Phonemic Awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate the individual sounds which make up words. In the past few decades, large amounts of research have improved our understanding of phonemic awareness and its importance in helping children learn to read. There are hundreds of research studies conducted on all aspects of phonemic awareness, and how it affects and benefits reading and spelling abilities of young children. The National Reading Panel of the US have stated that phonemic awareness improves children's reading and reading comprehension, and that it also helps children to learn to spell. Based on the research and reviews done by the National Reading Panel, they have concluded that teaching phonics and phonemic awareness produces better reading results than whole language programs.
When teaching phonemic awareness, children are taught the smallest units of sound, or phonemes. During the teaching process, children are taught to focus on the phonemes, and learn to manipulate the phonemes in words. Studies have identified phonemic awareness and letter knowledge as the two best school-entry predictors of how well children will learn to read during the first 2 years of instruction. In a review of phonemic awareness research, the National Reading Panel (NRP) identified 1,962 citations, and the results of their meta-analysis were impressive as stated in the NRP publication:
Overall, the findings showed that teaching children to manipulate phonemes in words was highly effective under a variety of teaching conditions with a variety of learners across a range of grade and age levels and that teaching phonemic awareness to children significantly improves their reading more than instruction that lacks any attention to phonemic awareness (PA).
Specifically, the results of the experimental studies led the Panel to conclude that PA training was the cause of improvement in students’ phonemic awareness, reading, and spelling following training. The findings were replicated repeatedly across multiple experiments and thus provide converging evidence for causal claims. 
As can be clearly seen, teaching children phonemic awareness early on significantly improves their reading and spelling abilities. Furthermore, the NRP research stated that these beneficial effects of phonemic awareness teaching goes well beyond the end of training period. The NRP phonemic awareness research also found that the most effective teaching method was to systematically teach children to manipulate phonemes with letters, and teaching children in small groups.
Phonemic awareness (PA) teaching provides children with an essential foundation of the alphabet system, and a foundation in reading and spelling. The NRP has stated that PA instructions is a necessary instructional component within a complete reading program.
Below are two other studies done on phonemic awareness, and its effects on reading abilities. In a study involving children aged 6 to 7 years old, researchers found that the few readers at the beginning of grade one exhibited high phonemic awareness scored at least close to perfect in the vowel substitution task, compared to none in children of the same age group who could not read when they entered school. The research also stated that phonemic awareness differences before instruction predicted the accuracy of alphabetic reading and spelling at the end of grade one independent from IQ. Children with high phonemic awareness at the start of grade one had high reading and spelling achievements at the end of grade one; however, some of the children with low phonemic awareness had difficulties learning to read and spell. The study suggested that phonemic awareness is the critical variable for the progress in learning to read. 
Another study looked at phonemic awareness and emergent literacy skills of 42 children with an average age of 5 years and 7 months. The researchers indicated that relations between phonemic awareness and spelling skills are bidirectional where phonemic awareness improved spelling skills, and spelling influenced the growth in phonemic skills. 
It is clear that with the conclusions made by the National Reading Panel and other research studies on the benefits of phonemic awareness, children should be taught PA at a young age before entering school. This helps them build a strong foundation for learning to read and spell.
>> Help your child develop phonemic awareness and teach your child to read today
Most parents, at one point or another, frets over the education and the development of their children. Many concerned parents research and seek information on the topic of teaching children to read and write. I for one, am glad to see so many parents wanting to get an early start for their children in reading and writing, because studies have shown that developing these abilities early on before entering school provides numerous benefits and advantages later on as the child progresses through school.
More worrisome should be the fact that over one third, 38% to be exact, of all grade 4 students cannot even achieve a basic level of reading ability according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). This is an alarming statistic. Will your child become one of the 38% who cannot reach basic reading achievement by grade 4? For most children, this poor ability to read can be easily prevented with early phonemic awareness teaching.
Reading must begin early in the life of a child, whether it is just an alphabet letter, a word, a sentence, a paragraph, or a story. Teaching children how to read must begin early on, and children should be exposed to books, stories, rhymes, and be read to on a daily basis. Children as young as 2 years old can learn to read if you teach them to read with the proper instructions. Please watch the video below of a 2 year 11 months old reading randomly constructed sentences.
As Lida Williams said, almost 100 years ago:
Phonics is not a method of teaching reading, but it is a necessary part of every good, modern method. It is the key to word mastery, and word mastery is one of the first essentials in learning to read. A knowledge of the sounds of letters, and of the effect of the position of the letter upon its sound, is an essential means of mastering the mechanics of reading, and of enabling children to become independent readers.
100 years later, this still holds true. There has been a great debate on what method of teaching is best to teach children how to read: whether phonics or the whole language method is better. The whole language learning to read method is more of a "word memorization" plan, where a young child is supposed to memorize the "shape" of the word, and say it.
It is important to distinguish the difference between phonological awareness and phonemic awareness. Phonological awareness is very broad, and includes phonemic awareness as a sub category. Phonemic awareness is very narrow, and it is only focused on the phonemes, which are the individual sounds of letters. There are no shortage of studies which have repeatedly found and concluded that teaching phonemic awareness to young children produces exceptional reading and spelling abilities. You can read more about phonemic awareness here.
The whole language method simply expects a child to "read" when presented reading material, and by memorizing sight words. The phonics method is a bottom up approach where you teach children to read in a logical and sequential order. You first teach children the alphabet letters and the sounds they represent; then you teach children to combine (or blend) various letter sounds together to form words; which is then followed by reading sentences and simple stories. This is a logical progression for children learning to read, where they develop accuracy in decoding words and pronouncing words. This method of teaching also helps the child to spell correctly.
There's no doubt that phonics and phonemic awareness instruction is the superior method to teach children how to read. We have successfully used phonemic awareness instructions to teach our children at age 2 to read words, sentences, paragraphs, and simple story books. If you would like to learn about our simple, step-by-step method to teach your children to read and write, please click below:
Teach your child to read today using our step-by-step, proven method for teaching young children to read