Inside: 7 fun activities for preschoolers to learn counting syllables and why this is an important part of learning to read.
Unless you also happen to be an Early Years’ Teacher, you will almost definitely reach a point as a parent where you feel unsure where to start with teaching reading at home. You may know that building a strong literacy foundation begins with exposure to books and language from as early as the baby stage, but now you have a preschooler who loves ‘reading’ their favourite books and is beginning to recognise the alphabet and develop their understanding of letter-sound relationships… So what’s next?
Read on to understand that just like learning beginning letter sounds, recognising and counting syllables in words is a great foundational skill for reading that your preschooler can learn without yet being ready to blend letters or recognise written words.
Previously in this blog series: Hands On Phonics Activities for Preschoolers
What are syllables?
All words can be separated into syllables. Syllables are the natural parts a word is broken into when spoken or read. At their simplest, a syllable is a consonant (or group of consonants) followed by a vowel in the word. Sometimes, a syllable is also ended by another consonant (or group of consonants).
The word ‘do’ has one syllable and ‘dog’ also has one syllable.
The word ‘reading’ has two syllables, and ‘potato’ has three.
Why teach counting syllables and when to introduce them?
Counting syllables is a pre-reading skill that we can teach orally (without using written letters).
One of the reasons why we can and should introduce syllables before our preschoolers are ready to actually read words, is because it is easier to hear the syllables in words, rather than learn them through reading later. You will probably find that your 3-5 year old finds this quite simple to understand because finding the beats in spoken language is something that most children naturally tune in to as they learn to speak.
Why learn counting syllables before blending letters?
Learning to orally segment words into syllables before introducing other decoding skills like blending can actually speed up the process of learning to read. This is because when children understand that words can be broken down into parts, it helps to give them a system for processing words when they do come to reading, helps blending to make sense, and therefore allows them to skip some of the potential overwhelm of feeling like reading is hard and confusing.
Activities to learn counting syllables for preschoolers
Here are 7 fun activities for introducing, recognising and counting syllables (ordered by difficulty).
How to use these activities:
- Firstly, explain that a syllable is a part of a word that we can hear and every word has at least one
- You might say you are going to play a counting game or a listening game
- For each activity the goal is to listen, count and record the number of syllables you hear
- Use these activities as literacy games over a period of days or weeks during home learning time and watch their phonological awareness develop
- Return to these activities when your child begins reading to remind them of this simple phonological skill that can help with blending and sounding out words
1. Two syllable segmenting (from Reading Universe on YouTube)
Try this easy visual representation for segmenting two syllable words by using your hands to grab each syllable sound and then join them together to make the word.
2. Counting syllables mystery bag
Using objects like play kitchen food, animal figures or other things from around the house, invite your child to choose one, tell you what it is and and tap it on the floor as they count its syllables.
e.g. 'di-no-saur' Tap, Tap, Tap...
Tip: Begin with 1 to 3 syllable words only and work together to say each word
3. Counting syllables with blocks
Give your child a word and invite them to stack the number of syllables they hear using blocks for representation. Use this as a progression from tapping with the same bag of objects or simply choose words as you go.
4. Clapping or drumming syllable counting songs
Grab a kitchen utensil and drum, or clap as you sing out the days of the week or the names of everyone in your family in these simple songs. Sing slowly enough to drum the syllables in every one’s names/ the days of the week.
- Days of the Week song (The Singing Walrus on YouTube)
- Names of my family song
Tell me what their name is, I would like to know…
Her name is… An-na
His name is… Si-mon
My name is… Be-tha-ny
hello hello, hello hello, hello hello hello (wave)
5. Dot the syllables printable
Download and print this syllable counting worksheet. Grab a dot paint marker or pen and work together to name the item, count its syllables (by clapping or tapping) and colouring the correct number for each word.
6. Match the number game
This is a great activity for children who love to move. If your child is more confident with their syllable counting, offer them a page of sticky notes each numbered 1, 2, 3, or 4 to take around the house and post on items as they say and count the number of syllables in words (the kitchen is a great place to play this game).
Here are some 1 to 4 syllable items to look out for:
- bed, mop, fork, spoon
- bookshelf, table, toaster, kettle
- dishwasher, fireplace, computer
- television, coffee maker
7. Family names syllable sorting
As a follow on to singing the names of your family members above, why not try sorting their names into a table using sticky notes as you count the number of syllables in each name.
- Draw a simple 2x4 table on a large piece of paper and invite your child to sort the sticky notes.
Tip: Familiar names are some of the first words children learn to recognise so they may be able to tell you some without help. If not, read each note to them as they pick it up.
Questions about reading development for preschoolers
Research shows that children who have developed a strong foundation for literacy and phonological awareness show much better outcomes for developing reading skills through primary school. Contrary to some belief, it’s not necessary to teach your children sight words from an early age, however skills like recognising the beginning sounds that letters of the alphabet make, counting syllables, identifying rhyming words and beginning to break words into individual sounds are all important phonological skills appropriate for preschoolers that contribute to their reading development. Check out this list of phonics activities for preschoolers.
Interest in reading begins with exposure to books and reading as a young child. Toddlers often show emerging literacy skills by pretending to read to themselves and recalling stories that they know. By age three, most children begin developing letter recognition and letter formation and if this is coupled with simple phonics instruction and developing phonological awareness (counting syllables, noticing rhyming words etc.) they will be more than reading to being blending words and reading simple stories by school age.
- read to your child
- spend time pointing to pictures and talking about them when reading
- sing songs with simple rhythms and rhymes to help develop phonological skills
- introduce the sounds that letters make as you introduce the alphabet
- spend time noticing words and letters on signs and in shops when out and about
- practice counting syllables
- cultivate a love of reading and telling stories as part of your home routines
Teaching reading at home doesn’t have to be time consuming or confusing for you or your child. Follow these steps for a natural progression from teaching the alphabet -> beginning sound phonics -> counting syllables to give your child a strong foundation for reading when they begin school.
Next in this Ready to Read series: Support your child as they learn to blend and read simple CVC words!