The A says "ah", the A says "ah"...

This post first appeared on Kids Communicate in early 2010.  Lately, I've been fielding questions at my daughter's preschool about early literacy awareness, and I thought I'd share some ideas here. 

...Every letter makes a sound, the A says "ah"!

One of my favorite topics to talk about with families is early literacy.  When a child first learns to sound out words and discovers the meaning behind the printed letters on a page, a whole new world opens up for them.  There are several components of literacy that a child must learn, including phonological awareness, which is an understanding that letters make sounds and we combine those sounds in various ways to make meaningful words.

Most of you probably read to your children several times a day.  Those reading and snuggling times can be very precious pauses in our otherwise busy lives.  As a child begins to link letters and sounds, I encourage parents to focus on the sounds letters make, rather than the letter names.  Most children in kindergarten enjoy using their whole bodies to learn.  If your 4- , 5-, or 6-year-old is working on associating sounds and letters, try these activities at home:

~Place large foam letters on the ground, maybe 4 or 5 at a time (you can also just draw letters on paper.)  Play some music, and when the music stops, shout out a letter sound (e.g. "Mmm!") and your child can run and stand on the letter (M).  Start with some of the easier letters (B, D, M, T, S, etc.) leaving those tricky ones (vowels, X, Y) for later in the game. Slowly add new letters to the mix.  *To up the ante (and have your child demonstrate mastery) let them be the boss.  When the music is off, they have to shout out the sound of the letter.

~Vowels are some of the trickiest letter sounds to learn.  Make giant (A, E, I, O, U) letters on pieces of printer paper.  Tape them to the wall, turn off the lights, and use a flashlight to "spotlight" the letters.  Have your child shout out the sound of the highlighted letter.  Then try to think of a word that starts with that sound.  FYI: In my experience, E ("eh") is the hardest vowel to master because it has a very neutral position in the mouth!

~Mold your body into a letter shape as you say the sound.  Mold play-doh into a letter shape as you say the sound.  Mold your brother into a letter shape as you say the sound.  Mold the dog... you get the idea.

~Using a "Zoophonics" approach, choose a letter (B), pretend to be an animal (Bear) who says the sound ("Buh!")  You can even give the animal a name ("Betty the Bear says Buh!") and act it out.  (Check out Zoophonics website for actual program:

As your child begins to link sounds and letters to "decode" a 3-letter word (C-A-T), they will be ready to tackle some basic reading books.  The Bob Books are great early readers, but they can be kind of boring if read more than once (think black and white stick figures.)  The National Reading Panel recommends reading a book out loud 3 to 9 times to achieve mastery of new words.  With this in mind, my favorite early readers are the "Animal Antics" books by Nora Gaydos.  They will definitely keep even the most active child engaged in reading for the entire story.

For some more tips and book reviews before you head to the library or bookstore, check out:

I'm interested to hear from parents out there.  What are some of your kids' favorite early readers?