Phonological Awareness: Auditory Discrimination

Character and personality abound!  Your 3- 5 year old may be quietly observing the world around, or demonstrating determination and persistence.   Remember to provide numerous, and varied learning opportunities because children do not all learn at the same time, or in the same way.  Each child is different, and children develop at varying rates.  Some children will quickly grasp, and enjoy an activity, while others need repeated learning opportunities. Some children are bold and daring, while others are shy and cautious.

We seem to naturally draw our child’s attention to environmental sounds as we identify them.  This is called auditory discrimination.

  • “That’s the toaster.”
  • “The doorbell is ringing.”
  • “Do you hear mommy’s footsteps?”

Take opportunities, as they arise, to determine the difference between sounds… e.g. whether a paper is being torn, or cut by a pair of scissors; whether you are snapping your fingers, or clapping your hands.

Early activities and games, where the child learns to identify, and recall sounds, include things like  making and identifying the sounds of specific animals.

  • “Do you hear the dog barking?”
  •  The cat says, “Meow.” 
  • “What does a lion say?”dsc_0319

You can begin to fine tune auditory discrimination by putting varying items in small plastic juice bottles that have twist tops.


  • Wash the containers.
  • Collect items to place in the container. Suggestions: rice, coins, sand, dried beans, pull tabs, pebbles
  • Fill two containers to the same level (e.g. ½ full. ¼ full), with the same item.
  • Hot glue the lids onto the containers.
  • Use a colored marker to place matching dots on the bottom of the two containers that  make the same sound.


  • Shake the container to hear different sounds.
  • Shake your container as you sing a familiar song. Try to use the beats of the music.
  • Demonstrate shaking patterns. Ask your child to copy the pattern.
  • e.g. | ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ | ♪ ♪ ♫  ♪ |    ♫ ♫  ♫  ♪ |  Use the rhythm of familiar songs.
  • In a classroom, create three groups of children. Hand out similar containers to each group (e.g. containers filled with sand, beans, coins).   Create a soundscape as you suggest a rhythm for each group, and direct the children on when to play.  They are following both oral, and visual directions!
  • Wrap a piece of paper around the outside of several pairs of containers… that have the same sound. Place the containers at a center, and ask the children to try to match the sounds. (Listen to find to containers filled to he same level with the same material.)

Find more at your fingertips” ideas to develop Auditory Awareness, Discrimination, and Memory Skills with these 30 Amazing Task Cards!                       Slide29

Check them out at:                                              


What is Working Auditory Discrimination and Memory?

Definition: The ability to distinguish different speech sounds and sequencing them into meaningful words and phrases.   * From the Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing © Farlex 2012                                                                                                                     (

Auditory Discrimination  is a general title that includes Auditory Discrimination, Auditory Figure-Ground Discrimination, Auditory Memory, and Auditory Sequencing.

Why is this important for Reading?

Auditory discrimination and working memory are vital skills for both reading and writing.  The child needs to be able to hear the sounds, remember the sequence, and then blend them together to  discover the word  (i.e. c-a-t = cat READING), and listen to the word and then separate the individual sounds (i.e. monster = m-o-n-s-t-er WRITING).  With good decoding skills the child is able to string the words together, and using his prior knowledge and intuition, develop reading comprehension skills.

Auditory Discrimination is the ability to hear, identify, compare, and contrast similarities and differences in individual sounds that create words. (i.e.  seventeen and seventy)

Auditory Figure-Ground Discrimination is the ability to pick out important sounds from a noisy background, and stay focused on the task at hand. This is especially important in a classroom environment. (i.e. following verbal directions).

Auditory Memory skills include the ability to remember something that was heard  a long time ago, or to recall recent information.  It is referred to as long and short term memory. (e.g. people’s names, telephone numbers, address, recalling stories or songs, following multi-step directions.)

Auditory Sequencing is the ability to understand and recall the order of words or numbers. It is an important skill for language comprehension, as the order of the words is of critical importance.   (e.g. confusing digits 269 for 296, or recording a word like ‘planet’ as ‘panlet”.)

Have fun exploring sounds!


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