Often, when parents think of their child learning to read, they think of "sounding out" words from a beginner's book, and copying letters onto large-lined paper. Sometimes, parents may even recall the days of "Hooked on Phonics," which also aided early readers in literacy skills. Before all of this begins in grade school, however, a child must first build a pre-literacy foundation, which includes phonemic awareness (Pinnell and Fountas, 2011).
Phonemes are, quite simply, sound components of a word. There are 44 phonemic sounds in the English language, including -sh-, -th-, and more than one variation of -ch- (Semingson, 2011). Phonemes do not always have a one to one letter ratio. When a child verbally works through the sounds of a word or letter(s) they've heard (rather than seen), they are segmenting phonemes. For example, cat would be segmented verbally as -c- -ah- -tuh-. A child able to phonemically recognize the segments of a word could then manipulate the sounds by blending them together to make a full word (cat), or could even replace a phoneme with a different one to make a new word (bat). This is the essence of phonemic awareness (Julie, 2012). Phonemic awareness is different from phonics because it is purely verbal, and phonics has a written component. It is often said that, "Phonemic awareness can be taught in the dark and phonics cannot (Pinnell and Fountas, 2011)."