying the Perfect Simple Gifts for Kids.

Continue reading “Simple Gifts for Kids: Batteries Not Required”

Why Music Is Better Than White Noise for Babies

Music is better than white noise for babies

Everyone loves to watch a sleeping infant, but is white noise for babies the best environment for these peaceful moments?

Research tells us no, and here’s why – your baby’s auditory system is hard at work, and sleep aids like white noise can send it into overdrive.

Our auditory system is the first to develop and the last to stop. It is almost fully developed at 16 weeks in utero. So, when your baby is born, they already have 5 months’ experience in processing sound.

Before we look at why soothing, patterned sounds like music are better than white noise for babies, it’s important to understand how the auditory system works.

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5 Ways Music Positively Impacts Children with Hearing Loss

5 Ways Music Positively Impacts Children with Hearing Loss

Music is vital in the development of all young children, including children with hearing loss.

How do I know? I live it every day.

I’m someone with total hearing loss in one ear.

I’m a music educator who works with hearing-impaired children (at the Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis, MO).

And I’m a mom of a child with severe hearing loss who, with the help of bilateral cochlear implants and years of music education, has now successfully transitioned to mainstream school.

Continue reading “5 Ways Music Positively Impacts Children with Hearing Loss”

Why Music In Schools Post COVID Is Critical

Why Music In Schools Post COVID Is Critical

Remember when music in schools campaigns really took off in the 90s? The quest to make music a standard part of the  “3 Rs:” Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic, still isn’t over.

Wait…only one of those starts with an R!

Aside from the letter discrepancy, the narrow focus of the 3Rs is outdated. So, how can we get all schools on board with a modernized view of early learning?

First, we need a new acronym. And here’s why music should get its own letter.

Continue reading “Why Music In Schools Post COVID Is Critical”

How Imaginary Friends Help COVID-Era Kids

Is your child conversing with an imaginary friend or stuffed animal? That's a good thing.

Does your child have imaginary friends? Wondering if it’s a positive or a negative phase? Let me tell you a story…

My mother grew up in a small southern US town in the 1940s, when polio was rampant. My grandparents, who were older and struggled to have a child, were naturally fearful of the disease and scared to lose her. So, Mom wasn’t allowed to play with other children very often.

Except for one.

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