In the ever-widening conversation of virtual learning that has gripped the globe since the start of the pandemic, its advantages and disadvantages, the digital divide and those who risk falling behind, one age group has been seemingly left completely out of the conversation. Perhaps there is a feeling of complacency that children between ages two and seven have more than enough time to catch up, it is the older ones we must worry about.
But Darrell and Louisea John-Browne have been on a mission to remind the world that those formative years of a child's life remain as critical as those on the cusp of sitting the Secondary Entrance Assessment exam (SEA) or Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examination.
"Child development is necessary and the most crucial milestone in a child’s life occurs by the age of seven. In fact, the great Greek philosopher Aristotle once said 'give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man'", Darrell Browne told the Sunday Guardian. His family has developed an interactive and interpretative alphabet available in eBook, paperback and chart format designed for children over two years of age. It took over one year of work but Browne admits it comes at a crucial time. "In this crucial stint of COVID-19 where children are protected by staying at home we believe this product can definitely assist in making a child’s indoor activity more meaningful and largely aid in solving the worldwide problem of crime and assist in eradicating poverty."
Eliminating crime and eradicating poverty may seem like a stretch for an interpretative alphabet but Browne and his family have flipped the lid on the conventional learning of the alphabet, especially here in the Caribbean. "The age-old alphabet we grew up learning has the word 'Gun' for the letter 'G' and now we wonder where did we go wrong as parents and leaders? Why do we live in a society riddled with guns, violence and uncontrolled crime? Our alphabet teaches a child the word 'Give' for the letter 'G'. This is just one example of our learning tool being different from other alphabets," he said. According to Browne, what may seem like a mere triviality can be embedded in a child from a young age and Harvard scientists seem to agree with him. Harvard University's Center on the Developing Child stated in research on brain architecture, "Just as a weak foundation compromises the quality and strength of a house, adverse experiences early in life can impair brain architecture, with negative effects lasting into adulthood."
The words and images on the interactive and interpretative alphabet are designed to encourage children into healthy conversations with their parents, teachers and peers. The Amazon description explained, "Repetition is one of the greatest teachers and as children continuously repeat the 'Increase Kids Alphabet' the ideas and concepts will come alive and eventually be embedded in their nature."
Darrell and Louisea John-Browne have been married for six years with two daughters ages four and two. They say the interactive alphabet was inspired by their passion for reading books and a strong desire for their children's mind to be “tuned into the right frequency” from a young age. Their daughters were as much part of building this innovative alphabet as they were. The parents observed the different styles of children’s communication using some of their favourite cartoons to choose easy words for them to learn, remember and most importantly do. There was input from grandparents, aunties, uncles and friends. "We had images in mind and they were interpreted and hand-drawn by a close friend Uzair Muhammad. Guidance was sought from my daughters well-experienced kindergarten principal Ms Lynn Rambarat, our well achieved past primary school principal Mr Jumadeed Mohammed and manager Pettlin Trim," said Browne.
It has opened up a new, less traditional way for children to both learn the alphabet and grow in using words. The Brownes have been delighted in how their own children have taken to the alphabet. "It's exciting and heart-warming to see our own children using this tool. We use it as a corrective measure. If they do things that challenge us as parents we refer to words in the alphabet to correct and remind them of what is good and not good. It encourages them to have fun while learning together."
Now it is their hope that other children can also latch on to the interactive and interpretative alphabet and continue learning the fundamentals of language although they may not be in school. "We trust that every child that uses this alphabet increases rapidly in every area of their lives, and homes and schools will be founded on more solid values. We are confident through assessments conducted that children will show improvement in their academics and personal behaviours from a young age through interaction with the use of this alphabet," Browne said.
Having made the product available to the world through multinational technology companies such as Amazon, the Browne family is aware that the revolution of peace they wish to accomplish with this alphabet may only take effect one child at a time. "Children learn a lot from what they see at this age and unfortunately most of what they see in our society is not at its best. This alphabet can help train a child’s mind very early on and start creating a better world from inside the head of a child," he said.
The needs of the world's youngest children who have merely just entered school are perhaps being drowned out with that of the needs of those much older, but this family is shedding a spotlight on those with no voice. Those who are now learning to speak.