Blending sounds, as you may remember from past blog posts, is a phonological skill and an important building block toward reading fluency and eventually reading comprehension.  I can't give you a time frame when your child will be ready to begin blending or when blending should be mastered because every child is different, especially when it comes to reading (my neighbor was reading the newspaper at age 4.  It took me until kindergarten to learn to read simple words).  However, I know that it can help kids of all different ages.  I've started blending with kids as young as 3 1/2 and I've used it with struggling readers as old as 3rd grade (however, it may be beneficial even past 3rd grade if this skill has not yet been mastered).  In this blog post I'll explain what blending is, when your child is ready, why it is important, an activity to do with your kids, and a link with more information.

What is blending and when is my child ready?  Blending is the ability to sound out individual sounds and put them together into a word.  You may be more familiar with the term "sounding it out".  For instance:  /k/  /a/  /t/ becomes "cat".  It may look something like this:
     kat = cat!
When your child is able to demonstrate that he/she knows the sounds (phonemes) that each letter (grapheme) represents, then your child is ready for blending.  Make sure to start off slow - with words that are three letters long first!  You don't want to overwhelm a child.
Why is blending so important?  In order to become a proficient reader, a child must learn to blend sounds smoothly and easily into words.  I will refer you to the "reading tree philosophy" that I have created.  As you can see, phonemic and phonologic awareness skills are the base of the tree and the basis for reading fluency, which eventually leads to reading comprehension.  All of the phonologic awareness skills are important to understanding how phonemes build syllables, clusters, and words.  Blending, specifically, is important because if you are unable to sound out words quickly, fluently, and efficiently, then it will be hard to achieve reading fluency or comprehension.  It is difficult to get through a sentence, much less a paragraph or book if your reading is choppy.  For instance:  "tuh huh eee, the, kuh a ttt, kuha tt, cat, is, rrrrr eeeeee ddddduh, rrrr eee dduh, reduh, red" = the cat is red.  

What can I do with my kids at home to help with blending?  You will need:  magnetic letters and a cookie sheet.  I'd suggest to start with a "word family".  Word families are groups of words that all rhyme (sound the same at the end) and end in the same letters.  Let's do the "at" family:  bat, cat, fat, hat, mat, pat, rat, sat.  Collect the necessary magnetic letters.  Place "a" and "t" on a cookie sheet with space between them.  Have your child say the letters in isolation: /a/ and /t/.  Then, move the letters close together and have your child smooth the letters: "at".  Now, place one of the consonants that will create an "at" word on the cookie sheet.  We'll start with "b".  Place the "b", "a", and "t" on the cookie sheet with space between each letter.  Have your child say each sound separately and then start to smooth (or blend) the sounds together.  Get the letters a little closer each time he/she attempts to blend until he comes up with bat!  It is easy for us, but this is a stretch for little minds.  You must be very patient and try hard not to blend it for him/her.  You want that little "light bulb" to go off.  Once he/she says the word, then have him/her find the picture of the word that was read (see sheet to download on the website).  Repeat with each of the "at" words.  

Where can I find out more information?  I found a very informative article on the web.  It is connected to a website of a reading program.  I have not researched the reading program and so I can not say one way or another whether it works.  I am not endorsing the program in this blog post.  However, the article of information on blending is great!  Follow this link to the Right Track Reading article on blending.

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