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Te raweke kupu, te aroā weteoro

Word play and phonological awareness

Interacting with a sense of playfulness is one very effective way kaiako encourage language and communication learning. It is particularly valuable for developing phonological awareness (recognising and working with the sounds of spoken language), a leading predictor for reading and writing success.

Pēpi and tamariki enjoy humour, funny voices, and nonsense words and rhymes. When you are playful with gesture and speech sounds, tamariki are more likely to experiment and see language as something that can delight others.

A tamariki doing actions to a rhyme with kaiako behind them. 

Being playful with language and sound is less about materials and more about the sense of fun and engagement kaiako bring to their everyday interaction.

  • Immerse pēpi and tamariki in rhyme and rhythm through waiata, stories, poems, nursery rhymes, and made up ditties. For example, bouncing pēpi on the knee in time to a rhythm of made up words and sounds.
  • Change sounds at the beginning of words or make up silly phrases and sentences. For example, “Racey Tracey”, “ Andrew Wandrew”, “Tokaia takes time to tentatively tiptoe to the table”.
  • Be playful with voice – alter expression, pace, and tone when you read. Introduce ideas like “How do you say that in a bouncy ball voice?”
  • Play guess the sound games with found objects that can be manipulated for different sound effects. For example, tearing paper, banging blocks, or using musical instruments.
  • For older tamariki, encourage them to make sound-letter associations. For example, “Those large capital letters are telling me I have to read that word very loudly.” “Who can see something on this page that rhymes with the word mai?" For example, kai. “What else can you see in the room that begins with a k sound?" For example, kākahu, karaka, or kōtiro.

Story of practice: Playing with te reo Māori

Tamariki laughing at what is being said.

Reading the Communication/Mana reo section of Te Whāriki, kaiako noted emphasis on creativity and enjoyment in language learning. Being playful with their language became something they do daily to engage pēpi and tamariki and learn te reo Māori. They use lots of pūrākau, rotarota (poems, ditties), and raps to encourage gestures and talk. With the older tamariki, kaiako will talk about some of the language features in rotarota or raps and how these make us feel.

For example:

Taka, taka, takahi! Para, para, paratī!

Stomp, stomp, stomp! Splash, splash, splash!

Kaiako also make up fun phrases to describe everyday events. Kaiako make a point of repeating these often. This way tamariki are introduced to and get to practice different language features in te reo Māori.

Kei te pai, māhunga wai.

Tīkina te kina, e Te Kina, tīkina.

It's all good, forgetful.

Get the kina. Te Kina, get the kina!

Kaiako notice that their emphasis on playfulness has encouraged tamariki to be more creative and confident in the use of te reo Māori.

Dr Jane Carroll shares her thoughts on word play and phonological awareness

  • Transcript

    Transcript Transcript

    Dr Jane Carroll: Phonological awareness is the conscious awareness of sounds in a language. So it’s the ability to be able to reflect on the sounds and words, to manipulate parts of words.

    So in early childhood, we're looking at things like rhyme and playing with language. It's not always getting the children to do rhyming, but actually making them aware even when words rhyme. So you might just make the comment, “Oh, sky and fly. They rhyme. They sound the same at the end.” Or if you're talking about sounds within words saying, “Oh fly starts with a ‘ffff’ sound. Sky starts with a ‘sss’ sound. They’re different sounds.” So that you're actually tuning children into the different variations of sounds within our language. And that can be across languages. It doesn't need to just be in English, it can be in all alphabetic or alphabetic based languages. It's across languages. What you do in one language transfers to another language.

    So some of the games that you can be playing are things like, making up fun rhyming words after you've read a rhyming story. Playing I spy with the sounds. “I spy something that begins with the ‘kk’ sound.” So that it doesn't rely on children knowing letters. It relies on them listening for sounds. It’s really important that we say our sounds correctly. So that when we are playing these games with children that they're hearing just a sound, not several sounds together. So if it's things like the sound for the letter ‘c’ it could be a ‘kk’ or ‘sss’ sound not a ‘ca’ or a ‘sa’ with that extra vowel sound on the end. So keeping the sounds very pure.