When children start school they face the biggest challenge of their lives – that of learning to read. Emergent literacy is a developmental period that is receiving much emphasis because of its influence on later literacy development and achievement.
Reading is a learnt, culturally determined process that depends on many inherent, learned and environmental factors. It depends on the adequacy of the spontaneously acquired language system and awareness of components of spoken words (sounds and syllables). It also depends on the recognition of patterns and meanings in visual symbols such as logos, environmental signs, letters and printed words.
Children who present with speech and language difficulties often present with difficulties with phonological awareness. Phonological awareness is a pre-literacy skill that most children acquire on their own. Children with speech and language difficulties are at risk of reading failure because of poor phonological awareness. Phonological awareness can be taught.
- blending and segmenting
- letter knowledge
This involves the child being able to identify and produce rhyme. Without being aware, the child is learning to identify the initial sound, remove it and replace it with another sound to produce a rhyming pair. Children’s ears become attuned to rhyme when they listen to rhyming stories. When the child is familiar with the story, leave out the second part of the rhyme and ask the child to fill it in. S/he will soon become aware of the rhyming pairs. When s/he is able to do this give a pair of words and ask if they rhyme. The final step in rhyme is the child’s ability to produce rhyme. Children love producing nonsense rhyme. Some children find it easier to produce rhyme than to identify it.
Preschool children love identifying the initial sound of a word and love playing game like “I spy”. Remember that we do not use letter names when doing alliteration. Our aim is for the child to hear the first sound of the word. So “cat” starts with “c” but “cigar” starts with “s” and “cheek” starts with “ch”. When children are able to identify the beginning of the word, they learn to identify the last sound they hear in a word. “Cake” does not end with “e” but with “k”. Once they can do this, children learn to identify the middle sound of a simple three sound word. So the middle sound in “cat” is “a”. Please be sure to listen to the sounds. “Aeroplane” does not start with “a”. It starts with ”e”. Some alphabet charts are incorrect.
This involves clapping out the syllables within a word. “Hedgehog” has two syllables while “porcupine” has three syllables. By the time they go to school, children should easily be able to clap out the syllables within a word.
Blending and Segmenting
Initially the child is able to break up a double word or put two words together to make a new word. E.g. fire + man = fireman, lady + bird = ladybird and rainbow = rain + bow, strawberry = straw + berry. Once the child is able to do this, they start being able to blend and segment syllables. E.g. com + pu + ter = computer and helicopter = he + li + cop + ter. Once they are able to do this they are able to blend and segment simple words like c – a – t + cat and cup = c + u + p.
By the time children start school they are expected to know most of their letters, the letter names and their sound value. They should be able to identify upper and lower case letters. Identifying the letters in car registrations is lots of fun and you can extend the activity by asking the child to tell you what words start with “b” that they see on the license plate.
Signs and Symbols
Children learn that print, the squiggles in books, carries meaning. From early preschool they learn to identify environmental print, to identify the names of shops and their favourite brands.