What is phonemic awareness?

Before children learn to read, they need to understand that words are made up of speech sound, or phonemes. For example, the word dog is made up of three phonemes /d/ /o/ /g/. This awareness—referred to as phonemic awareness—is essential to learning to read. In fact, phonemic awareness has been found to be the single strongest indicator for a child’s success at learning to read. Phonemic awareness is not only the recognition that words are made up of phonemes, it is also the ability to break a word down into individual phonemes, join phonemes together to create a word, replace a phoneme to create a new word, replicate a sound you hear, and find words with the same rhyme. You can help your child with phonemic awareness by reading books that rhyme (e.g., “Is Your Momma a Llama?” by Deborah Guarino), help children learn to identify words that start with the same beginning sound (e.g., “Alligators All Around: An Alphabet” by Maurice Sendak), or teach children that changing one phoneme makes a new word (e.g., “There’s a Wocket in my Pocket” by Dr. Seuss).

Jennie Ito, Ph.D.

Child Development Expert

Jennie Ito is a mother of two and a child development consultant who specializes in children’s play and toys. Before becoming a consultant for LeapFrog, she was an intern at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, and later worked as a content expert for the Association of Children’s Museum’s “Playing for Keeps” Play Initiative. Jennie earned her doctorate degree in developmental psychology at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada.