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  • Helen Deduonni, M.S., CCC-SLP

Early Stages of Successful Reading

Reading is a big topic. We, as SLPs, get a lot of questions from parents about how to help their child be successful with reading. There are many ways to get your child started with early literacy that can help them be successful readers. Terms like phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, and phonics sound very familiar, right? But where does one start? Let’s talk about what these terms mean:

Phonological awareness:

What is it:

  • Recognizing that words are made up of separate speech sounds (phonemes). Ex: Cat: C-A-T has 3 sounds; Play: P-L-AY has 3 sounds.

  • Children develop phonological awareness by listening. Think rhymes: C-AT and B-AT and S-IGN and W-INE and syllables: car-toon has 2 beats and ba-na-na has 3 beats.

Phonological awareness helps children understand that phonemes can be changed and moved around to form different words. They begin to recognize patterns among words and use that knowledge to read and build words. Children then develop awareness of how spoken language works at the level of words and syllables.

Phonemic Awareness:

What is it:

  • Knowing that each individual speech sounds gives language meaning.

  • An individual has the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds into spoken words

  • Involves segmenting (breaking apart words into individual sounds) such as HAT has 3 sounds: H-A-T and blending (combining sounds to create a word) such as S-N-A-P = Snap

Phonemic awareness is important because it facilitates reading and writing skills and children learn to connect sounds to written letters/words. Children with poor phonemic awareness may have difficulties with reading, writing, and spelling.


What is it?

  • The ability to make the connection between letters and sounds

  • The ability to break words into sounds as well as blending sounds into words.

Phonics improves the child’s ability to recognize words and decode text. Phonics teaches children the relationship between words and sounds and that written words represent the sounds of spoken words. Phonological awareness and phonemic awareness are necessary to develop phonic skills.

As we can see, all of these terms are related. Most of these skills are developed by Kindergarten in anticipation of reading. We know that 80% of brain development occurs between birth to 5 years old. Emergent literacy sets the foundation for future success. When children are exposed to reading and writing at an early age, they are more likely to succeed academically and are generally excited to attend school. Find ways to promote fun with words and sounds. Please feel free to ask your SLP for ideas on how to promote these 3 foundational skills.


American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (n.d.). Bringing letter sounds to life: Merging phonemic awareness and phonics [PDF document]. Retrieved from

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (n.d.). Let’s Talk For People With Special Communication Needs. Retrieved from

Brown, C. (n,d). Language and Literacy Development in the Early Years: Foundational Skills that Support Emergent Readers. The Language and Literacy Spectrum, volume 24. Retrieved from

Department of Culture, Media, and Sport (2003). Framework for the Future: Libraries, learning

and information in the next decade. London: Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Dugdale, G., & Clark, C. (2008). Literacy changes lives: An advocacy resource (pp. 1-56). London: National Literacy Trust.

Kern, M. L., & Friedman, H. S. (2009). Early educational milestones as predictors of lifelong

academic achievement, midlife adjustment, and longevity. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 30(4), 419-430. doi: 10.1016/j.appdev.2008.12.025

Strickland, D. S., & Riley-Ayers, S. (2006). Early literacy: Policy and practice in the preschool years. Preschool Policy Brief, 10, 1-12.doi: 10.1080/02568543.2017.1387205

- Helen Deduonni MS., CCC-SLP



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