Working with pre-readers and children who are learning to read, I try to incorporate as much phonological and other literacy skills into therapy as I can. It’s important. Many of these students are either having troubles learning to read proficiently or are at risk for later reading difficulties.
If you were to look at the treatment materials most SLPs use in therapy, you see that there are an abundance of print on the pictures/activities. For example, the artic cards have the words printed on the card. In addition, many SLPs working with young students have the sound they are working on printed out to help with letter-sound correspondence. As well, you may see a word wall in the class/therapy room. Many SLPs incorporate books into therapy.
These are all important. They help expose children to the printed word. Children learn that words are made of letters. They learn that words start on the left and go right. Students may memorize some of the words they see (like their names). They learn how to orient a book, turn the pages and that words can tell stories/give you information. Here is a fun book that talks about book knowledge.
However, for some materials I intentionally cover up the print or I don’t include words in that activity. These are activities that focus on phonological awareness. Phonological awareness is the ability to manipulate and identify sounds (or groups of sounds) in words and sentences. In essence, these skills form the foundation of sounding out words and trying to spell new words. Importantly, children should be able to do these tasks without the assistance of written text.
English spellings are weird as there are exceptions for the exceptions. For some children who are strong visual learners or rigid thinkers, having the text there can mix them up. The student may know the basic rule for rhyming, for example, but then may depend on the printed text for help to discriminate. For example, if the words rhyme but the end sounds are not written the same, they may not identify them as rhyming pairs. Here is an example of a rhyming activity where the printed words made the activity more difficult for more than one student.
Children who depend on text and not on sounds for their phonological awareness miss many critical elements. Later on, when printed words become more complex, these children often struggle. Children who struggle with decoding words will then struggle with their comprehension of what they have read.