Souns places specifically designed and sequenced letters of our phonetic alphabet into the hands of the young child. The hand holds, plays with, and explores the letters. Since each letter is given only one label - the most common sound of that letter - the child slowly builds a base of letter-sound associations for the early stages of reading. Learning becomes incidental, natural - and fun. Souns is about early learning, and the hand is essential to this process.
While highly valuable for typically-developing children, Souns is an especially powerful tool for special needs children with intellectual, physical and/or developmental disabilities for whom reading is often a challenge. Souns has the potential to break the poverty cycle: by helping children of low income families become ready for school, Souns can contribute to leveling the academic playing field.
Far too often children enter school unprepared to succeed in reading. Research confirms the best predictor of end-of-kindergarten literacy skill is beginning-of-kindergarten literacy skill (Walpole, Chow, & Justice, 2004). We need to start earlier, understanding the early reading potential of the young child.
Reading is one of the most difficult skills to learn and is pivotal to success in life. Brain research indicates that the most critical period for language development is the first few years of life. Research also states that the sensitivity to language in this period wanes near 5 years of age, the same time the child enters school.
A typically developing 5 month old is equipped to adapt to any language and is tirelessly exploring language sounds. By 9 to 10 months of age, the infant has absorbed the sounds of the language around him. The infant hand examines every detail of the environment. The hand collects data that stimulates brain development. The brain and the hand are in collaboration, in perfect concert with each other. A letter in the hands of the young child with its associated sound is learned just as readily as words like ball, shoe, and juice. The child is, after all, just identifying another object in the environment.
Current early literacy materials are almost entirely based on auditory and visual learning. The eye and the ear are clearly important, but the hand is at least as important, particularly for early learning. Considering that special needs children are seldom identified by 5 months of age, and that research determines there are windows for learning that, when missed, cannot be reopened, Souns becomes strategically important.
The Souns program works best if initially introduced to children whose developmental age is between 5 months and 24 months. Souns letters are manipulatives that can be interacted with by the child and the caregiver as one would with blocks or a ball. Informally, the child learns between 9 to 20 letter-sound associations by 2 to 3 years of age. With a category for printed language established within the data base of the brain, the child continues to add the sounds of other letters. Children learn the sounds of letters as incidentally as they learn the names of foods, clothing items, and toys. Early stages of reading begin to emerge between 3 to 4 years of age in typically developing children using the Souns program.
Souns provides solutions to the particular challenges of many special needs children. Letters that children can hold and play with offers an alternative way of learning: a concrete, touchable concept of printed language rather than an abstract one. Whether children are typically developing or have special needs, the collaboration between the hand and the brain is fundamental to learning.
For low income and English language learning populations, Souns provides a program that is profoundly simple. Souns is based in the nature of human development. It is unique in that people with different issues can connect to it. Immigrant families can learn the English language together - parent and infant or toddler. Souns interfaces with the early learning potential in every child, regardless of their circumstances.
THE IMPACT of the Souns early literacy program for infants and toddlers
Souns is an informal program that engages and makes sense to infants and toddlers. Souns is financially accessible to both homes and institutions. In practice, Souns is easy to use and replicable. The Souns materials require only a guide booklet and the sound symbols, so it is seamlessly incorporated and works equally well in any environment. Children will be more ready for school and will be more successful in learning.
When introduced at the opportune time, Souns has a dramatic effect with certain special needs children, and the results are profound when used with typically developing children, whatever the socioeconomic background. In addressing the global issue of literacy, Souns makes a powerful difference by providing the right information at the right time and in the right way.