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
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.
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!