I Almost Didn’t Hear Her!

sukey-so-14Walking briskly on a warm, sunny, winter day offered so much to enjoy that I almost missed the little voice saying, “Look Omi, an ‘oh’ and a ‘ss’!” A little finger pointed to tree flowers (catkins) shaped by happenstance into “sounds” after falling from the tree. She was inviting me to participate in her discovery of sounds!

A child’s interests show up in a lingering gaze, a slight pull of the hand in a new direction, a pause to examine a detail, or an explosion of glee at a sight or activity. I have seen a little one want so badly to stop and watch a musician performing along a sidewalk as the parents, unaware, pulled him along, never noticing the physical plea of the child to stop and absorb the moment. We try so hard to get them to listen to us; imagine how hard they work trying to get us to listen to them.

Be ready for surprises! Follow their lead! A walk can turn into so many adventures: comparing leaf shapes, little hands tracing twisted roots, or following an insect into the crack in the pavement. Since I didn’t miss the little voice on that winter’s walk, I stopped and we examined the many shapes on the sidewalk under the tree. We found so many sounds waiting to be discovered, sounds only a child would have seen.

The Story Before “I wrote Sukey!”


“I wrote Sukey!” The proud exclamation of a little one knowing, “I can do it!”  She is three and she is empowered with basic letter-sound associations, able to express her thoughts – one word or three –  from her mind to the world. Sooner than one might think, it will be words from another mind to her mind, as she discovers turning chains of sounds into words.




Before she wrote with her hand, she built words with Souns letters, stretching each word into its pieces like taking apart a puzzle, analyzing to hear the sounds she recognized (and teaching her baby doll how to “write”). “Look what I did!” is the sound of confidence.





When she began Souns she was one. Between one and three there was only play, sometimes intentional and sometimes not. Learning letter sounds has been natural, just like learning about water and sand and the wind. The skin, the ears, the eyes, the mouth, and the nose are all teachers. Four of those five senses are engaged through Souns – inviting exploration and learning. I find myself saying repeatedly, “Can it be this simple?” What if it is?





“This is your /o/!” … and another journey begins! Playing to learn!

Souns FUN = Intentional Learning!


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!



Where Is The Dirt?

What is a kid without mud pies?  What if there was no dirt for digging holes, building ramps for little bridges, making designs, or planting a seed. It is so sad to visit preschool sites and train for Souns, suggesting the teacher write letters in the dirt on the playground, only to receive that vacant look that says, “There is no dirt on the playground.” Not even a spot of dirt.

A child’s construction! Tomorrow’s yurt builder or city planner.

Literacy began on a cave wall and progressed with playing in and with the dirt. We may live in different times and wear different clothes, but children are quite the same. They need to use their hands to move and shape and create worlds from their imaginations. Dirt is the natural medium. Creativity is, indeed, being stripped of its roots.

Our lives are so busy and our children are captive in our harried schedules, spending their days on playgrounds that are plastic coated, shrink wrapped, and stamped “sterile.”

Children need a spot of dirt to dig and play and build their world!

Global Grant Option for Rotary Clubs

A Global Grant to help 12000 children read in South Africa!

The past and the present! Global Grant #25244 has been extraordinarily successful in building fundamental literacy skills for almost 8000 children of Mamelodi in Gauteng Province, South Africa. Such success has led to a new Global Grant proposal to provide Souns literacy materials to 250 classrooms in Gauteng and surrounding Provinces via the University of Pretoria, University of Venda, and the Peace Corps. This new grant will provide materials initially impacting almost 12,000 children through primary schools and creches, as well as equipping Peace Corps volunteers with Souns materials to better serve them as a resource for their communities.

Since Souns materials are not expendable, the overall impact as the years go by will be exponential. The grant provides funds for classroom materials only and is matched almost dollar-for-dollar by experienced Rotarian volunteers training local teachers to implement the program. Teaching teachers ensures long term sustainability.

The almost completed Global Grant 25244 ($34,200) was initiated by D9400, Host Club Pretoria East, and D6900, International Partner Club Peachtree City, along with Rotary Clubs Carrollton Dawnbreakers, East Cobb, and North Fulton. This international literacy project is changing lives for children. Clearly, this is a demonstration of the power of Rotary.

The new, proposed Global Grant ($50,000) is being initiated, once again, by the Rotary Club of Pretoria East. This project builds on the collaboration between D6900 (International Partner) and D9400 (Host) and promises an even larger impact by Rotary on the fundamental literacy skills for young children in South Africa.

If you are in District 6900(USA) or District 9400(ZA) and are interested in your club participating in this international literacy Global Grant, please email everychildwillread@gmail.com. If you are in another Rotary District and want to get involved in this effort, contact me and we will find a way to make that happen. The world is filled with children who want to read, and we need as many hands joined as possible. The ability to read and write is the peacemaker, and we must ensure that every child – YES, EVERY – child will read!

Peace Corps Reflections (from the field)

Volunteers in the Peace Corps have the option to use Souns in their communities in South Africa. This opportunity is the result of a collaboration between Rotary Districts 6900, 9400, and Africa Peace Corps. The work is promising, even compelling when one considers the difference for children that is being made. It is a wonderful thing to see organizations join forces for building a literate world, which is the only route to a peaceful one.  Please enjoy the collection of quotes from the field. Keep in mind, Souns works in any language using the Latin alphabet symbols. You associate the sound of the symbol for the child’s language. What a bridge between differences.

“I really like the simple, realistic ideals of the souns program. The individualized program meets the learners where they are and provides small group interaction that is often missing in the regular classroom setting.” 

“It was nice to see despite the different language barriers how fast the children pick up on the idea of the program and the different activities you can do with it.”  

“One simple technique that I had not thought of was asking the kids to exchange souns with another learner.”  

“I am going to start grouping the students more as they progress, since I don’t want the students who are progressing to get bored.”

“Things are going well!
I’m learning that
writing must be done in smaller groups!
I recently had a little guy [who wasn’t feeling well] – but he
still participated… only afterwards did I realize [how badly he felt]. Poor guy! But he still was working hard.

I’m trying to get to every kid at least once a week. I’m seeing
progress. Using local words has been especially effective.

Souns is a great way for me to get to work with the younger grades,
otherwise I wouldn’t have the opportunity to interact with them.”

“Souns is doing well in my area! Before our training I had thought we needed to perfect each cluster of 4 sounds before moving on so I wasn’t as far into the sounds as the other volunteers. But now that I am on track things are looking really well! Just the other week we started our first combination of sounds to form short words. It was amazing to see the lightbulb go off in the kids head when the put together sounds to make simple words.”