Phonemic Awareness in Young Children

Phonemic awareness in young children is the basis for word reading and comprehension and helps students learn to to spell.

T he first pillar of reading is phonemic awareness, the understanding that the English language is made up of sequences of individual sounds called phonemes.

Developing phonemic awareness in young children is an important foundational task because it establishes the basis for reading and writing English.

U nderstanding that words are comprised of individual sounds helps children begin to hear words as the sum of these sounds and to identify and isolate them.

When children are able to speak and hear individual sounds, and also identify them, manipulate them, and substitute them, they are said to have phonological awareness--a critical first skill in learning to read.

Learn more about the importance of Early Literacy from our other resources on the subject.

P honemic awareness in young children begins with identifying the sounds heard in simple, one-syllable words. For example, the word cap is made up of three sounds:

/C/ /A/ /P/

When the sounds are combined, the word is created. Longer words are made up of syllables, units of speech with one vowel sound that form a word or part of a word. Children are often introduced to syllables by clapping as they hear each one.

O nce children gain phonemic awareness, often through games, they are ready to progress to the next level of phonological awareness that involves adding, deleting, substituting, and manipulating sounds.


/P/ /A/ /T/

"What are the three sounds you hear in pat?"





A t this point, children may or may not know the names of the letters associated with the sounds. Phonemic awareness in young children is focused only on the sounds of speech not on the alphabet or the connection between sounds and letters.

For some lucky children, phonemic awareness happens instinctively, without explicit instruction. But many children require explicit instruction to fully develop the skill.

The good news is that children who receive effective instruction in phonemic awareness and master its concepts can develop a solid foundation on which to build reading and spelling skills.

R eading Horizons Discovery® reading and spelling programs for children in grades kindergarten through third grade provide explicit, systematic, sequentially sound instruction in phonemic awareness.

Combined with an introduction to the vocabulary of reading such as vowels, blends, and digraphs, the programs ensure that there are no gaps in student knowledge.

This foundational instruction helps all students but is essential for English Language Learners who are not familiar with reading terms and whose native languages may not include some of the sounds of English.

To learn more about how Reading Horizons can help youTalk to a specialist

P roviding instruction in phonemic awareness is an important first step in preparing students to learn the associations between sounds and letters—also known as phonics, the second of the five essential components of reading instruction.

Early Reading Activities: Phonemic Awareness in Young Children

Download our free Phonemic Awareness Resource Kit