Rhythm, Rhyme & Repetition – Part 1 of 2

Phonological Awareness Developmental Stages

The majority of kids in early childhood pick up the skill of rhyming through osmosis. After frequent exposure to nursery rhymes, books, and singing, they spontaneously start generating rhyming words themselves. These frequently appear as “nonsense words” as they play with language. It might sound something like, “zoo, moo, roo, foo, goo.”

This is one example of how PHONOLOGICAL AWARENESS—a critical building block for literacy—develops in approximately two-thirds of the population. For children with frequent ear infections, those with a visual learning strength and kids with an autism spectrum disorder, these skills might not develop unless they are explicitly taught in a concrete manner.

By definition, phonological awareness is the awareness of and ability to manipulate the sounds of language. In early stages, it does NOT involve print.

Kids are supposed to tune in to the sounds of language and learn to manipulate them in a developmental progression of large chunks to small chunks.  This includes learning that a sentence (large chunk) is composed of words, words can be separated into syllables, and syllables can be split into onsets and rimes (small chunks).

The first sound in a one-syllable word is the onset and all that follows is a rime. It is no coincidence that being able to keep the rime (or word family) the same and change the first sound is how we make rhymes (e.g. t-op, m-op, h-op).

Rhyming Word Wheel

The final stage of phonological awareness is learning to manipulate the sounds of our language at the phoneme level, technically called PHONEMIC AWARENESS.

At the phoneme stage, it is critical that kids make the speech-to-print connection. This is where traditional phonics comes in, but there is so much to learn before we get to that point.

Awareness of sounds and manipulation of auditory input is not an easy task for those that rely on visual learning. Some will argue that these kids are sight readers and we should teach to their strength. I agree, with an important caveat. We are all sight readers. We all rely on a combination of reading by sight and sounding out unfamiliar words as it is impossible to memorize the entire English language.

Research shows that even kids identified as being hyperlexic are not reading completely by sight (Newman et al., 2007). By teaching phonological awareness skills, we are helping children tune into the sounds of language. This improves their ability to read, even if they continue to read primarily by sight.

In my experience, improvement in phonological awareness skills—when taught through music and rhythm—simultaneously results in improved receptive and expressive communication skills.

To demonstrate the use of music for teaching phonological awareness, we will start by focusing on the skill of rhyming. More on that topic in my next post.


 A slightly revised version of this article was recently published as a podcast in imagine, an online magazine with a mission to share “evidence-based information and trends related to early childhood music therapy.”  If you prefer to hear an audio version of this article, you can listen to it here.


References and Recommended Resources:

Gillon, G. T. (2004). Phonological Awareness: From Research to Practice. New York,
NY: The Guilford Press.

LaGasse, A. B. (2013). Influence of an external rhythm on oral motor control in children
and adults. Journal of Music Therapy, 50(1), 6-24.

Newman, T. M., Macomber, D., Naples, A., Babitz, T., Volkmar, F., & Grigorenko, E. L.
(2007). Hyperlexia in children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37, 760-774.

Phillips, B. M., Clancy-Menchetti, J. C., & Lonigan, C. J. (2008). Successful
phonological awareness instruction with preschool children. Topics in Early             Childhood Special Education, 28(1), 3-17.

Schumacher, K. (2013). Alphabet Stew and Chocolate Too: Songs for Developing Phonological Awareness, Literacy, and Communication Skills. Available from             www.TunefulTeaching.com

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