There is a window, a clear view into the moment a child “knows” … the look on the face when a detail has moved from the outside to inside that little mind. I saw that again yesterday.
A mom and her toddler son visited Counterpane wanting to sign up for the free Souns Early Literacy Workshops (ELW) we have about every two weeks during school sessions. Meeting a lovely, engaging mom and a lively, smiling, attentive young man of about 14 months was a delight.
I had the time and chose to share the concept of Souns so they would know what to expect at her first ELW this Friday. I fetched the first four Souns letters – /o/m/s/t/ – and sat down on the floor with the child. I introduced each, one at a time, and he spent several minutes exploring their shapes, sometimes two or three in hand at a time. Ready smiles intertwined with play with the symbols…moving them from one corner of the room to another on tip-toes all the way. He would place one on the floor, exchange one for another, dance about, and repeat.
When it was time to go, I asked if I could write the four sounds on his hands. Both mom and child agreed. I carefully wrote the /o/m/s/t/ – one on the top of each hand and one inside each hand. As he was walking out, mom and I discussed how she could reinforce the work at home. When the child heard us say /o/ that lttle body stopped, he looked at the hand that had the /o/ on it and then over at us. It was one of those moments where the eyes speak, “I know!”
Can you find:
bireds nesed (with bired)
“I want to be a writer,” this little person said!
A Souns mom shares:
Today, my daughter saw a plastic bin used when we moved that listed my name and the city and state where we moved from.
She started calling out Souns- (s), (m), (t), and (o) and pointing to each one on the bin as she said it.
She was smiling as she talking. The look on her face was as if she had just come across some of her friends.
Intentional play is the best way to learn. Email from a Souns mom:
We decided to wash the Souns with shaving cream and my daughter loved it. I started off by sitting with her putting the shaving cream on a rubbermaid container top. We both spent time drawing Souns in the shaving cream then I left her alone to play.
She was quite fascinated with the shaving cream and she spent tons of time cleaning then organizing the Souns on the side of the tub.
I had to take some pictures of this wonderful experience!! Thought you would like to see some. The pictures are in order to see the start and finish of her project.
With the best of intentions, our timing and our direction are off! We are missing the most sensitive period in a child’s life to teach the fundamental tools of writing and reading if we do not engage between 0-5 with letter-sound associations. Lower-case letters and the most common sound for each letter is the simplest tool box leading to literacy.
Letter sounds taught kinesthetically with clay, cookie dough, or Souns, using only lower-case letters is so simple and logical. Engaged hands feed developing brains, say the directions that come with this little package called “child.” Watch a child play, touch, manipulate, explore…all words reflecting engagement with the world. Digging, stacking, building, lifting, carrying – these are the efforts and endless work of the child acclimating to the world around him or her. As adults, we are so driven to teach; yet, if we paused and observed, we would understand ourselves to be the learners. Children know more about how they learn best than we do; but, too often we are not watching.
Today, at our Souns early literacy workshop, we took the time to watch. The images show you what we saw: stacking, matching, lining up, sorting – all the while learning letter sounds. Why not? They learn shoe much before they can put one on. They learn bath, well before they can run their own. Similarly, they can learn /o/m/s/t/ and on through the letter sounds of our alphabet. They are just objects being labeled, the same as a cup or a triangle. If we can keep it simple, they will learn. Look at those little hands and the activity we observed this morning. Enjoy your child. Observe and learn.
This is a Souns child who is 3 years and 3 months. She has arrived at this point in reading incidentally, without pressure or any formal “schooling.” Her Souns experience began as a toddler and unfolded as naturally as learning to eat or dress.
The joy is clearly there, having been protected by a gentle incremental approach to letter-sounds without the presence of letter-names. Letter-names will be a focus later, when she is 4-5 years of age. Consider her reading at the magical 3rd grade level and think of the world of children we are missing. The right information at the right time and in the right way makes a profound difference.
Her father said she cried when they asked her to stop! Motivation is not a problem if the timing is right.
A typical moment in the Souns Early Learning Workshops! One mom wrote her story:
“My daughter was born on August 2011. She was introduced to Souns at our library through a project of the local Rotary Club. We attended on 2 occasions; on January 2013 and March 2013. Specifically, we [were intoduced to] the Souns letter /o/. Since we did not own a set of Souns, I used one of her toys shaped like an o to reference the /o/ sound.
At the end of March 2013, my child pointed to an /o/ on her placemat at dinner and exclaimed, ” Ah!”
[Our family] started the every other Friday Souns Early Literacy Workshops at Counterpane Montessori school on August 2013 where our [daugter] was introduced to m, s and t. My mother and her husband purchased a set of Souns for my daughter on that day. Within a few weeks, my 2 year old daughter brought me her bowl of Souns. She held up her m, o, s and t and said,” mm, ah, ss, and tih!” We celebrated and she was introduced to /p/ and /e/.”
Playing to learn works! The video below is where the little one in the story above will likely be in a year. She is 3 years 2 months in this video. Importantly, there has been NO pressure to “learn to read” or “school” to compromise the joy of learning through play.
Observation of a very young child shows an endless stream of exploration: input, input, input to a developing brain. Watch the eyes followed by the hands followed by the mouth. A spot on the rug is intensely explored. A smooth painted geometric shape is examined, moved from hand to hand and to the mouth until interest is diverted to another child doing something nearby. All eyes, hands, feet, mouth, ears feeding the brain by engagement with the environment, examining every detail with attention rarely matched in later years.
Look at the toys in this morning visit. All designed for little hands and minds to explore: geometric shapes and letter shapes; stacking toys and building toys. “This is an /o/.” “That is a rectangle.” “Thank you for the red ball.” Simple comments, short, gentle, and to the point leaves space for the child’s mind to consider the information in their own time.
It is very interesting to watch creative little hands try to stack and sort in a very personal way. It is in our patient watching that we are able to see the learning happen. We must be still and not interrupt the direction of the play except to keep children safe. A surprise presents itself in every visit if we observe and let the exploration happen. “The brain is never not learning!” I love those words of Patricia E. Wolfe in Mind Matters.
“Yes, little one…that is the letter for /i/!” They find so much confidence in just KNOWING!
Parents and children learning together is the best! Our Early Literacy Workshop today was a great example. Getting the hands into the building of letter-sound knowledge with finger paints – little hands and big hands. No letter-names are found in our environment until after the child has begun sounding out simple phonetic words comfortably, which usually happens between three to four years of age for typically developing children who have followed this very informal program. One little one – not yet two years – loves her Souns and knows ten of her letter-sound associations already. I smiled at her and quietly enticed, “You think you are ready for a new sound?” She responded with a spontaneous and confident smile, “Yes!” I introduced /u/ to her and she shared it with her dad. What fun is this!!! I told her dad, “I can’t wait for you to see what three looks like for your child!”
Another member of the group is being helped to learn letter-sounds by his older sibling. They each are having fun “teaching” mom letter-sounds. Moms can be the most inspiring students for their children.
Another mom shared that her child – the youngest in the group – seemed to learn the first four sounds slowly, but the fifth sound was learned the same day it was introduced. This is what we see quite often. Once the child has created the “hook” for letter-sound associations with the first four Souns symbols, the rest snap right into place. Those little minds are amazing, particularly if play and child-time are taken seriously.
It was a great day for all!
Intentionality at its best! Souns games can look like this with little people, finger paints, sunshine, and water. Soooo much fun! Warm weather is an invitation to play outside with messy things in big ways. Setting out plates of individual colors about six feet apart and turning little ones loose to do as their little hands desire with color on themselves (and sometimes a willing parent) was so delightful. We used primary and secondary colors plus white. As one would expect…sensorial wins out! Paints were squished together between the fingers and spread like butter all over their little bodies. Giggles confirmed a good day for all. Cleaning up with the hose was as much fun as the painting.
Finger painting letter sounds on little backs tickled, but each could tell you the sound they felt being written… play is the best window for learning. All so GOOD!