Head Start in COS: Amazing!


Training is so much fun when those being trained have seen the power of a program. That was the case in Colorado Springs this past week. The CPCD Head Start program, with additional support from a local Rotary foundation, is preparing for a giant leap forward for childhood literacy. A pilot summer session was so promising that more classes requested Souns. Rotary responded, and now Souns is in even more classrooms. The training was filled with enthusiasm, great questions, and comments. Now just to enjoy the process of learning….for both teacher and learners.

The following are candid comments from those involved with the pilot summer program:

This summer I had a great experience with Souns. One child in particular started the program not knowing any letter sounds and by the end of the 6 weeks he was able to write words just by using the sounds of the letters. He also learned how to read simple words by connecting the letter sounds.

● A couple of things really impressed me as I implemented the Souns activities this summer: 1) The children grasped and learned so much in just 7 weeks to the point that by the end of those 7 weeks they were displaying emergent writing skills related to our study. 2) The other thing that impressed me was the simplicity, hands-on, sturdiness, and variety that the Souns activities provided. There is a multitude of ways to work with this tool and provide letter-sound-knowledge-building that our early learners need.

● I supervised the summer classrooms that were pilots for Souns. I was blown away by the learning from the children and the engagement. But, most of all, the enthusiasm from the staff was amazing.

● Things I noted: 1) How we worked as a team 2) A parent told me that she was happy to see her son reading labels at the grocery store.

● I saw the Souns program being utilized successfully in a typical classroom when I first started. During the summer I changed positions and moved to a class for children with behavior issues. At first I was worried that it would not work with these children, but they picked it up very quickly.

● I enjoyed watching how fast the children caught on to how we presented Souns. They enjoyed learning new letters-sounds each week. They wanted to be fed more.

● When one of our kids was registering for kindergarten, the mom was so impressed with how many sounds [her child] knew. Mom had no idea she knew that many! I accredit this success to Souns.

● I saw amazing literacy growth in the children. The children interacted with the Souns letters in many different ways. One of our children was reading early readers by the end of the summer session.

● [Souns is a] meaningful way for children to connect letters and sounds.

● Being part of [a class for behavior issues] I was hesitant to implement the program. The children began responding immediately to the program and made so much progress in so little time – It was easy and we fit it in whenever we could. Loved it!

● I was only involved with Souns as a supervisor. We have been trying for years to get teachers to understand that phonemic awareness comes first. It has been an uphill battle. Souns made this concept CLEAR! The kids understood that the letter shapes represented sounds. Amazing! Put the sounds together and you have words. Change a shape and you change the word. They got it! They really got it!

● I was so amazed at how so many children wanted to [write] words on their own so quickly…and really got excited about it!

● At first it was hard to get things going. At about half way through the summer it was amazing to see everything click!

● I loved how the kids who really got it would help the ones who were struggling through partner games.

● By the 4th week of implementing Souns [we] had a child reading. Rolling out Souns was simple, which helped the children catch on really fast.

I wasn’t in the program, but ALL the teachers I talked to LOVED it and I can say they’ve shared their very positive experiences so much that other teachers are excited to get [the program].

And now for 2014/15!  Thank you, Rotary in Colorado Springs, for providing more Head Start classrooms with Souns! Thank you Rotary Club of Peachtree City, GA, for volunteer trainers.



Ready – “Get Set” – GO!

O n e   l i t t l e   s c h o o l ,   o n e   b i g   d i f f e r e n c e !

GET SET in Colorado Springs, CO, is part of the First Presbyterian Church and has two classrooms serving preschool children from economically challenged environments. This year the classrooms have 12 children in one (Purple) and 16 children in the other (Red).

Students at GET SET begin working with Souns in September and continue with hands-on activities to teach letter-sound knowledge throughout the school year. The story of this year’s learning pictured in the graphs below is to be celebrated. They speak louder than words about what can happen with the right pieces – dedicated teachers, volunteers, and a keep-it-simple early literacy program that focuses primarily on letter-sound associations.

The results were sent to us by the preschool and reflect letter-sound knowledge only.  Compilation of pre/post results are thanks to Rotarian Robby Dale Nelson. Many of the children ended the year sounding out words. What a way to begin kindergarten! Great job, GET SET!

Thank you, Rotarians from the Rampart Range Rotary Club of Colorado Springs, CO, for believing in Souns. We all celebrate the results for the children in your community.

Get_Set_5-7-14_Purple_Chart_1                 Get_Set_5-7-14_Purple_DataGet_Set_5-7-14_Red_Chart_1


Colorado Springs – An Observation


From the heart and experience of a preschool administrator in Colorado Springs. Random observations of learning with Souns:

Forming the Soun[d] with their mouth, saying the Soun[d] with voice, limbs moving to the mat, hands holding the Soun[d], hands sliding the Soun[d]s on the mat feeling the Braille, hands passing the Soun[d] to share with a friend, skin feeling the O on their nose, on their mouth, on their chin is telling the brain this is part of you, this is your language, this is part of your legacy as a human being, you own this.


A Beginning – CPCD / Souns


Building a future for children brings smiles to everyone’s face. Head Start has a plan! There is a tool – Souns – to make that plan come true, and there is an energy – Rotary – in the community wanting to make all the pieces fit together for children. Rotary is committed to impacting basic literacy skills and this project is about our preschool children learning to write and read in our community in Colorado Springs.

CPCD (Community Partnership for Childhood Development) is piloting the Souns program during the next few months to gather information for a grant application that, if approved, will provide Souns to as many Head Start classrooms as the grant will fund in the CPCD program. The excitement is clearly visible in the smiles, but is even more contagious as one watches this program unfold with children. Magic wraps up every moment as the little ones respond with… “I want to do it!” “It is my turn!” “Can I help her?” “Look, there is /m/ in Monday!” … at every turn when implementing the Souns program.

Thank you Rotary Clubs  in Colorado Springs for this possibility! Thank you Rotarian Robby Dale Nelson of the Rampart Range Rotary Club for your enormous commitment to the children in your community.

Colorado Springs: Thank You!


   “Can you touch an /o/?” asks Rotarian Robby Dale Nelson.

I thank this community for reminding me, once again, of the difficult path to simple.

I am convinced that to be a teacher (myself included) is to be first and foremost a learner. As many times as I have observed and participated in a child’s learning…as much information as I have taken into that moment to teach the child…I have never left the experience without being the primary learner. Surprisingly, the lesson seems always to be keep it simple. The child will take the simplest of lessons to the depths of his or her interest…or there will be no learning.

In a classroom learning to implement Souns, the simple, incidental, easy style of the program is closeted by our predispostion as excellent, committed teachers to plan every detail of a day so that we can feel we have done our best. Yet, we rarely feel we have enough time in a day to do all we want to do. I feel that way myself visiting the classrooms and assisting teachers in understanding this program. I complicate, they complicate, we all are driven to complicate. We would be well advised to follow the child a bit more. They linger, examine, build knowledge, linger some more…roll around and speak to a friend, or stare out a window…then back to lingering, examining, and building.

So how does this relate to teaching Souns? How do we fit “another program” into an already packed-full day with cultural studies, self-esteem activities, social courtesy lessons, etc.? First, and most difficult, is to understand Souns is an unprogram. Souns is meant to be a part of the environment – as important, incidental, and consistant as food, clothing, and kindness. That is hard to do, as we have burdenened writing and reading with academic weight. Language is treated naturally, even joyfully, as little ones move into spoken communication. Progressing into writing and reading can be equally joyful and natural through intentional play. Play is how children learn. Souns is about intentional play.

“Look at the /s/ on your jacket!” is a lesson in Souns. “Did you hear the /h/ in home?” is a lesson in Souns. “Let’s find the sounds in dog.” is a lesson in Souns. It is a program that slips into the crevices of each day so filled with rich experiences planned by caring teachers. In all those experiences there are letter-sounds. Build excitement about listening to and identifying letter-sounds in the classroom. Keep it simple, play, have fun! Those little minds are always learning!

Thank you, Rotarians from the Rampart Range Rotary Club of Colorado Springs, CO, for believing in Souns.

Colorado Springs: Follow up – DAY ONE


“See the Braille, the little bumps, on the letter? Can you find the Braille on your letter?”

I love working with administrators who are committed to a project and who are supportive of their teachers. The work moves so much more smoothly and children are so much more likely to succeed. A rhetorical statement for sure…but when you see such a situation in front of you there is a healing energy that counters the times the picture is broken.

The school today was beautiful in talent, spirit, and leadership. From the toddler class through the four classrooms to the pre-kindergarten class, the rooms were filled with happy, eager learners. Teachers demonstrated their creative exercises with Souns, in each case drawing from the environment: books in the little reading corner, text on the walls, and letters on T-shirts. Their positive attitudes influence every little mind wanting to learn to write and read.

What I saw were children appropriately progressing through letter-sound knowledge with exploration and play. Their bodies were moving, their hands were examining letter shapes, and their faces reflected engagement.

This is the first year for Souns for this preschool, and, indeed, the letter-sound associations are being learned.  As is typical, the teacher is the primary learner for a new program. In subsequent years implementing the program will flow more naturally . It takes at least the experience of that year to realize how easily the child learns when their hands are involved and the lessons are daily, incidental, and playful. When comfort with the easy style of Souns is attained, the children will progress faster than most teachers expect.

For instance, the children surprised their teachers today. They knew more than the teachers thought they knew.  In the pre-kindergarten classroom, children were ready to build words with the Souns letters. They did not want to stop…and they learned two new letter-sound associations in the process. Children are more ready than we think. Pushing does not teach; however, kids thrive on trust… ”Do you think you are ready to do this…? “ Ask them; they will tell you. Then make certain they succeed. That is the fire that builds.

Thank you to Rotarians from the Rampart Range Rotary Club of Colorado Springs for initiating this effort.

Perhaps We Have It All Backwards


     A preschooler building a word by listening to the sounds in it.

This past week I was surrounded by incredible people – parents, teachers, administrators, and friends – all grappling with the huge need to better prepare preschool children for success in school. One administrator’s comment, “Our kids are well prepared for kindergarten, except they do not know their letter-sounds!” gives critical direction for the litter-strewn path to reading and writing. Our culture insists on prioritizing the 26 letter names, of which only 5 are used for reading and writing. On the other hand, all 26 letter- sound associations are directly linked to reading and writing. Why do we have it backwards?

Monsters – marketing, fear of failing our children, crippling schedules, and rigid curriculum – invade every discussion, home, and classroom. The front line of education, reading and writing, has been engulfed in a dense, blinding, consuming fog. We can’t see the hand in front of us! We can only hear the shouting voices from every direction. Which do we follow?  Which voices are serving our children?  Which are serving political or financial agendas? The child waits, holding on with complete faith as we scramble to find our footing for the next step.

Such a cacophony can “blind” us to the obvious?  Perhaps we should not be leading the child! Perhaps the child should be leading us! Children are the experts about how they learn best. Research confirms how rapidly the brain is developing between 0-5 years of age. The young child is uniquely programmed for language learning, and, if introduced incrementally, reading and writing fits comfortably and naturally along side language learning. In education design, preschool, not kindergarten, is the time for learning to read and write. That is not the case now. It seems we may have that backwards, too?

One Preschool – One School Year!

Souns® for Literacy in the GET-SET Preschool in Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA

SounsGetSetletters2013This graph – in percents – represents letter-sound knowledge for learners (N=34) in the GET SET preschool classroom, comparing data collected at the beginning of the school year and at the conclusion of the school year. Consider the future step into kindergarten for these children.

 While in a separate graph, it is important to mention that the majority of the learners knew 6 digraphs, and could sound out 9 phonetic words. It is awe inspiring to see the potential awaiting classrooms when children are supported and learning is fun. The focus on letter-sound associations in exclusion of letter-name associations (until decoding begins) clearly makes a difference in building young writers and readers.The Souns program is evidence based and it works! Thank you, Rotarians, for the gift of Souns! Thank you teachers and volunteers of GET SET for ensuring that our  c h i l d r e n   w i l l   r e a d !

GET SET With Souns in Colorado Springs

sounsgetsetco1-13 Chart1

The graph shows progress in the GET SET preschool in First Presbyterian Church of Colorado Springs, CO. There are 31 children in the preschool and they began implementing the Souns program at the beginning of this school year – 2012/2013. The preschool serves children 4-5 years of age from economically challenged environments.  GET SET’s goal is to ready their students for success when they go to public kindergarten. The teachers are exceptional and the environment is a model for others to follow. In September as the children entered GET SET’s classrooms they were evaluated for letter-sound knowledge. That demonstrated knowledge is on the graph in green. The lavender is demonstrated letter-sound knowledge from a mid-year evaluation. The teachers should be proud of their progress, particularly since they are in a learning curve for the program as well. Imagine the possibilities at end of year and in future years as Souns becomes a natural part of their environment. What a grand step forward for the children they serve. Ready, GET SET, Go!

Looking at the results of the Souns program is SO much fun. The video is of a Rotarian volunteering at GET SET and a young student building a word by saying the word, listening for the individual sounds in the word, and identifying the letters that make each of the sounds. Building words or encoding is stage two in Souns. The first stage is the learning of at least 12 to 15 letter-sound associations. The third stage is decoding, or sounding out words, which happens after much experience building words. You can see the enthusiasm that comes from suddenly realizing, “I know that sound!”

“Oo! Oo! I love, love, love letters!”


Words of a 4-Year-Old From-the-Field in Colorado Springs

A gift from Rotarian Robby Dale Nelson of Rampart Range Rotary Club of Colorado Springs provided Souns literacy materials to the two GET SET classrooms of preschool children from economically challenged communities in the city of Colorado Springs, CO, USA. Teachers and community volunteers were trained in the implementation of the Souns program – a 2.5 hour session one morning in August. The materials were received for the start of school mid-September 2012.

Included are reflections and images  from a follow-up visit and training – again, 2.5 hours – in January 2013. There will be a third visit at the conclusion of the year. The results of the Souns program never cease to astound us. Faces glow as teachers share their successes, confirming their children are really learning to read.  The children take to Souns like air to their lungs, filling up with an understanding of the endless bits of print in the world around them, inaccessible at their age without letter-sound associations. Then the fun begins.

“Learning is more effective when it is an active rather than a passive process” -Euripides (Thank you, Mo!)                                          Mo Weinhardt ‏@ArtofParenthood


RD 5470 Governor Carla and Rotarian Robby Dale are pictured with teachers and volunteers.

The following are reflections from the teachers and assistant.

From the assistant: Souns is such an amazing tool to put in the hands of these precious  4 year olds. Their intellect grows exponentially as their confidence and joy blossom into life with learning. The light that beams from their eager eyes is an incredible gift to behold. This reading and learning program [Souns] starts them off on a fulfilling life of learning, ready to make their own history.

Teacher one: The children have grasped letter-sounds much more quickly this year through the Souns program. Their retention of the letter-sound associations is better, too. They love learning their sounds, never wanting to miss an opportunity to work with the beautiful pleasing letters of Souns. Being able to hold each letter somehow makes it “theirs” – they have an ownership, a relationship with the letters.

Teacher two: The children came back after Christmas excited to be back at school. We were expecting the kids to have lost some of the knowledge of letter sounds. But we were surprised to see how much the children remembered and how quickly they were learning new sounds. Now we have several children excited about putting letters together to build words. It is so encouraging to see the children’s progress in learning to read. When working in small groups, the kids not included exclaim, “Do I get to do it?” 

See what a 4-year-old can do if he learns letter-sounds through play and exploration.                                                                                Thank you, Rotary!