Tips to help develop word awareness
A good word awareness (receptive and expressive language) is a key phonics skill.
Helping a child build their vocabulary (word awareness – receptive & expressive language) is vital if they are to continue to develop good communication skills. Talking, explaining, sharing and playing are all important as well as making sure that you pronounce words clearly and correctly for a child to hear. A child may not have developed all the skills needed to copy you accurately but they will store the sound pattern information for later use. The more they hear the correct sound patterns the sooner they will start to use them themselves.
Receptive and expressive language
Receptive language is how we take in and understand language; it is what we hear, see and read. This also includes body language and environmental clues. All these elements help us to interpret the situation and give meaning, so that we can understand what is needed or required of us. We do not need to be able to produce language to receive and understand it, so infants and toddlers understand far more than they can express (expressive language).
Our understanding through receptive language enables us to communicate, socialise and comprehend instructions, different situations and scenarios.
Expressive language is our ability to put our thoughts, needs and wants into words and sentences in a way that makes sense and is grammatically correct. A baby’s expressive language to begin with is based on cries and gestures moving to sound making, combined with gestures and their body language.
We use this expressive language when we speak and write. Even when babies and toddlers move to speaking words, they have a limited vocabulary which is why they can get frustrated when we do not understand them.
How to develop word awareness
Phonological Awareness Stages 1, 2, & 3 (Birth to 4 years)
● Playing tapes or CDs of nursery rhymes and children's song are good for helping your child to make the distinction between the music and words (language used) in them. It is a good idea to practise this skill when there are no other noise distractions.
● When your child points at something tell them the name of the object, for example if they point at an apple, say “Apple”.
● Try to use the new word in context regularly as repetition of the word will help your child to remember it and reinforce the meaning of the word.
● Try playing some action songs and rhymes to help your child learn the actions for the rhyme, then let them have a go on their own. Watch them to see if they can do some of the actions at the right time in the song, to see if they are listening for the right cue words. If they are struggling, explain they have to wait for certain words and show them what to do and when to do it.
● If they are trying to say a word, let them finish and then say it back to them clearly and correctly. Do not make them repeat it back to you, they may choose to do so but make it their choice.
● Repeat and expand on what your child says, so if they say "Dog!" you may say "A big dog!" This also helps them to develop an understanding of sentence structure.
● Nursery and silly rhymes are great ways to introduce your child to rhyming sounds and increase sound play in words.
● Finger rhymes, such as 'Round and Round the Garden', 'Pat-a-cake' and 'Incy Wincey Spider' and action songs encourage your child to interact with words, the sounds within them and the rhythms they create. 'Row, Row Your Boat' is a lovely whole body movement song that encourages a rhythmic whole-body motion, which babies and toddler enjoy (as well as the adults).
● Sharing and talking about the books you are reading helps to build word knowledge, as you point to the pictures, picking out different objects. Reading out aloud helps to introduce your child to words that they may not experience in their everyday talk. This helps to expose them to new vocabulary and the sounds to be found in those words.
Phonological Awareness Stages 2, 3 & 4 (2 years to 5 years)
● Introducing and playing sorting games helps your child to build a mental filing cabinet system of categories, this helps them to remember and learn the meaning of words. Start by introducing simple categories of everyday items like food or clothes as their vocabulary increases categories such as colour, size and texture become more appropriate.
● Reading aloud poems and story books with strong rhyme elements, like those found in Dr. Seuss books, help introduce the new words and rhyming sounds in words.
● Try exaggerating the rhyming words to help highlight the sound patterns, making it easier for your child to tune into them.
● Singing often slows down our pronunciation of words, helping your child to pick out unusual or rhyming sound patterns. As with reading aloud it can introduce a wider vocabulary to your child.