Local Residents Provide a Jump Start on Reading

RocketKids Article

Lakewood Ranch resident, Heather Kenny, Ph.D., President of Unleashed Innovation, Inc., a woman-owned small business specializing in educational curriculum, is hoping to make a positive impact on children’s literacy rates in the community. Kenny, along with Laura Robbins, M.Ed has created Sounder & Friends™, an animated adventure series and educational app specifically designed to help young children, aged 3-6, develop phonemic awareness skills in a fun and playful way. Paul Kenny, Heather’s husband, serves as an Executive Producer for Sounder & Friends®

Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and play with individual sounds (or phonemes) in spoken words. It is a crucial literacy skill that lays the foundation for proficient reading and spelling. If children become attuned to the speech sounds that they hear and say in spoken words, they can understand how and why to use letters to read and spell the written versions of those words.

In the enchanting world of Sounder, the dog, and her friends, Will, Sky and Trae, sounds are not only heard, but they are seen as colorful swirls that, when blended together, form objects in the environment. The lovable but impulsive raccoon, the Sound Snatcher, is fascinated by these colorful swirls. Children will enjoy watching the Sound Snatcher as he gets into mischief or solves problems by snatching and switching sounds.

“Although reading scores in Sarasota County Public Schools are higher than the state average, there is always room for improvement,” says Heather. A reading interventionist and literacy consultant, she observes that children who have difficulty learning to read, frequently have deficits in phonemic awareness.

In addition to the Sounder & Friends® short episodes, which are available on YouTube and pbs.org, Kenny and Robbins have created Sounder & Friends® The Game, a free app that can be downloaded onto iOS or Android mobile devices. The app encourages children to complete sound puzzles while having fun and earning prizes. Both the episodes and the app are featured on the National Council on Improving Literacy’s Kid Zone.

“Our short episodes are available in interstitial format (1 minute segments that are like educational commercials) that we are making available to PBS members stations,” shares Heather. “We are hoping that WEDU will pick it up for airing it in the region.”

According to the creators, children who experience success in learning to read are well-positioned for success in school and in life. Virtually every parent, grandparent, teacher, and caregiver understands why it is important to help children learn the ABC’s, yet few of these early childhood educators appreciate the importance of phonemic awareness, an even more powerful predictor of early literacy success. Heather and Paul Kenny believe that Sounder & Friends® can help children get a “jump start” on developing the skills that they need to experience reading success, right from the start.

For more information about Sounder & Friends®, contact Heather at hkenny@unleashed-innovation.com.

To view an episode, click here.

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