If the term phonics or “phonemic awarness” sounds more like a medical diagnosis than something you should be teaching your preschooler, fear not: teaching phonics is simply teaching your child about the way letters and sounds form words. Incorporating a few simple games and activities into your daily routine is all it takes to teach your child these early reading skills.
Part of understanding phonics is simply being aware of the sounds that make up words. Play games with your child throughout the day to help encourage thoughtful awareness of the sounds in words. On a long ride, give your child a word such as “mountain” and ask him to come up with words that begin with the same sound. Go on a word hunt in your house together, seeking words that begin with the same sound, such as bed, bathtub or book.
Understanding rhymes takes phonetic awareness to the next step. Read rhyming books by famous children’s authors Shel Silverstein and Dr. Suess. Try leaving off the rhyming words at the ends of sentences to see if your child can come up with the word, or perhaps a different rhyming word of his own. Sing nursery rhymes to your child often, clapping along with the rhythm to emphasize the rhyme and cadence of the song.
The Montessori method calls for teaching the sounds of letters before teaching the names of the letters themselves, using a sandpaper alphabet as you teach these sounds to your preschooler. Introduce a few sandpaper letters to her at a time, saying the name of the letter as your trace it with your finger. Give your child the letter and have her repeat the sound name as she traces it with her finger. Not only does this exercise help her associate sounds with symbols, but it also prepares her for writing the letters with a pencil someday soon.
Reading and Music
There are a variety of books and songs aimed at teaching children the sounds of each letter. Alphabet books typically have pictures of objects starting with the letter to emphasize the sound the letter makes. Take time to point these words out to your child, sounding them out together and even asking him to come up with additional words he knows that begin with the same sound. Sing songs that emphasize the sounds in words, such as “Apples and Bananas,” or even better, make up your own song to help your child learn and understand sounds.