MckayReaders are made in the laps of their parents. Bedtime stories have more benefits than just an appreciation of books and quality snuggle time. When children see books being read, they gain a host of essential pre-reading skills. One skill we wanted to develop through reading What the Sleepy Animals Do at the Audubon Zoo is phonemic awareness.

Phonemic awareness is the understanding that words are comprised of different combinations of a discrete set of sounds. Every word is not a unique sound in itself. Rather, words are comprised of patterns of recurring sounds. We call these sounds phonemes.

Phonemes roughly correspond to letters. The correlation is not one-to-one since some letters can represent more than one phoneme (as in the case of C which can be the “k” sound or the “s” sound), and sometimes one phoneme is expressed with two letters (as in the case of th).

Phonemic awareness can be strengthened through exposure to rhyme, alliteration, consonance, and assonance. Hearing how zoo and do have the same ending sound helps a child realize that words are made of combinations of sounds. Likewise, hearing alliterations like sun slowly sank shows that the /s/ can be combined with different sounds to make different words.

Books with lots of rhyme and alliteration like What the Sleepy Animals Do at the Audubon Zoo give an extra boost to pre-reading skills. Books by Dr. Seuss, P.D. Eastman,and Shel Silverstein are also good resources for rhyme.

You can practice phonemic awareness at home by giving children a word and asking them to come up with a rhyme or another word that starts with the same sound. You can also ask questions like “What word is cat without the c sound?”

Besides phonemic awareness, there are other pre-reading skills that children gain from hearing books read. Children gain print awareness when they realize that you are reading the words on the page rather than making up stories from the pictures. They learn that books must be read right-side-up, and that print goes across the page from left to right. They may realize that words are separated by spaces in text, and they may even notice that words that take longer to say also look longer written down.

All of these skills are important prerequisites for reading. So next time you and your little one cuddle up with your favorite book, remember that they are learning much more than just how to deal with sassy pigeons. Not that that’s not a useful skill.