Early literacy is what children know about reading and writing before they actually learn to read and write. Important early literacy skills include knowledge of the alphabetic code, phonological awareness, and phonemic awareness. Strength in these areas is important for early reading success.

Knowledge of the alphabetic code refers to understanding that letters are used to represent individual sounds and is essential for beginning reading and spelling. Children with knowledge of the alphabetic code can:

  • learn the alphabet
  • attach names to printed letters
  • attach sounds to letters

Phonological awareness includes identifying and manipulating larger units of spoken language. Understanding the relationship between written letters and spoken sounds is a necessary skill in learning to read. Children with good phonological awareness can:

  • clap out the number of syllables in a spoken word ( octopus = oc- to- pus)
  • identify words that rhyme (hat, mat, sat)
  • produce and match rhymes
  • recognize words with the same initial or first sound ( bat, bug)

Phonemic awareness is the ability to notice, think about, and manipulate the individual sounds in spoken words. It refers to the awareness that words are made up of segments of speech that are represented with letters. It is one of the best predictors of how well children will learn to read. Without phonemic awareness, phonics is more challenging to learn. Children who have good phonemic awareness skills can:

  • identify the first or last sound in a word ( sun - /s/)
  • recognize what word is left when a word is deleted from a compound word (say cupcake without cake –cup)
  • recognize what word is left when a sound is deleted from a word (say farm without saying /f/ - arm)
  • break a word into its individual sounds ( sun = /s/ /u/ /n/)
  • blend or put together individual sounds to form a word (/s/ /a/ /t/ = sat)

Difficulty with these skills can be due to several factors. It may simply be a lack of experience or exposure to early literacy. There could be hearing, speech-language problems, or a family history of dyslexia. Regardless of the cause, these skills can be taught, but they must be taught directly and systematically. Early intervention is the key to success.

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