It’s never too early to start reading with your little ones! Even the simple act of holding a baby on your lap as you turn pages and ad-lib conversation about the pages will lay a foundation for reading. There are the obvious benefits of simply knowing how books work, the print concepts like how to hold it, turn pages, and that those marks our fingers dance over at the bottom are actually the words coming out of our mouths.
There are also the profound benefits of simply being immersed in language. As I wrote earlier this week, the number of words our children are exposed to, even at a very young age, make an enormous difference in their future learning.
But there’s another aspect to reading that many people are not aware of. Perhaps is the daunting term: Phonological Awareness. It’s a mouthful! But simply put, it’s the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds in words. And it’s a critical foundational skill for young readers. We know from research that kids who miss out on playing with words struggle as readers. (You can read all about it here in a bite-sized batch here on NJC,or get a feast of information here.) It’s basically about hearing the subtle differences in sounds and recognizing rhymes, rhythms, and other sound patterns. It’s all developed through hearing and speaking, starting long before a child can even read print.
So here are six board books that are great for babies and toddlers and on into the preschool years. They’re full of fun sounds and playful, lyrical stories that are sure to support phonological awareness in young kids. Before the list, here are some important tips: Preread these books to get used to the rhythm and sounds in each one. Once you’re familiar, you can read smoothly and with the right expression. As playful as the sounds are, avoid the urge to rush through. You still want to give time (and repeated experiences) for children to digest the sounds, recognize the sound-play going on, and pick up on the meaning from the pictures and context. That’s a lot to take in!
These reads are powerful, so read them well, read them slowly, and read them often.
(*These are all affiliate links, but each is a book I would recommend sincerely….no matter where you end up buying it!)
The words of this story bounce at a pace that seems to propel the characters (a boy and a bear) through a playful landscape of berries, waterfalls, and animals. It’s full of rhyme, rhythm, and nonsense words, which (as silly as they sound) are a critical part of building this skill set. My favorite word: razzamatazzberry!
I was first introduced to this book as my best friend pulled it from her own shelf years ago. I was instantly in love! One by one, animals seeking refuge from the storm, slip into a hibernating bear’s den, until they find themselves in a full-blown party. The bear sleeps through it all……until, of course, he doesn’t! It’s a fantastic story with a fantastic rhythm and a fun dose of onomatopoeia like this: “An itty bitty mouse, pitter-pat, tip-toe, creep-crawls in the cave from the fluff-cold snow.” Poetic genius!
This is a classic! You’d be hard-pressed to find a child who hasn’t had this read to him or her at some point. (And if you do find this child, sit down immediately and read this story, for goodness sake!) I’ve heard that this simple story contains every phoneme in the English language (those are the approximately 40 individual sounds that combine to make up all our words). Want to make sure your kids can hear the nuances in each sound? This book is a great place to start!
Like Goodnight Moon, this book is also by Margaret Wise Brown and carries a cadence that is refreshingly different from many rhyming children’s books. With beautiful, warm pictures from Felicia Bond (illustrator of “If You Give a Mouse…” series) and a soothing rhythm that ends with the quiet night on the farm, this is a perfect bedtime book!
We all remember this playful rhyme, right? Well here’s a beautiful refresher if you need it! The rhythmic nature of this story is perfect for building phonological awareness, as are the subtle sound changes in lines like “Swishy swashy, swishy swashy”. Plus, it has an added bonus of delivering positional words like over and under that are key language concepts in the early years as well. (The other bears in this book list will be happy to know that no actual bears were harmed in the making of this book.)
My boys have loved this book! It’s got rhythm and rhyme right along with dogs and cars. What more could my little guys want? Well, how about throwing in some basic counting practice and number recognition just for fun? Yup. It’s all in this book!
Of course, if you’re focusing on phonological awareness, you’ll want to jump into some Mother Goose as well!
What are your favorite stories (or other activities) for playing with sounds?