Why Your Kids Need to Play with Language (and 5 Ways to Do It Everyday)

A, B, C, D…E, F, G…phonemic awareness is the key.

Alpha ManiaMany parents believe that teaching their children how to read starts with learning how to sing the ABCs. While it’s a catchy song and an important tool in understanding alphabet order, there’s so much more involved in acquiring early reading skills. One of the most impactful things to do is simply to play with the sounds of language, allowing your child to broaden their phonemic awareness (the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds of spoken language). And I do mean play—life is hectic, but playing with language can be fun! Here are five ways to incorporate phonemic awareness moments into activities that already exist within your busy day.

1. Car Rides – Car rides are the perfect opportunity to play with language. You’ve got a captive audience, and it certainly beats the persistent requests for the same song repeated over and over or the nonstop “Are we there yet?!”. Turn your car rides into a fun and educational experience by practicing blending. A simple game that still allows you to focus on driving is called “Say it Fast”. Tell your child that you’re going to say a word vvvvvvery ssslllowly, focusing on one sound at a time (say map as mmmaaap). Your child should then blend the sounds together and say the word fast. You can gradually increase the challenge as your child is ready. Start by dividing compound words (base..ball, rain…bow) and syllables (ba…na…na, ham…bur…ger)  saying each word part with a pause in between. Once your child can blend word parts easily, move on individual sounds. Start with 2-sound words (iii…nnn, ssseeeeee), 3-sound words (sss…uuu…nnn, b…aaa…t), and work your way up to 4- and 5-sound words (fff…rrr…ooo…g, sss…t…uuu…mmm…p). Note that you should only hold (or stretch) sounds that can naturally be held (mmm, sss, aaa, etc.). Keep other sounds clipped (d, p, t, etc.).

2. At the Park – The climber at every playground inevitably transforms into a pirate ship at some point in your children’s lives. This is the perfect time to whip out your trusty spyglass (real or imaginary) and play a rhyming version of the classic game “I Spy”. From on board the ship, take turns using your spyglasses to hunt for objects on the playground. Use the following altered version of the classic line: I spy, with my little eye, something that rhymes with… (fill in a rhyming word for the object you’ve chosen). Your child can then guess what you’ve spied.Alpha Mania

3. Meal Times – Meal times are a great way to play with language, with the added benefit of getting your kids to eat their broccoli! Let your kids have a little “Fun with Food” by playing this game to practice alliteration. Call out sentences with words that start with the same sound (Tiny tomatoes taste terrific.)

Tell your child to move a piece of food on the plate every time they hear a word that begins with the same sound. They can point to each piece as they repeat the sentence back to you. You can even encourage them to eat a piece for every word they hear that begins with the sound (just make sure they chew carefully between bites!) Later, add words to the sentence that don’t start with the same sound (Delightful dogs dig in the dirt), to see if they can discern between the starting sounds.

4. Bath time – Tub time is another opportunity to turn quiet time with your child into a fun learning experience. “Bathtub Baffle” is a game that practices sound manipulation. Add a variety of tub toys to your child’s bath. Ask them to find an object in the tub, but substitute the beginning or ending sound of the object with another sound. For example, ask your child to find his “wuck” (duck) or her “boaf” (boat). Have your child identify the sound that was changed.

5. Bedtime – Bedtime stories are the perfect time to play with language! Read books that rhyme (Dr. Seuss is fantastic!) and have your child fill in the last word of the sentence, or check out the Alpha-Mania Adventures book series for stories that incorporate phonological awareness right into the story.

Playing with language is an essential way to develop the early reading skills that children need to become strong, successful readers. And if you can do it without any disruption to your already packed schedule, it’s a win-win for everyone!

Ruth RumackRuthHeadshot started her career as a Children’s Program Director at a community center. It was at this time that Ruth began working with students privately, supporting their academic needs. Her practice quickly grew from her living room to the 3000 square foot office that Ruth Rumack’s Learning Space currently occupies, employing close to 25 full-time certified educators, designers, and support staff. As an educator, Ruth has a particular interest in working with students of all ages who experience reading challenges, as well as those diagnosed with learning differences and other exceptionalities such as ADHD, anxiety, and executive functioning issues. She is a member of the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario and regularly attends learning conferences to ensure that she is on the leading edge of new research and new methodologies. At her Learning Space, Ruth and her team of highly-qualified educators provide individualized support that emphasizes honoring the individual strengths and needs of each child. Their goal is to provide all students with a strong academic foundation, achieved through active, kinesthetic learning that doesn’t feel like learning at all.Alpha Mania