From-the-Field in Puerto Rico


CamyZoe B. Agosto

It was very thoughtful of you to write this in English. Whatever the language, you are doing wonderful work, CamyZoe.


After becoming familiar on how to use Souns with my two daughters of 1 and 4 years old during the summer, I started using “Souns” in my classroom on August 2015. I’m a Special Education teacher from Lares, Puerto Rico. I work with 13 students ranging from 14 – 22 years old with moderate and severe cognitive disabilities. Before Souns, none of my students were able to recognize any letter. They were having lots of problems remembering letter names and sounds. By this month (November 2015), my students are showing progress through letter-sound association and recognitioPRcamy2n. I am astonished how this program is working with each one of my students. This has given them a boost to their self-esteem. Parents are so grateful, because they never thought that at this stage, their children were able to learn sounds and recognize letters the way they are doing it. The process is slowly but steady, growing each and every day. Now they loved to help each other, and help one to another when someone is struggling with a letter sound. Moreover I am learning a lot during the process and acquiring great knowledge about the fascinating link between the hand and the brain.

(The Souns materials for this classroom were provided by a Global Grant from Rotary International – RD6900 and RD7000. Thank you, Rotary!)


Collaborative Path To Literacy

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This entry is from Rotary Project Contact, Robin Jones, of the Rotary Club of Pretoria East in South Africa.

Collaboration Paves a Widening Path to Literacy

Children have eager minds! They love to learn. It is important to take advantage of that predisposition to learning in the early years by providing rich, life-related experiences in the classroom. One classroom option that builds early literacy skills is Souns for literacy.

Souns is a hands-on programme that was initially introduced to classrooms in Khayalitsha and Knysna through Rotary Clubs of Seapoint and Knysna over five years ago. The specific schools were the Ilitha School in Khayalitsha and preschools under the umbrella of Knysna Education Trust in Knysna. Success through the Souns programme led to further support in Knysna from DG Murray Trust and for foundation stage learners in Pretoria through the Rotary Club of Pretoria East. Collaboration has fuelled the path to learners to date and will hopefully provide access to even more learners in the future.

SOUNS is a simple, effective, user-friendly programme to ease learners along the first steps to becoming effective readers, opening the doors to a literate future. Children are first taught the sounds of the language, then, through engaging activities, they are taught the symbols associated with the sounds (letters), then once sufficient sound-symbol associations are known, they are taught to build words (phonetic writing). Once the learners are confident word builders (writers), they move naturally to blending symbols into words (phonetic reading).

Souns works so well that there is an initiative on several fronts to replicate the programme so that more children can have access to the materials. The programme currently reaches children across languages and in diverse learning environments from villages served by the Peace Corps to teacher training organizations reaching hundreds of classrooms in many provinces. Propelled by research based on years of using Souns, the Knysna Education Trust has developed a prototype – Fonix – that will be less expensive and therefore reach more classrooms. Efforts in Pretoria are currently engaged in building prototypes as well. Cooperation and collaboration is the proven key to progress.

The Souns programme reaches over 15000 learners annually and will continue to expand, limited only by available resources. Rotary is convinced this programme works and is grateful to know DG Murray Trust is involved. Partnerships are critically needed to expand the programme to benefit new groups of learners every year.

Visit the Souns web site:

Pretoria based project: .

A Jewel In Colorado!


This lovely woman, Della Palacios, is now living in Boulder, Colorado. One of her offerings is Souns and Rhymes classes for little people. Get to know this remarkable talent. I celebrate that she is a Souns trainer as well!

Souns and Rhymes

The design of this class is to establish a foundation so firm that no holes will ever appear in fundamental literacy skills. It’s a simple brilliance that makes it so profound.  Souns® and Rhymes classes consist of two core elements: letter sounds and nursery rhymes.  Parents interact with children as language and literacy is brought to life.

I used Souns with my children and taught them nursery rhymes, but it was not until they were three and four years old.  Now, I am having the pleasure of watching one-year old babes learn nursery rhymes and letter sounds.  Two weeks ago, a 16 month-old said “row row row” in eager anticipation of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”  Another 17-month old pointed out the “mmm” when asked on the poster displaying the rhyme “mary had a little lamb.”  She connected the label of the Souns symbol, /mmm/, to the print on the poster.
Simple is best.  Teach children nursery rhymes.  Teach children letter sounds with lower case letters first.  Children will read.

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 !

“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!


Final Results – A Year Later In SA


The SOUNS Literacy Programme was first introduced (through a grant from  Rotary International) into preschool classes in 2010, and a relatively small number of preschool learners in the Knysna area were taught according to the correct SOUNS methodology.

Since January 2012, thanks to a further grant from DG Murray Trust, all classes at 22 Knysna Education Trust preschools had the benefit of receiving SOUNS kits, teachers in the field were trained to present the programme in Afrikaans, Xhosa and English as required. Volunteers were trained to monitor progress in the preschools and the learners’ progress was tracked by teachers and volunteers who reported back to KET regularly. Staff at KET was able to present the programme in both Afrikaans and Xhosa, which are the usual community languages of the Western Cape.


During the month of June 2012 [mid-school year in SA], Grade 1 teachers indicated that learners who had been on the SOUNS programme the previous year were performing well in Grade 1 literacy, with performance indicators well above national and provincial averages. Teachers reported the following levels for learners who had previously learnt SOUNS at preschools: 53% good – excellent, 30% average – satisfactory, and 16% weak.

For the entire evaluation of preschools, please click here:

Nov12- NEW SOUNS LITERACY SURVEY November 2012 (2) (then click again)

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.)

One Leap For Literacy

What can eight months do for literacy in a Head Start Center? Combine a furiously determined Center Director and a local Rotary Club and children will read! The Rotary Club of Thomasville, GA, and their local Head Start Center have joined in the work of literacy.

Nine classrooms – including three Early Start classrooms – began training in the Souns program in October of 2011. Several follow-up visits occurred between October and May to observe how the work was going. During the last week of school, each of the students age-appropriate to be graduating into local kindergartens were evaluated to see progress made. The results are below. It is not surprising that they reflected a direct link between those who followed the program and those who did not. The teacher is the magic that makes any program work.

This center has an abundance of remarkable teachers working with their children. After this year’s success, we expect all the teachers will see the value of this simple program for their children. It is understandably difficult to accept a program that is counterintuitive. We have been so steeped in teaching letter-names first, that the idea of teaching letter-sounds first causes resistance. Thanks to those teachers who stepped outside the box in Thomasville, children will read. The results are quite clear. Consider the data at this year’s end, when those little four year olds who are going into their second year with this program are evaluated.

We smile with tears in our eyes at what is happening in southwest Georgia. Determined people working together can make a difference. Thank you, Rotary!

Every – Yes, every – child will read.

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!

Every – Yes, Every!

I am not suggesting anyone is underestimating a child’s abilities.

The word “every” has provoked what I perceive as a reader to be a toxic response.  Let me explain where I feel the misunderstanding began.

I said I didn’t really care for the word every because I include *Sally in the realm of every.  *Sally is a neighbor of ours.  She is 12 and does not speak purposefully. She is profound on the Autism Spectrum.  When I saw Souns used successfully on video with a young special needs child, I wondered if it would help her.

For a while, I went to her home almost daily, working 5 minutes a day using Souns.  I fumbled my way along, not really knowing what I was doing, but I wanted to see if it helped her.  I cannot imagine having a child who I cannot communicate with.  Her school only has letter names/ capital letters/ etc. on her IEP that she has shown little progress learning.

She learned to say the first 8 sounds using Souns!  Often, she repeated and a few times she offered the sound before I said it.  Her mother came to the training when Brenda was here and I’m hopeful she will continue to work with her.  I did record my voice saying each sound on a sound board since her mother is uncertain of some sounds as Spanish is her native language.

I did not know if I was getting anywhere, but her mother said I was.  She said I did what no speech therapist had done, “get her to say the sounds.”  She had never verbally produced some of these sounds before.  Will she read?  I don’t know.  I will not say no, but if there is a path to literacy for her, this is it. The symbol (Braille especially) drew her into “our” world.  She focused, made more eye contact, sat still, ticked less, etc. Now, if she made this kind of progress in a few months where schools have gotten virtually nowhere in years.  Communication boards did not help her communicate.  She never initiated anything.  Our goal is to get to a place where she can somehow communicate “hot” or “hurt.”  If she can say /h/ /o/ and /t/ maybe we can get to hot.

The point is, I’m not ready to rule *Sally out as a reader.  I prefer to avoid the use of absolutes, but I like Brenda, will not sit in front of a child and assume, that the child will never read.

And if there is a path to get there, it is Souns.  There is a lot of important work being done right now.

Questioning is fine but constructive responses are appreciated.

Perhaps this is where the 95% idea came from.  I’m not certain.  Once you have received Souns Training and sit with a child, you will understand the  potential.   It’s virtually impossible to have the understanding through a computer.

submitted by Della Palacios of  SensAble Learning, LLC