The importance of phonological awareness in reading development

What is phonological awareness?

Phonological awareness is the access to the sound structure of words.  It involves the auditory and oral manipulation of sounds and is an essential part of reading (and writing) development. 

Before children start their schooling, they are already playing with sounds.  Nursery rhymes and stories develop rhyme and alliteration as well as allowing the child to hear new and repetitive words and patterns.  Encouraging children to play with sounds and words is an essential early skill leading to phonic and literacy development.


How to develop phonological awareness?

Children move through various stages as they develop phonological awareness.  Word, awareness, rhyme and alliteration are earlier stages moving to syllable awareness, onset and rime, identifying sounds then segmenting, blending and manipulating sounds.  There are lots of fun ways of developing phonological awareness such as rhyming games, clapping along to words in a verbal sentence or story and playing sound games such as “I Spy”. 


What to do if my child is finding difficulty in reading?

Ensure that basic checks – such as hearing and eye checks – have been done.  If a child is struggling with phonics and reading, a phonological awareness check and activities may be useful.  Can the child select the rhyming words in a set of three words?  Can he or she identify the initial, end or medial sound in a specific word?  The Leeds Community Healthcare (NHS) document, Phonological Awareness Activities*, has some useful ideas. Difficulties in phonological awareness can affect the older child too.  Rhyme dictionaries and developing phonological awareness through their favourite songs can be useful approaches.

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* Leeds Community Healthcare (NHS) document, Phonological Awareness Activities