What Do Phonics, Phonemic Awareness and Decoding Mean?

If you have a preschooler or a kindergartner chances are you’ve heard the terms phonics, phonemic awareness and decoding before.

What do they really mean? This week as part of our Get Ready for K Through PLAY series I’m going to explain!

Some of my longtime readers (thank you!) may know that I have my Master’s in Reading and am a trained Reading Specialist, but you don’t need a background in education to figure this out. I promise.

All you need is a little explanation of phonics, phonemic awareness and decoding!

What Does Phonics, Phonemic Awareness and Decoding Mean A Guide for Parents of New Readers!

What Does Phonics Mean?

Thanks to the popular slogan “Hooked on Phonics works for me!” phonics may be the term parents are most familiar with. Phonics is the relationship between letters and sounds.  For example, the letter D makes the “d” sound in the word dog and the letters oy make the “oi” sound in the word boy.

Learning these letter-sound relationships is a process that occurs over time. Your child will start to get more explicit phonics instruction in school, but there are many ways to support it at home too.

The most important thing to do is read to your child every day.  Being read to helps kids start to identify letters and letter-sound relationships. A good place to start is with the letters and sounds in your child’s name since it is personal and motivating.  You can build on this learning by playing alphabet games and doing ABC activities.  Don’t force it though, let your child’s interest and readiness be a guide.

What Does Phonemic Awareness Mean?

Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear,  identify and manipulate the separate sounds in a word. Let’s take the word dog again–it’s made of 3 phonemes, or units of sounds.  Someone who is aware of and can identify all 3 of those sounds has phonemic awareness. This, too, is a process.  Teachers are looking for kids to be able to identify the beginning sounds, the ending sound, all of the sounds and even to switch sounds and make new words.

Identifying and blending sounds together is important because it’s a big part of decoding and spelling words.  Fun ways to develop this skill in kids is through rhyming words, songs and poems…and of course reading aloud to them daily!

What Does Decoding Mean?

Decoding is the process of looking at a printed word and being able to say it correctly. It sounds like something a spy should be doing, but all it really means is putting together the sounds in the word to read it aloud.  It’s cracking the letter-sound code to come up with the word.

Decoding is just half of the process of reading.  The goal of reading is to be able to both decode and comprehend, or understand, the text.  Once kids are able to decode words well they begin to work on remembering and understanding the words they are reading.

A good activity that help kids “get” what decoding is all about is my gross motor Walk the Word activity. Try it with kids who have phonic and phonemic awareness knowledge.



For even more information and ideas about them literacy skills kids need for Kindergarten check out what the other Get Ready for K Through PLAY! hosts are sharing!

And catch up on Get Ready for Kindergarten by Playing School and Teach Independent Skills for Kindergarten!

Next week we’ll all be back sharing activities to develop the fine motor skills needed for Kindergarten!

In the meantime be sure to follow our Get Ready for K Through PLAY! Pinterest Board for a huge collection of Kindergarten readiness activities!




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