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Struggling with Phonological Awareness - Try These Preschool Phonological Awareness Activities

Updated: Apr 16

phonological awareness preschool activities

The preschool years are a critical time for brain development and growth. Children’s minds are like sponges, soaking up information and experiences that lay the foundation for future learning. One crucial area is literacy development, and within that realm lies a hidden gem called phonological awareness.

Imagine a young boy struggling to read, his frustration mounting with each stumbled word. We, as teachers, might search for solutions in phonics instruction or sight word recognition drills. However, the culprit can sometimes lie deeper in a skill that is often overlooked and undertaught in the preschool environment.  It is the building block of language manipulation - phonological awareness.

Phonological awareness refers to the ability to recognize and manipulate the sounds of spoken language.  It encompasses various skills, such as identifying individual sounds in words (phonemes), blending sounds together to form words, segmenting compound words or syllables, and manipulating sounds within words (rhyming, substituting sounds).  Phonological awareness is extremely important because it helps prepare children for reading and writing by building their understanding of how words work. It's a foundational skill for literacy development, as it helps children understand the structure of language and prepares them for reading and writing.

Without a strong foundation in phonological awareness skills, even the most well-designed phonics instruction may not prove to be effective for struggling readers. This is where assessment comes into play.  It is VITAL that we understand a child's specific phonological awareness strengths and weaknesses so that we can design targeted instruction and playful activities to bridge the gaps.  By doing so, we can unlock their reading potential and fill those mysterious language gaps that may be causing some major issues in reading. CLICK HERE for the free Reading Readiness Assessment, which contains a section on phonological awareness.


Troubleshooting Phonological Awareness Skills

struggles with phonological awareness

Phonological awareness skills can be taught explicitly, then woven seamlessly into everyday moments through games, practice, songs, and play.  Let's explore some of my favorite tips for building these essential skills when children struggle. 

Sentence Segmentation:

If children struggle with separating each word in a sentence...

  • Then: Use blocks, Play-Doh, counters, snacks, etc. to represent each word in a sentence.  Touch each object as you say the sentence aloud.

  • Then: Count the number of words in a sentence across your fingers or use children in a line to represent each word in a sentence.

  • Then: Use music or instruments to create a sound for each word in a sentence or phrase.  Tap to each word.



If children struggle with rhyming...

struggles with rhyming

  • Then: Point to your mouth as you say each word while rhyming. This can help children visually see the similar mouth movements involved.

  • Then: Read books with strong rhyming patterns like Dr. Seuss books.  Encourage children to chime in with the rhyming words.

  • Then: Play the name game -  “Heather, Heather Bo-bether, Banana Fana Fo-fether…”.  Continue playing with objects, places, foods, etc.


Segmenting Sounds:

If children struggle with isolating sounds (segmenting syllables of phonemes)...

  • Then: Use manipulatives like counters or beans to represent each sound in a word or word part.  Push an object for each sound in the word.  Practice this 2-3 times per week!

  • Then: Use music sticks to tap along to the beat of simple poems, such as “Hump-ty Dump-ty”.

  • Then: Progress from segmenting larger units of sounds (compound words and syllables), to smaller units of sounds (phonemes).  

Blending Sounds:

If children struggle with blending sounds (synthesizing)...

struggle with phonemic awareness

  • Then: Sing the sounds as you blend.  Start with 2 sound words.  Sing, blend, and then say the word fast!

  • Then: Play robot talk.  Take turns saying a word sound by sound, then blending them together to guess the whole word.

  • Then: Play bad connections.  Pretend that you are calling a friend on the phone with a bad connection.  Can you help blend the words together?  “I     n – ee- d    h – e – l – p!

Initial Sound Isolation:

If children struggle with identifying the first sound in a word (initial sound isolation)...

  • Then: Use body motions to represent the sounds. Ex: Move your hand like a snake as you emphasize the /ssss/ sound. 

  • Then: Play the silly sentence game.  Create a silly sentence with a child’s name.  Continue adding on with words of the same sound.  “Active Alice.  Active Alice likes ants.”

  • Then: Leave sounds off the beginning of familiar words and correct the mistakes.  “I am hungry.  I am ready for a nack.  What is missing? Ssssss.  Ohh…sssssnack!

Final Sound Isolation:

If children struggle with identifying the last sound in a word (final sound isolation)...

struggle with phonemic awareness
  • Then: Use movement to emphasize sounds.  Say a word and clap or stomp when you hear the target sound at the end. 

  • Then: Read books with predictable rhymes that focus on the final sound (e.g., "Hop on Pop" by Dr. Seuss).

  • Then: Use visual cues.  Draw pictures on cards that feature words with the same final sound (bug, rug, mug).  Write the final sound symbol on a notecard (Gg) and match the pictures to the sound card.

Download the free Reading Readiness Checklist, which contains a section on key phonological awareness skills.


Phonological Awareness Songs that WE LOVE!

songs for preschoolers
  • Syllable Song by Jack Hartmann Clap

  • Stomp & Chomp by Jack Hartmann

  • Syllable Rap by Jack Hartmann

  • Syllable Segmenting by Jack Hartmann

  • Syllable Clap Rap by Jack Hartmann

  • Onset and Rime by Jack Hartmann

  • Word Family Twist by Jack Hartmann

  • Compound Boogie by Jack Hartmann

  • Compound Words by Jack Hartmann

  • Build a Word by Jack Hartmann

  • Rhyming Song by The Learning Station Nursery

  • Rhyme Rap by Jack Hartmann

  • Rhyme Time by Jack Hartmann

  • I Can Rhyme by Jack Hartmann

  • Rhyming Words in the Sea by Jack Hartmann

Looking for more preschool songs? Download the Little Learner's Playlist, with over 400 of our favorite songs!

preschool activities

Practice KEY Phonological Awareness Skills with the 100 Days of Preschool Literacy Activities Pad. All early literacy phonological awareness skills are practiced in a series of progressing difficulty throughout the activity pad.


Our Favorite Phonological Awareness Products & Books!

preschool phonological awareness products


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We believe that every child deserves a bright future, and this begins with a strong foundation in early literacy skills.  At Moving Little Minds, we are dedicated to providing research-based literacy activities in fun and engaging ways!  By merging instruction with play, we ensure that children are reaching their full potential and embark on their educational journey well-prepared for the future! Let's build those KEY emergent literacy skills together.

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