By Chelsea Hull & Brittany (De Avilan) Marker
Do you have a child starting school next year? If so, you may be wondering, “How can I prepare my deaf or hard of hearing child for Kindergarten?” Chelsea is a deaf and hard of hearing educational therapist and Brittany is a literacy specialist. Together, we fused our knowledge to help parents teach their deaf and hard of hearing child how to read. Here are our top tips for getting your deaf or hard of hearing child ready for Kindergarten. Letter sounds- Kids learn to say letter sounds first. There’s more to this than you might think. Kids need to hold continuous sounds like /m/ for a long time: mmmmmmm. Continuous sounds can be held without any sound distortion. They help kids initially break the code, since they make it easier to blend words. In addition, kids need to clip stop sounds like /t/. Stop sounds cannot be held. If you try to hold /t/, you automatically and incorrectly add an “uh.” Prevent kids from saying tuh for /t/, duh for /d/ and so on. Kids need to clip stop sounds so they can decode words like top, dog, and tap.
Voiced/voiceless sounds- Children with hearing loss often struggle with voiced/voiceless sounds such as /t/ and /d/. Support your child’s listening skills by encouraging them to feel the vibration of their throat. Then you can emphasize the difference between these sounds. For example, you can say, “Place your four fingers on your throat and say /d/. Notice the vibration. Now say /t/. Notice how your throat is still. Although your tongue is making the exact same movement in your mouth, /d/ is voiced and /t/ is not.”
Consonant digraphs- Teach consonant digraphs after letter sounds. These are 2 or more consonants that make one sound. For example, your student should learn sh, th, ch, tch, ck, wh, ang, ing, and ng. Again, make sure your student holds continuous sounds and clips stop sounds. Sh as in ship, th as in thin and th as in then can be held for a long time. All other consonant digraph sounds cannot. Notice the /th/has a voiced and voiceless pair. Again, try using the tactile cue of holding your hand to your throat as to feel the sounds. You may also want to add a visual cue for the consonant digraphs, since they can present a challenge for a child with hearing loss. You can access some “Visual Phonics” YouTube videos online. These visual cues help deaf and hard of hearing students understand how the sound is made in the mouth.
Phonemic awareness- Your student should also learn how to segment, blend and manipulate sounds. For example, he might practice saying the sounds in “top” in order: t-ooooo-p. Notice how he even holds continuous sounds and clips stops sounds in these activities? He might also do this activity in reverse. For example, the teacher might say, “Guess what I’m saying: mmmmm-aaaaa-p.” Your student should blend the sounds and say “map!” All these activities will help your student read short vowel books. Learning to segment sounds helps children with hearing loss discriminate sounds. These techniques can be used with or without sign language.
The radius of hearing- Although a hearing aid may pick up sounds within a 12 ft radius, children with hearing aids often hear best if the speech signal is within a 3 ft radius. So, think about keeping your child at an arm’s length or “hugs length” away from you to optimize their hearing. This will help ensure your child has full access to everything you say. When a child with hearing loss has full access to all of the speech sounds, they can reach their fullest potential in reading.
Children with hearing loss may be able to access all the speech sounds through hearing aids or cochlear implants. They may also benefit from an FM system. These techniques may be very useful for children with hearing loss who are entering a mainstream or special education kindergarten class. By frontloading literacy techniques such as these, a child with hearing loss may enter Kindergarten with more confidence and thus have more success in reading!