Phonological Awareness

How phonological awareness is the critical link to school readiness and strong pre-literacy skills

What is phonological awareness?

Phonological Awareness is an essential component of school readiness. Most importantly, it describes a child’s ability to recognise, identify and change the sounds in spoken words. These abilities are particularly important for the development of reading, writing and spelling[1][3]. What’s more, there are three distinct levels of skill[2].
  1. Syllable-level awareness Meaning the ability to identify the smaller sounds within words e.g. caterpillar is cat-er-pil-lar
  1. Onset-rime awareness This means the ability to identify the first sound in a word and separate it from the other sounds in the word e.g. the first sound in the word ‘cat’ is ‘c’
  1. Phonemic awareness This includes the ability to identify the small sounds in a word. As well as the ability to blend, segment and manipulate the sounds in words.
Naturally, the development of these skills requires specific teaching and practice. They are typically included within most pre-school programs in New South Wales.
“Good phonological awareness skills are the foundational skills to support literacy development.”

What causes phonological awareness difficulties?

The development of phonological awareness skills occurs in the years prior to and during formal literacy instruction[4]. Generally speaking, children are exposed to books and writing from a very young age. Formal teaching often begins during the childcare years around the age of 3 years old in the form of learning rhymes and word games.

It is recognised that children with language disorders or speech disorders are more likely to have associated phonological awareness difficulties and are at risk of future literacy difficulties when compared to other children their age[5][6][7].

What do phonological awareness skills look like?

All children acquire skills at a slightly different rate. Although we don’t realise it, children are learning early pre-literacy skills from very early in life. Children learn language and pre-literacy skills simultaneously. However children with phonological awareness difficulties will usually start falling behind on these developmental milestones. 

Age 3

  • They are aware of rhyming words;
  • Recognising when two words sound the same
  • Can play word games with rhyming words.

Age 4

  • They are aware of syllables in words (e.g. clapping out the beats in a word)         
  • Can recognise that words are made of different sounds (e.g. m-a-t).
  • May clap and stomp out the beats in words, adding or changing first sounds in a word to make different words.

Age 5

  • Have phoneme identification skills.
  • Can identify and say all of the different sounds in a three letter word. For example, ‘cat’ is made up of the sounds c-a-t.
“PA involves a child’s ability to recognise, identify and manipulate the sounds in spoken words”

When should you seek help through speech pathology?

Firstly, we know all children develop at slightly different rates. As a result, it can be difficult to decide when it is time to seek help. Current research recognises the significant risk to literacy development caused by speech sound disorders and language disorder[8].

The first thing to remember is that researchers have identified that phonological awareness therapy is more effective (i.e – makes more change) when taught before school entry, or during Kindergarten, rather than in the later primary years[9]. This means early identification is essential.

Given that, if you are concerned, seek help early.

We begin assessment on phonological awareness and from the age of four years old. Although it is never too early to start working on these important pre-literacy skills.

How Speech Pathology can help?


Find the breakdown

We begin to assess phonological awareness skills from the age of 4 years old. Whether your child has a history of speech sounds errors. Or if there is a family history of difficulty learning to read or write. Early identification is vital to a child’s learning to read and write successfully[10].
Often parents feel unsure when identifying phonological awareness concerns. We offer 3 pathways to identify if there are concerns for children:
  • FREE Initial Consultation: This is a free service that gives you time to talk about your concerns with a Speech Pathologist. There’s a form at the bottom of this page where you can book an appointment. This can be by phone, video link or in person at one of our clinic locations.
  • CHILDCARE SCREENERS: We run screeners regularly throughout the year, in conjunction with local childcare centres. A screener provides a pass or assess result for your child. While reviewing their speech, language and phonological awareness skills.
  • ASSESSMENT: Uses standardised diagnostic tools to allows us to identify the strengths and areas for development in phonological awareness. Then allows us to develop an individualised therapy plan for your child.


Speech Therapy is most effective when it is fueled by fun, games and play. From experience, we know that play is the essence of how children learn. Likewise, therapy is most effective when embedded within play. For the most part, we aim to ensure that our clients experience little distinction between playing therapy. They don’t know how hard they are working because they are having fun.
Effective therapy is also goal focussed and evidence-based. For this reason, at Talkshop we use the individualised Therapy Management Plan. To point out our goals throughout the course of therapy sessions. Clearly communicated goals allow us to work together with families towards their child’s goals. Therefore ensuring each session builds on the progress of the last and a clear and consistent approach.
Research has shown children achieve the best results when families and caregivers are included in the therapy journey. Our speech pathologists especially enjoy supporting whole families in the therapy journey. We regularly train parents as well as grandparents, Aunts and Uncles and babysitters. At the same time working closely with local childcare and preschools to support children to do their best in every aspect of their lives.
Finally, if you have any questions or concerns use the form below to book a free initial consultation with one of our clinicians. At this point, we can help guide you through any concerns you may have.  Especially in the important months preparing for your child to start school.
“Phonological awareness therapy is more effective before starting school”

Our FREE Discovery Session is ideal for anyone with any questions relating to speech, stuttering, language, literacy, social skills, swallowing, and voice.

This is an opportunity for us to give some information on how to monitor your concern and give you advice on how to start self-managing any issues immediately.

Discovery Sessions can help you understand if an assessment or therapy is needed, how Speech Therapy would work, and if appropriate, help you book in.


“Auditory Processing and Early Literacy Skills in a … – SAGE Journals.” Accessed 11 Jan. 2019.

“Identifying phonological awareness difficulties in preschool children ….” 3 Jan. 2014, Accessed 15 Jan. 2019.

3 “(PDF) Phonological Awareness Intervention: Beyond the Basics.” 1 Aug. 2018, Accessed 11 Jan. 2019.

4 “(PDF) The Development of Phonological Awareness in Preschool ….” 1 Aug. 2018, Accessed 11 Jan. 2019

5 “Identifying phonological awareness difficulties in preschool children ….” Accessed 11 Jan. 2019.

6 “Identifying phonological awareness difficulties in preschool children ….” Accessed 15 Jan. 2019.

7 “Masso, S. – ORCID.” Accessed 15 Jan. 2019.

8 “Literacy Outcomes of Children With Early Childhood Speech Sound ….” 19 Sep. 2011, Accessed 11 Jan. 2019.

9 “(PDF) Phonological Awareness Intervention: Beyond the Basics.” 1 Aug. 2018, Accessed 11 Jan. 2019.

10“Dynamic assessment of phonological awareness for children with ….” 30 Oct. 2012, Accessed 15 Jan. 2019.

Additional Information: Contribution of Phonological Awareness to Reading Fluency and Its Individual Sub-skills in Readers Aged 9- to 12-years

Victorian Government: Literacy Teaching Toolkit – Phonological awareness

Why is Phonological Awareness So Important?