The Educational Mentor, Ms Annette Nelson, at Knysna Education Trust started the SOUNS programme in Knysna (and other centers). It was originally introduced as a literacy programme through Rotary International, which has literacy as one of its global humanitarian goals.
Ms Nelson also developed the SOUNS kit sets, in a see-through container, a polar fleece mat to work around on the floor which included s hand-out file to accompany the kit including the following documents translated from English into Afrikaans and Xhosa.
To date, all SOUNS sets have been distributed to the classes where they are to be used, and the teachers have had individual training on using them. Teachers have also been shown how to track the learners’ progress. Twenty-two volunteers have made themselves available to monitor sample groups from each class, so that an average speed of learning can be discovered. Volunteers have been trained and have received information packs to help them manage their preschools. Most importantly, the children are learning and enjoying it!
The way SOUNS works is very straightforward and simple. Originally we were told that it is an English-language system, which would have to be implemented in English. We immediately knew that English would not be of any use to our young children who are still learning their own mother-tongue, but who desperately need education in literacy, and we decided to investigate its use in our local African languages, Xhosa, Afrikaans and English being the official languages of Western Cape.
We found that most letters of the alphabet produce the same sounds in all languages, but that there were a few with different sounds (e.g. g and y in Afrikaans, and the click sounds in Xhosa) Some of the vowel sounds are different from English in Afrikaans and Xhosa, but the sounds are more consistent, because they are both much more modern languages and do not have so many variations in pronunciation that English does.
The children sit on the floor, around a circular mat, 8 at a time, with the teacher.
The children are shown only 4 letters, (o,m,s,t,) the sound of each is repeated, and then the children handle the letters, hold them, grasp them, rub them on their skin, feel the Braille dots, bite them, chew them (depending on their ages)…..in the way children investigate any item that they come across. The teacher does not hold on to the letters, the children do. They pass them to each other, hide them in a bag, put them in the middle, pick them up again, repeat the sound of each, whispering, shouting …..just playing as they do so. Together they play spontaneous games with their letters for 10 – 15 minutes.
Once they seem to know one of the letters well, another new one is introduced, according to the prescribed sequence of SOUNS letters. Once they have enough SOUNS knowledge to form a word in their own language, they listen to the word pronounced very slowly by the teacher, and they look for the letters that produce the sounds (e.g. s-o-m in Afrikaans, and moto in Xhosa). They must know very early on that the SOUNS that they are learning about are the building blocks of their own language. They are also encouraged to make nonsense words if they can sound them out, and use invented spelling (e.g. apl for apple, because a and p and l are the sounds that they hear in apple). SOUNS is not a spelling programme, although in USA it is believed that children who mastered SOUNS at a young age are better spellers later on, merely because they are good at noticing all the letters and sounds in the correct sequence.
It is sad to see the reality of the difficulties that some of our little children are facing. In Sedgefield, for example, the Xhosa children are learning SOUNS in Afrikaans because there is only one primary school in the township and it is Afrikaans medium.