This is a very, very important piece of our program. At this age, children need to HEAR the sounds that are blended to form words, and understand that the sounds can be broken into smaller units, blended, and segmented. Phonemic awareness is not phonics (linking the visual symbols to the sounds).
Why is it so important?
Educators are always looking for valid and reliable predictors of educational achievement. One reason why educators are so interested in phonemic awareness is that research indicates that it is the best predictor of the ease of early reading acquisition, better even than IQ, vocabulary, and listening comprehension.
You might be interested to read excerpts from a speech given by Grover Whitehurst, then Assistant Secretary of Education for Research and Improvement at the U.S. Dept. of Education. In this speech given at the White House Summit on Early Childhood Cognitive Development, he explains why learning to read is so difficult. He concludes the explanation with the following:
“To sum up. learning to read is hard for at least 4 reasons: arbitrary code, irregular code, demands on phonological memory,and instructional confusion. For these reasons, many children don’t learn to read well, with dire consequences. Is there anything we can do to help?
The answer, of course, is yes. The roots of reading difficulties lie in the preschool period, and that is where prevention must begin.”