By: Hanneke Rabé
Your ears are probably not the first things that spring to mind when you think reading or spelling, are they? When you read a word, how is it that you know what that word sounds like in your mind and that you know which sounds make up the unique combination to form the word? How do we even learn how to read in the first place? It seems, like so many other communication skills that it starts with YOUR EARS.
Let’s travel back in time, back to Grade 1. Mrs. Jones is standing in the front of the class, chalk in hand, ready to start us on our way to learning how to read and write. She writes the alphabet and we spend hours practicing the sounds: “Aaaaaaaaa… Beeeeee… Ceeeeeeee…”
Then comes the hours of trying to combine those sounds to form meaningful words, words we already technically use like “Sit”, “Sip”, “Cup”, “Cap”. Usually this involves exaggerated pronunciation, clapping, pictures and usually a lot of enthusiasm. Until we are finally able to put these combinations of SOUNDS into WRITTEN WORD.
While we are doing this, Mrs. Jones would also make us “clap out” short words to teach us that the word we see with our eyes are made up of different sounds and parts we hear with our ears: “Play… Ground”, “School… Boy”.
The ability to do all of this hinges on the very important auditory skill called “phonological awareness”. Phonological awareness is the ability to recognize and work with different sounds in spoken language. This skill comes naturally for some, and others sometimes need a little extra help to get a hang of it.
Now you can imagine when you cannot hear sounds normally, that you might have some difficulty reading, writing and spelling given what we know now. In fact research has shown that high school graduates with hearing loss present with an average of fourth-or-fifth grade reading level (Carney and Moeller, 1998). It is not to say that children with hearing loss never develop these skills, but that they have more difficulty acquiring these skills.
On the positive side research indicates children who receive appropriate early intervention (before entering pre-school) through hearing aids and cochlear implants showed significantly better phonological awareness skills than children who received intervention after entering pre-school (James et al, 2008).
Early literacy skills should therefore be a priority for all young children, especially children with hearing loss. This is non-negotiable; we need to play it by the book!
Here are some helpful activities to stimulate phonological awareness, listening skills and auditory processing:
- Play “I spy with my little eye”.
- Read great rhyming books with loads of pictures e.g. Dr Seuss’ “The Cat in the hat” or “Green eggs and ham”.
- Listen to and sing along to songs.
- Play musical chairs.
- Play “odd one out”.
- “Play “Marco Polo”.
Easterbrooks, S. R., Lederberg, A. R., Miller, M. E., Bergeron, J. P., & McDonald Connor, C. (2008). Emergent Literacy Skills During Early Childhood Development In Children With Hearing Loss: Strengths And Weaknesses. The Volta Review, 108(2), 91-114.