Early Childhood Education: the Importance of Phonological Awareness

Phonological Awareness

There are many factors that go into how a child learns to read, write, and spell.  Phonological awareness in early childhood is a proven predictor of how well a child will progress in their literary performance.  Today’s post explains the basics of phonological awareness and how to better develop it in young children.

What is Phonological Awareness?

Phonological awareness refers to a child’s ability to understand the sound patterns that are specific to the language that the child is exposed to on a regular basis. There are many skills that are involved in understanding phonemes, some of which include being the following:

  • The ability to detect rhyming words
  • The ability to segment words into syllables
  • Identifying the letters of the alphabet and their sounds
  • Identifying the letters that words begin and end with
  • Recognizing blended sounds
  • The ability to manipulate sounds in words by adding, substituting or deleting letters

Development of phonetic awareness skills begin gradually and build sequentially upon each other throughout the preschool and early elementary period.    Although phonological awareness is taught when a child enters the school system, research shows that the more a child knows before he or she enters school, the faster they are able to learn to read, write, and spell.  In fact, these fundamental skills are strong predictors of literacy performance in subsequent years.  Many researchers believe that phonological awareness in early childhood is more important to literacy than other variables such as socioeconomic status or intelligence.

How the Awareness of Phonetics is Developed

Phonological awareness develops primarily through different types of word play.  Reading books to children that focus on sounds, alliteration, and rhyming promotes awareness of the sounds that different letters make, builds vocabulary, and increases awareness of the beginning and ending sounds of words.  Playing word games such as generating rhyming words or naming things that start with a certain letter are very helpful in developing an awareness of phonics as well as understanding syllables and blended sounds.  After they enter the school system, children who have relatively good phonological awareness are able to further their literacy skills with a strategy called invented spelling.  This skill is a child’s way to guessing at how to spell words by applying the knowledge about their language that they have acquired thus far. Through this strategy children learn the correct letters and annunciation of their particular language system faster.

Phonological awareness is a critical skill that affects a child’s ability to learn to understand the structures of their native language.  Statistics indicate that in order to acquire fluency at reading and efficiency at spelling sooner, a child should be phonetically aware before they enter the school system.  Some easy ways that parents can develop phonetic awareness is to read to children, teach them nursery rhymes, and play word games with them.


Lonigan CJ, Farver JM, Nakamoto J, & Eppe S (2013). Developmental Trajectories of Preschool Early Literacy Skills: A Comparison of Language-Minority and Monolingual-English Children. Developmental psychology PMID: 23316767

Carson KL, Gillon GT, & Boustead TM (2012). Classroom Phonological Awareness Instruction and Literacy Outcomes In the First Year of School. Language, speech, and hearing services in schools PMID: 23275432

Chipere, N. (2013). Sex differences in phonological awareness and reading ability Language Awareness, 1-15 DOI: 10.1080/09658416.2013.774007

Wagensveld B, van Alphen P, Segers E, Hagoort P, & Verhoeven L (2013). The neural correlates of rhyme awareness in preliterate and literate children. Clinical neurophysiology : official journal of the International Federation of Clinical Neurophysiology PMID: 23523114

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