Phonemic Awareness vs Phonics In Kindergarten

Confused about the difference between phonemic awareness vs phonics? You’re not alone! Teaching a child to read is a big deal and a complicated endeavor! Along with the enormity of the task itself, the terminology that describes different steps in the reading process can be confusing. From phonemic awareness to fluency, there are many facets of reading that can require some clarification. Keep reading to learn more!

For example, phonemic awareness and phonics are two very similar terms – it’s no accident that both begin with ‘phon’. Regardless of their visual similarity, there are major differences between these aspects of reading. Though both are critical pre-reading skills, one requires only hearing, not seeing.

Keep reading to learn more about Phonemic Awareness vs Phonics!

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Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness refers only to sounds in spoken words. Phonemic awareness precedes phonics, with children first being able to identify sounds they hear and then gradually being able to connect sounds with their corresponding letters.

In phonemic awareness, children are taught to understand that words are made up of individual sounds (phonemes). Because phonemic awareness activities don’t involve the written alphabet, they can be done before the child knows his or her letters. 

Incidentally, the alphabet may contain only twenty-six letters, but there are a total of forty-four phonemes in the English language. That fact alone can make both teaching to read and learning to read somewhat overwhelming.

Here is an example of a phonemic awareness activity:

The word cat has three phonemes, or sounds: /k/ /a/ /t/

Typically a child will be able to identify the first sound, then the last sound, and finally the medial sound(s). Medial, or middle, sounds, are more difficult for young children to discern than initial and final. 

The number of phonemes in a word isn’t necessarily equal to the number of letters – let’s use boat as an example. Even though boat has four letters, it only has three phonemes: /b/ /oa/ /t/. Blends (both consonant and vowel) can greatly impact phonemes, as shown in the commonly-seen digraphs below:

Because there is a correlation between the ability to hear and manipulate phonemes and the acquisition of beginning reading skills, it is valuable to spend time working with pre-readers on phonemic awareness activities.


Phonics is certainly similar to phonemic awareness, in that both terms involve sounds. Phonics is the relationship between letters (graphemes) and sounds (phonemes). The alphabet is at the center of any phonics program, and the goal is for the student to know the letters of the alphabet that correspond with certain sounds.

Because there are only twenty-six letters and forty-four phonemes, sounds can be represented by multiple letters. Look at the long ‘o’ example: hello, dough, row, and doe all have a long ‘o’ sound, and the sound is made by different letter combinations in each word.

Like phonemic awareness, there is a correlation between knowledge of phonics and the acquisition of reading skills. Direct, systematic, structured instruction of both phonemic awareness and phonics has an important place in the early childhood classroom.

Keep reading about Phonemic Awareness in Kindergarten here!

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