Interim Souns Report From Knysna, SA

5 year olds building the word isele (frog) by listening to sounds.

In 2010 the first SOUNS kits (2 alphabets of lower case letters and training booklet written in English) were piloted at selected preschools affiliated to the Knysna Education Trust, supported by a matching grant from Rotary Districts 9350 (SA) and 6900 (USA).

In 2011 all 22 of the KET preschools received a SOUNS kit to share among its classes.  At this stage material in the local languages was prepared so that the teachers understood the methodology of the programme correctly, and a local DVD was produced to be used in the training. It was soon realised that there was a need for a Xhosa-speaking person in the field to make sure that the teachers were following the instructions and monitoring their learners’ progress correctly.  A person was appointed by KET to work in the field on all aspects of preschool education, which also included SOUNS. Towards the end of 2011, a generous grant was accessed from the DG Murray Trust, which enabled every teacher at the KET preschools to receive her own SOUNS kit for her own class.  The kits were made up with everything required to present SOUNS successfully, including a polar fleece mat for 8 children to sit around on the floor, and a file containing information about SOUNS in Xhosa and Afrikaans.

In 2012, the kits were distributed to every preschool teacher in KET preschools, and they were trained in the methodology of the programme.

At the same time, volunteers were brought in to monitor progress of learners in every class.  21 volunteers offered their services and one volunteer agreed to monitor 2 preschools that bordered each other.   17 of the original volunteers are still busy with the SOUNS programme (3 have accepted permanent employment, and 1 has gone to England for several months).  The volunteers monitor the progress of the learners (the teachers do the teaching), and guide and support the teachers in the field.  Every teacher reports that she enjoys the regular visits of the volunteer concerned, and the volunteers report that they feel welcome in the preschools. The teachers are proud to show off their learners’ progress to the volunteers when they come.


A list of learners was compiled to try to track learners who had had SOUNS in 2010 and 2011 in KET preschools and Grade R classes, now in Grade 1, in 5 local township primary schools.  172 learners were identified during June 2012 and the following information was supplied by Grade 1 teachers with regard to their performance in literacy after 6 months in primary school:

91 (53%) good – excellent       52 (30%) average – satisfactory      29 (17%) weak                                     


21 of the 22 KET preschools and 17 volunteers replied, in varying amounts of detail. One preschool is being rebuilt, and the teacher did not get her information to me because she was busy moving her preschool into temporary accommodation.  Information from both volunteers and teachers has usually been consistent.


3.1            Some classes consist of mixed ages and languages.  It is recommended that children learn SOUNS in their mother-tongue, in a group who speak the same language. However, there are foreigners from other parts of Africa in some of the classes.  One Child Welfare preschool has an Afrikaans-speaking teacher with Xhosa learners, and she is trying to teach them SOUNS in English!  None of them will go to an English primary school.  We have Xhosa learners in Sedgefield, with a Xhosa teacher, but the primary school there is only Afrikaans-medium at the moment. These are practical problems, and they will interfere with the children’s future educational development.

3.2            Most teachers report that absenteeism among their learners is a challenge.

3.3            Learners in township preschools come and go, joining and leaving classes throughout the year.

3.4            Individual teachers have had personal traumatic experiences, and this causes ups and downs in teaching. It is expected that the same has happened to some of the learners.

3.5            Some preschool facilities are extremely overcrowded.


4.1            By August 2012 many of the older learners (Grade R) knew all the SOUNS of the alphabet, and could decode and encode many 4, 5 and 6-letter phonetic words.  The teachers have found “phonetic” a challenge, as the words they give their learners to build and decipher must be able to be sounded out with the individual sounds that the children have learnt, (e.g. ses, and sestig are phonetic, but not sestien).  Suitable word lists in Xhosa, Afrikaans and English have been compiled, and teachers still need guidance in selecting phonetic words for the learners to work with.

4.2            Teachers in the preschools have become more confident and capable as they have become more familiar with the programme, and the learners have more scope for experimentation.  Teachers have reported that they enjoy teaching SOUNS, the children look forward to it (“It is like play when we do SOUNS!”), and they are all proud of their progress.  Most parents are impressed, as are the volunteers, who speak highly of the programme (“This is a wonderful system, and I was amazed at the progress we saw.”)   In my own visits I have been impressed with the teachers’ attitudes, they have been patient, kind, calm and positive towards their learners, and have handled them all in a most loving way.

4.3            The languages that are used in KET preschools are mostly Afrikaans and Xhosa.  In Afrikaans, one can start with 2 and 3-letter words, e.g. om, and os, but the shortest Xhosa words are usually 4-letters, so the learners have to listen more attentively when forming their first words. In Xhosa there are also repetitive syllables, like mama, tata, sisi, which enable the learners to experience patterns in words.


5. GRADE R :

8 Xhosa classes, 9 Afrikaans classes, 3 Mixed Classes, 1 Has changed from Xhosa to English, 1 did not reply.

Time on SOUNS Letter Knowledge Building Words Reading Words
18 and 23 months      All 26                  5-6 letters 5-6 letters
16 months     All 26                                           5 letters, names  
13 months 13  4 letters   3 letters
13 months                 12  3-4 letters  
12 months                  All 26                                           4-6 letters  
11 months                  All 26                                          3 letters  
11 months                                                       15-all 26 3 letters  
9 months                     14 3 letters  
9 months                    10 3-4 letters  
8 months All 26                                           3 letters, names  
7 months                    24-all 26                                     4 letters, names  
7 months 20 3-4 letters  
7 months                    15   3-4 letters, names  
7 months                    13 6 letters, names  
7 months                    13 5 letters, names  
6 months 12-all 26  
5 months 12  

Some teachers have reported that their Grade R learners are also enjoying writing words (on paper, board, sand etc.) at this stage.

6.  4 and 5 Year old Classes :  5 Xhosa Classes, 8 Afrikaans classes , 1 did not reply.

Time on SOUNS Letter Knowledge Building Words Reading Words
14 Months 13 – 26 4 Letters
7 Months 26 4-5 Letters
7 Months 18 3 letters
7 Months 15
7 Months 10 3 letters
7 Months 10
7 Months 9 – 13 3 Letters
7 Months 4-13
7 Months 9 3 Letters
 Months 9 3 letters
7 Months 6
7 Months 7
5 Months 9

A teacher in this age range has reported that her learners recognise the word STOP. Another teacher sings a SOUNS song to her class.

7.  3-4 Year Old classes : 3 Xhosa Classes, 4 Afrikaans Classes, 1 mixed class.

Time on SOUNS Letter Knowledge Building Words Reading Words
7 Months 14 6 letters
7 Months 13
7 Months 12 – 26 3 letters
7 Months 10
7 Months 8 – 26 3 letters
7 Months 6
7 Months 6
7 Months 4-10

One teacher reports that her learners have started identifying letters that they have learnt at the beginnings of their names and other words.

8. Under 3’s : 6 Xhosa Classes, 4 Afrikaans Classes.

Time on SOUNS Letter Knowledge Building Words Reading Words
7 Months 13 – 26  
7 Months 12    
7 Months 10    
7 Months 7-14    
7 Months 6    
7 Months 4    
7 Months 4  
7 Months 4    
7 Months 3-11    
7 Months Babies Crawl around and handle them    

As was reported in June 2012, there is clearly a wide range of performance in all age groups.  This will depend on time spent on the programme, as well as many other factors within each preschool, teacher and child.  All ages have shown progress, and more teachers have reported starting word-building in the past 2 months.

CLOSING COMMENTS:  The closing comments from both volunteers and teachers who are participating in the programme speak for themselves.  The vast majority are VERY enthusiastic!

VOLUNTEERS: “This is a great system, and I am so impressed that children as young as 3 years are able to identify sounds confidently.  The teachers have impressed me.”

“The children and teachers enjoy ‘outside’ person taking an interest in their (pre)school. Consequently the visits have been most rewarding as one feels appreciated and the teachers don’t regard you as a threat.”

“The teachers are well organised and display a genuine care for their work and want the children to succeed with their project”.

“The teacher is very patient and encourages her children….She is structured and systematic with the children who are very small, and the children want to please her.”

“Holidays make a big gap in the learning. The teacher is enthusiastic and the children respond well.  This group has really improved this term.”

“The teacher applies the programme effectively and incorporates it in her daily teaching….She has wonderful results and I was amazed at the progress I saw every time I went back.  This programme is fantastic and it works!”

“The teacher works at the level of the children.  She is patient and prompts them when they hesitate.  She had a chart and asked them to place the SOUNS on the letters which were arranged in an alphabet….She makes everyone clap when they get something correct and prompts those who falter.  Very gentle but assertive.”

“Most of the group are quick, confident and ready to move on.  Their enjoyment is evident – they are a great credit to the teacher”.


Most of them say they enjoy teaching SOUNS.  The children “love” learning SOUNS and are “excited” about the programme. “They are curious about SOUNS”. “That is the pleasure, even to feel the SOUNS” “Kinders kan nie wag wanneer ons met die SOUNS begin nie”.

“They are very glad when they see the SOUNS, they say we are now ready to do our work”.

“The SOUNS are very important, especially for Grade R because SOUNS help them develop their thinking and language skills.”

“My children can read and write.  Their progress is good and has a big effect on children’s lives.”

“Four of my children have a hearing problem…” (Discovered through working with SOUNS).

“Parents appreciate the progress because their children can learn a few words.  They answer if you ask…” “They speak more clearly”. “Parents hear (listen?) when children talk or tell a story”.

One of the preschool teachers who also has an aftercare facility for older children, reports that those children’s spelling has improved as a result of them using SOUNS at her preschool.

“The programme makes things easy to manage…and developing children’s skills, knowing names, counting and numbers”.

“Children remember easily”. They “learn well and listen.”

“Children call out SOUNS at home”.

“Parents are proud.”  “SOUNS make children brilliant, not even at preschool, but at primary school also”.

When I teach them, they are free and listening”.  The little ones are “just playing with them and eat them.”

“The children go to the alphabet chart and say the SOUNS that they know. They will be the best generation.”

“Children ask for books and paper at home.”  “They respond to alphabets, and words on TV and magazines”.  “Children point to letters in shops and street names”.

SOUNS is a “fun way to learn”.  The children play on their own with SOUNS and become “clever”   each day.

A 3-year-old shows her Mom the S of Siyafunda on the way to preschool every day.

“Ouers is beindruk met SOUNS want dit gee ‘n hupstoot met die alfabet.”

“Die program help my baie met kinders wat skaam is.  Dit gee my ‘n kans om ‘n sterker band to bou en terselfde tyd leerders se developmental stage vas te stel.”

Two teachers do not know what their parents think – they have had no contact on this level.

Some teachers would like more training, and this need will be addressed soon.

One of our preschool principals has this to say: “Your motivation and inspiration are helping us here… prepare leaders and readers for the future of the world.”


(Watch for the final report in November.)

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