Most parents probably think the first step in learning to read is understanding phonics, the connection between letters and their sounds, but the actual starting point is phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness is understanding that words are made of individual sounds, known as phonemes. While we have 26 letters in the alphabet, we actually have about 40 phonemes in the English language (consider sounds that are made of two letters, like /sh/ and /th/). Teaching children to recognize that words are made of sounds, and these sounds can be blended, segmented, and manipulated in various ways, is a great way to begin teaching your child to read.
This is a simple activity to get children thinking about the initial sounds in words. At the end, I have a way to make this activity appropriate for more advanced readers.
- magazines, newspapers, advertisements
- brown paper bag
- glue (for more advanced option)
- Select a sound and write the corresponding letter(s) on the paper bag. Children often like to choose the first sound in their names.
- Look at the magazines, newspapers, and advertisements together. Cut out pictures of items that begin with the specific sound. Try saying different words aloud together to identify the initial sound. “Hm… does (word) begin with (sound)?” or (pointing to picture) “What sound does (word) begin with?”
- Place your cut-out pictures in the bag. We found: lavender, lion, Legoland, lemons, lemonade, and lamp.
Challenge Activity: For more advanced readers, you can create a modified version of this activity. Select a sound and write the corresponding letter(s) on the paper bag. Find words that contain that sound in a variety of positions (initial – middle – final). If the word begins with that sound, glue it to the front of the bag. If the sound is found in the middle of the word, place the picture inside the bag. If the sound is found in the final position in the word, glue the picture to the back of the bag. Now that’s a challenge!