The ability to hear, identify, and manipulate all of the sounds the letters make is known as phonemic awareness. Each individual sound is called a phoneme, and we have 44 phonemes in the English language.
Studies show that,
“The two best predictors of early reading success are alphabet recognition and phonemic awareness.”
When first teaching children the ABCs, I highly recommend associating only one sound to each letter (check out these free resources I created), but once children have mastered that, it’s time to introduce them to ALL of the sounds the letters make.
Before children learn how to SPELL the letter arrangements that make these sounds, they need to HEAR and IDENTIFY them. Children are exposed to these sounds through oral language, but by having these spelling patterns pointed out at a young age while reading quality literature, it will make learning how to read all of the tricky words in our English language SO much easier.
There is a misconception that children need to wait until they are a certain age before being taught about the complexities of the English language, but the reality is that their brains are yearning for this information at a much younger age like when their brains are peaking at the age of 2-3 years.
The Remaining Sounds
After learning the basic sounds from the alphabet (one sound for each letter, short vowels), these are the remaining sounds in the English language.
- Long Vowels – In addition to teaching children about the 5 long vowel sounds, I also want to introduce them to common spelling patterns.
- R Controlled Vowels – When a vowel is followed by an r, it makes a different sound.
- Digraphs – Digraphs are two letters that come together to form one single sound.
- Long and Short oo (Vowel Digraphs – Two vowels that come together to make one sound.) – The oo in moon is long, and the oo in book is short.
- Diphthongs – These gliding vowels start with the sound of the first letter and glide to the next.
- *Consonants with More Than One Sound – Although children may be familiar with the other sounds these letters make, it is a tricky concept that some consonants make more than one sound, so I have included it here, but feel free to introduce this concept earlier or later based on the interest and needs of your child.
Age to Start
The ages that I have introduced my children to this level of phonemic awareness has varied based on their abilities and interests. I would say let their curiosity guide you to find teachable moments. My daughter Ophelia, who was reading by age 2 was very curious and very aware of the differences in sounds, so I would tell her the rules at a very young age. My sons Julian and Elliot didn’t really show an interest until they were about 4-5 years old. When they were reading and stumbled upon a word that didn’t seem to fit the standard rules, I would point out the rule for why it sounded the way it did.
How to Teach
It’s really best to start gradually. With my children, once I saw that they had a solid understanding of the short vowels, I started to sneak in some long vowels too. So, for example, when we were reading through my ABC flashcards and we would say that, “a is for apple”, I would also add, “a is for apron too”.
I love resources like this Leapfrog Fridge Phonics Letter Magnets and this Preschool Prep Letter Sounds DVD because they teach children all of the sounds that each letter makes at once. While this is too overwhelming for your 6 month old baby who is just starting to become familiar with the alphabet, it’s great for your toddler who is ready to master a deeper level of understanding about ALL of the sounds that letters can make. Preschool Prep also makes a really engaging Meet the Digraphs DVD that is a GREAT way to introduce your child to digraphs.
Teaching the remaining letter sounds can seem overwhelming, but if like the rest of my resources, you start young and do a little bit at a time, your child will master the remaining letter sounds and have a great foundation for learning how to read. I recommend introducing one set of flashcards at a time, but most importantly, get to know these flashcards YOURSELF so that you can point them out while reading quality literature together.
It’s very important to have regular reading time when your child is at this stage. Reading should be fun, not a “set your timer” sort of chore. I find that by having a reading ready environment with tons of books in baskets easily accessible in every room, it makes reading easy to do. I love cuddling up with my little ones, getting some snacks, covering up with a favorite blanket, and getting really animated while we read our favorite books. This is the perfect time to start pointing out long vowels, the long and short oo vowel digraphs, r-controlled vowels, diphthongs, and digraphs.
Long Vowels Flashcards
Long vowels are tricky because in our English language there are soooooooo many ways to spell them. Teaching children the common ways to make these long vowels will help them immensely as they start to read. When you start using these flashcards, focus first on the the picture and the word. Once your child is familiar with the picture and word, then you can start talking about the rule that makes the vowel long. If your child is ready for a challenge, start talking about other words that fit that rule. It’s all about layers, and teaching a little bit at a time over a long period of time.
Long Vowels Video
Using videos of my children and handmade image overlays, I made this Long Vowels Video to correspond with my Long Vowels Flashcards. Use this video with your child to help him or her learn long vowels.
Other Vowels Flashcards
These other vowel sounds are tricky because they don’t really fit into the short or long vowel categories. First, there’s the long and short oo vowel digraphs, followed by r-controlled vowels, and finally diphthongs. These vowels sounds are something that adults may not even know how to properly name, so you may be learning alongside your child, and that’s okay!
Other Vowels Video
I made this video with the help of my child to accompany my Other Vowels Flashcards. Use this video to support your child as he or she learns about other vowels.
Digraphs are tricky because they are two letters that come together to form one single sound. When children don’t know about digraphs, it can make sounding out words like phone and them very difficult. As with the other vowels, you may not be familiar with all of the digraphs, and so once again, it’s totally fine to learn alongside your child!
My wonderful children were excellent participants to help me create this Digraphs Video that corresponds with my Digraphs Flashcards.
Consonants with More Than One Sound Flashcards
Feel free to introduce these consonants that make other sounds earlier, but I thought it fitting to include them here since we are talking about the next level of learning how to read. I find that the best time to talk to children about consonants that make other sounds is when they are curious or when they make a mistake. For example, if you ask your child what sound the letter c makes, and they say /s/ as in “circus” instead of the common sound of /k/ as in “cat”, you can say, “Yes, the letter c can make the /s/ sound as in circus, but usually it will make the /k/ sound as in cat. That’s why we call it a copycat letter. It actually doesn’t make its own sound but either borrows the /k/ sound or the /s/ sound.” Click here for a free digital download of my Consonants with Other Sounds Flashcards.
By learning about ALL of the sounds in the English language, children will have the code to unlock reading. When children are familiar with these sounds and how they are presented in text, it is best to reinforce this understanding by pointing them out while reading quality literature. So make reading fun, fill your house with quality literature and easily accessible books, and read often.
For More Information
You’ll find everything you need to teach your child to read on my FREE READING RESOURCES page which includes flashcards, videos, plus more tips and tricks.
How to Teach Your Child to Read in 5 Simple Steps (Keeping it Simple)
- Language Rich Environment: Use oral language at the child’s level (Get down on the floor and play together!) and help them memorize vocabulary words. (Tell them the names of things!)
- Phonemic Awareness: Teach one sound for each letter of the alphabet. (Start with short vowels.)
- Phonics: Tap out sounds in three letter words to teach how sounds come together to make words.
- More Complex Phonemic Awareness: Introduce long vowels, digraphs, other vowel sounds, and other consonant sounds.
- Reading Comprehension Strategies: Use quality literature to interact with books and ask questions before, during, and after reading to make sure your child is understanding what is being read.
Teach Your Child to Read Blog Series (Digging Deeper)
- #1-Oral Language Development Lays the Foundation for Reading
- #2-How Engage Your Baby or Young Child with Reading
- #3-Learning How to Read Begins with the ABCs
- #4-Memorizing Words (Before Sounding Them Out) Leads to Reading
- #5-Building Vocabulary with Numbers, Colors, and Shapes
- #6-Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Word Families
- #7-Unlock the Final Stages of Reading with Advanced Phonemic Awareness
- #8-Reading Comprehension Strategies Lead to Independent Readers
- #9-Reinforcing Reading with Writing