By demonstrating the early reading potential of infants and toddlers, the Souns program is revolutionizing the way children are introduced to the printed word.
Souns places specifically designed and sequenced letters of our phonetic alphabet into the hands of infants and toddlers at the most crucial age, between 5 months and 24 months. The hand reaches out to hold, play with and explore the letters and, with time and encouragement, the child naturally emerges into 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. Furthermore, since Souns requires no special resources or professional training, it has the potential to break the poverty cycle by helping children of low income families become ready for school and more successful in school. In essence, Souns can contribute to leveling the academic playing field.
Far too often children enter kindergarten unprepared to succeed in reading. Curricula are configured and re-configured, seeking success for entering students. However, starting in kindergarten is often too late, despite the strong efforts of teachers and administrators. 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 infant and toddler.
We know that reading is one of the most difficult skills to learn and that reading 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 kindergarten.
We also know that a typically developing 5 month old is equipped to adapt linguistically to any culture and is tirelessly exploring language sounds. By 9 to 10 months of age, the infant has absorbed the language sounds of the culture around him. In chorus with this sound exploration, at 5 months the hand reaches out to begin examining 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 introduced into the hands of the infant or toddler with its respective sound is assimilated just as readily and as informally as words like diaper, shoe, and juice. Infants and toddlers are, after all, just identifying another object in their environment.
Current early literacy enrichment materials for infants and toddlers are based exclusively 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 of opportunity for learning that, when missed, cannot be reopened, Souns needs to be introduced into the hands of every infant.
The Souns program works best if initially introduced to children whose developmental age is between 5 months and 24 months. The home is the ideal environment for this age child. However, increasingly, infants and toddlers are cared for outside the home in institutional settings, particularly child-care centers. Within a community of children in an institutional setting, the Souns letters become another manipulative that can be interacted with by the infant or toddler and the caregiver as one would with blocks or a ball. Informally, through daily associations made between the sound and the letter, the child accumulates between 9 to 20 letter-sound associations by 2 to 3 years of age. With a category for language symbols established within the data base of the brain, the child continues, through his or her own interest, to add the sounds of other letters. With Souns in the hand and daily associations made between the symbols and the sounds by a caregiver, 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, well before kindergarten age.
Souns provides solutions to the particular challenges of many special needs children. The use and manipulation of 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. This approach is being piloted with one teacher in Portland, Oregon, and clearly demonstrates promise. Souns interfaces with the early learning potential in every child, regardless of their circumstances.
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 with infants and toddlers. Children will be more ready for school and will be more successful in learning if we implement Souns in institutions such as child-care centers, where most of our infants and toddlers spend so much of their time before going to school.
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.
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