As your child’s first day at school fast approaches, it is important to check that their early reading and writing skills are where they need to be.
Before a child is ready to learn to read and write in sentences, they need to be able to notice, listen to, sort, manipulate and play with different sounds in words. Having a basic level of sound and alphabet awareness is therefore a top priority before a child starts school.
Here is a list of 5 academic skills we at Care Speech Pathology recommend every child should have before their first day in the classroom:
5 Academic skills every child needs before they start school
When we speak in conversation, we run the sounds in our words together, without clear boundaries. It is because we write them that we understand that the sounds in words are separate. It is helpful for your child to know that the sentence, ‘Put your coat on’, has four words in it. Children can also be taught that little words can make up bigger words, called compound words. For example, the word ‘teapot’, is made up of two smaller words, ‘tea’ and ‘pot’.
All words can be broken up into syllables, or beats. The number of syllables in a word depends on how many vowel-sounds there are. For example, the word ‘cat’ has only one syllable, whereas the word ‘caterpillar’ has four syllables. The easiest way to hear the syllables in words is to clap or tap them as you say the word.
Rhyming words end with the same sound, regardless of how they are spelt. For example, the words ‘hair’ and ‘bear’ rhyme, because they end with the sound /air/. However, the words ‘bear’ and ‘hear’ do not rhyme, even though they end with the same spelling. One of them sounds like /air/ and one of them sounds like /ear/. Rhyming can be one of the most fun sound skills to work on with your child.
Alliteration describes words that begin with the same sound. Again, spelling doesn’t matter when we are first learning about sounds so remember to focus only on what you can hear. For example, we can teach children that the words ‘cup’ and ‘kangaroo’ both start with the same sound, even though we know they are spelt differently.
It is helpful for all children to start school with a basic knowledge of the alphabet. When teaching the alphabet to your child, make sure to focus on the sound the letter makes more than the name of the letter. For example, ‘This one makes a ‘sssss’ sound’ will be far more helpful in the long run than ‘This one is called ‘S’’. The letters of your child’s name can be a great place to start with alphabet awareness.
But I’m not a teacher… are you sure I can do this?
Yes, you can! Remember – children learn best when they feel safe and when they are having fun. That means home is an optimal learning environment, and parents are often a child’s best teachers!
Think about these ideas for practising sounds and words with your child at home:
Read with your child
Books, especially those that rhyme or use sound play, are excellent for developing sound and word skills. Point to the words while you are reading them, especially if there are only a few words on each page, to help your child develop word awareness. You can also talk about syllables, rhyme and alliteration in the same sitting. For example, you might say, “Ball and wall rhyme, can you think of another one?” or “Dog starts with a /d/, just like your name!”.
Sing and play
Traditional poems and nursery rhymes are full of word play and the predictable rhythm can help children tune into sounds. “I Spy” is another fun way to play with words and develop sound awareness skills – just remember to ask the child to find something that begins with a particular sound (e.g., the ‘ffff’ sound) rather than with a particular letter. You might also like to play fun movement games such as clapping or swaying your body to show the number of words in a sentence.
Interactive toys, games and puzzles that practice first sounds, rhymes and alphabet letters are available everywhere. These need not be expensive and you can find a number of them available online or even at your local Kmart.
Sing and say the alphabet
Being familiar with the alphabet will help your child when they are first exposed to reading instructions at school. The traditional alphabet song isn’t the only one available – try searching YouTube to see if you can find one that is based on a theme your child loves.
Starting school is a significant and exciting milestone for every child (and their family!). It’s never too early to start setting your child up for academic success by helping them to develop their early reading and writing skills at home. And with a little bit of consistent practice and encouragement, you will be amazed at what your child can learn!
Plus, if you ever feel that your child needs professional supervision to inculcate these skills we at Care Speech Pathology provide an environment that nurtures each child in their unique way to get the optimum results.