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How to Promote Literacy at Home with Books, Games and Apps

March 6, 2013

mom child reading

I try to read as often as possible to my kids because I continuously hear how important it is for their language development. I am also a voracious reader and I would love for my kids to share this passion. They have both gone through varying phases of interest, but I always try to incorporate it as part of our morning and evening routine, even if I am left finishing the book on my own. Daniella, a local speech pathologist, has shared with us the many benefits to promoting pre-literacy skills, inventive activities to do with your kids and recommended books and apps to promote literacy. 

Literacy and pre-literacy skills are widely recognized as a direct link to language acquisition, vocabulary building, and literacy comprehension (Paul, 2007).  Developing print motivation, or positive associations with books and reading, is a crucial skill which begins at home, as early as three-months of age. Reading to children promotes communication and speech sounds, and it introduces many concepts. It builds listening, memory, and vocabulary skills, and gives children information about the world around them (ASHA, 2013).  Reading also creates a stronger foundation for school success. Studies indicate that a child who is not a fluent reader by the fourth grade will likely struggle with reading in adulthood (ASHA, 2013). This fact highlights the significance of promoting pre-literacy and literacy skills at home.

Two essential pre-literacy skills, phonological awareness and phonemic awareness, can be easily applied to activities at home. Phonological awareness is a listening skill which involves identifying and producing rhyming words, and possessing the ability to hear phonemes (sounds) and syllables in words.  Phonemic awareness is a more advanced phonological awareness skill in which one can identify, manipulate and produce individual phonemes in spoken words. This is a print awareness skill in which a child links a printed letter symbol with the sound it makes (Hempenstall, 2011).

ABC Blocks w Apple

Stimulating phonological and phonemic awareness can be done at home through various games and of course, reading! Below are strategies and recommended books/apps to utilize at home.

Rhyme Production – Practice rhymes using familiar nursery rhymes, poems or simple games. Say to your child, “I say cat…you say ______” (hat, bat, mat), or “A man with a ________” (can, fan, pan)”. Sing rhyming songs such as “The Name Game”.

Phonemic Manipulation – Come up with different ways to change words using deletion, addition, or movement of phonemes. For example, “Dog: What does it become if we take away the “d”? (og); What happens if we change the “og” sound with an “uck”? (duck); What if we replace the “d” with an “f”? (fog).”

Phoneme Identification – Have your child determine which phoneme is the initial, medial and final position in a word. Set out three cups, trays or boxes labeled “beginning”, “middle” and “end”. Instruct your child to place coins (or another marker) into the corresponding holder after he determines where the sound is heard in the word. For example: “Where do you hear the /k/ in cat?” (child should drop coin into cup labeled beginning); “Where do you hear the /sh/ in fish?” (child should drop coin into end). Be sure to say the phoneme  to your child and not the alphabetic letter. Or, play “I Spy” with initial sounds, such as “I spy something that begins with /f/”.

Phoneme Blending – Blending of phonemes is an essential pre-literacy skill and can be adapted to any reading level. Have your child elongate or “stretch out” phonemes to blend into words (or syllables of longer words). For example, “fish: ffffff-iiii-shhhh” or “com-pu-ter”.

Phoneme Segmenting – Clap to segment syllables in a word. For example: Have your child say “bas-ket-ball” with a clap for each syllable. Or, reverse this by clapping to segment syllables for your child to blend into words (“What does um – brell – a  make?”).

Narrative Skills – Narrative or storytelling skills are essential in promoting comprehension of material read (Paul, 2007). Examples of narratives for emerging readers include having your child retell a previously read detailed story, telling about what happened during a recent birthday party or family vacation.  Furthermore, encourage your child to tell about things he/she does that has a regular sequence to them. For example, before bedtime, ask him to tell you about what he needs to do (e.g., brush teeth, use the bathroom, take a bath, put on pajamas).

Recommended Books: (K-2) 

A Girraffe and a Half  (Silverstein)

Alison’s Zinnias (Lobel)

All “Dr. Seuss” books (Dr. Seuss)

Buzz Said the Bee (Lewison)

Brown Bear Brown Bear (Martin)

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (Martin)

Dinosaur Chase (Otto)

Llama Llama Series (Dewdney)

Jake Bakes Cake (Hawksley)

Mother Goose Rhymes

If You Give A… Series (Numeroff)

Poems of A. Nonny Mouse (Prelutscky)

Pass the Fritters, Critters (Chapman)

Silly Sally (Wood)

Some Smug Slug (Edwards)

Sheep on a Ship (Shaw)

Down By the Bay (Raffi)

Pre-literacy skill focused on:


Initial Sounds

Rhyme/Initial Sounds/Sequencing



Rhyme/Letter Awareness


Rhyme/Phoneme Identification




Rhyme/Syllable Segmentation



Rhyme/Initial Sounds

Rhyme/Initial Sounds


Recommended Apps for iPad/iPhone:

Word Board (Red Ape Mobile)

Cambugs Letter Sounds (Cambugs)

Endless Alphabet (Callaway Digital Arts)

Word Wall HD (Emantras)

First Words Animals (Learning Touch)

Learn to Read (Hooked on Phonics)

Word Grab Phonetics (Bellamon)

Bob Books – Reading Magic (Learning Touch)

Pre-Literacy Skill Focused on:

Rhyming/Phoneme Manipulation

Initial Phonemes

Rhyming/Vocabulary Building

Initial Phonemes/Blending

Phoneme Identification/Phoneme Blending

Rhyming/Phoneme Identification/Phoneme Blending

Phoneme Identification/Initial Phonemes/Rhyming/Letter Awareness

Phoneme-Letter Identification/Initial Phonemes/Spelling



American Speech-Language and Hearing Association (2013). Activities to Encourage Speech and Language Development. Retrieved from http://www.asha.org/public/speech/development/parent-stim-activities.htm

American Speech-Language and Hearing Association (2013).  Facts on Literacy. Retrieved from: http://www.asha.org/about/news/tipsheets/facts-on-literacy.htm

Hempenstall, K. (2011). Phonemic Awareness: What Does it Mean?. Victoria, Australia: Retrieved from www.educationoasis.com

Paul, R. (2007). Language Disorders from Infancy Through Adolescents: Assessment and Intervention. St. Louis, Missouri: Mosby Elsevier.

Daniella GiammarinoDaniella Giammarino, M.S., CCC-SLP

Daniella Giammarino is a New York State licensed speech-language pathologist who has received her Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC) from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). Daniella also holds a Teacher of Students with Speech and Language Disabilities (TSSLD) license. As a Speech-Language Pathologist, Daniella provides evaluations and treatment children and adolescents throughout New York City with speech, language, social-pragmatic, reading, stuttering and feeding difficulties. Daniella is dedicated to providing quality services through collaboration with other professionals, as well as parents and families in order to facilitate the most success for your child. www.daniellagiammarino.com