Despite what you might think, learning to read and write is not a naturally developing process. If we were never exposed to texts and print, we would never acquire literacy skills. Children can attain pre-literacy skills throughout childhood with opportunity to explore and play with sounds and print. The foundation of reading and writing is called phonological awareness. It’s our ability to tune into and manipulate sounds in language. Notice that we haven’t mentioned letters yet. We’re talking about a purely oral skill set. As adults, we’re so used to working with extended language and texts that it can be easy to forget what it’s like to be learning to tune into sounds. Pop quiz! Below are some common phonological awareness tasks. See how you go…

How many sounds are in:

o   Flag

o   Thought

o   Shoe


Which words rhyme?

Bluff                        Plot                        Four

Yacht                        Paw                        Tough


How many syllables are in:

o   Elephant

o   Fascinating

o   Inaccessibility


Ahhh, doesn’t that take you back? These are the skills that children learn about in Kindy and consolidate in Pre-Primary and Year 1. However, there are lots of things that parents can do to help children of all ages tune into the sounds in speech.

1)    Build a sentence: Take turns adding words to a sentence, even if it ends up a bit silly. For example, “The… fuzzy… birdie… flew… onto… a… dog.”

2)    Robot Talk: Pretend you’re a robot and *break-up-ev-e-ry-thing-you-say-in-to-syll-a-bles*

3)    Bounce a rhyme around. Start with a simple rhyming word, like “pot,” and pass play from person to person as quickly as you can. Each person must think of a rhyming word before play passes back to the first person.

4)    Play “I Spy” but use sounds rather than letters. For example: I spy with my little eye, something beginning with /fffff/… (phone)

5)    Say your sounds precisely: It’s tempting to try and make sounds as loud and obvious as possible. However, we have loud sounds (like /mmmmm/) and soft sounds (like /fffff/). Here’s a video that is helpful for saying sounds clearly and precisely: Spelfabet – What are the 44 sounds of English?:

So get talking, and get creative! Encourage your child to have fun experimenting with sounds, and help lay the foundation for literacy.


Answers to quiz:

Sounds in FLAG (4), THOUGHT (3), SHOE (2)

Rhyming pairs: BLUFF & TOUGH, PLOT & YACHT, FOUR & PAW




Love, E. & Reilly, S. (2012). School readiness and early literacy. Retrieved from

Gillon, G. (2008). The Gillon phonological awareness training programme. Christchurch: University of Canterbury.

Reading Rockets. (2018). Classroom strategies: Phonological awareness. Retrieved from