Saturday, April 17, 2010

Alphabet Beats

Handwriting practice has just become one of the best parts of my Kindergarten student's day! We received Alphabet Beats, writing lowercase letters DVD to review from TV Teacher. The DVD was free in exchange for this review. The TV Teacher 's motto, "We make learning easy and fun!" capitalizes on the power and impact television has over young children to teach valuable early learning skills like handwriting, shape and number awareness.

There is a wealth of information for parents, teachers and therapists regarding Alphabet Beats on the company website. Created by Susan Ellis, mother to Ryan an autistic pre-schooler, the DVD's are perfect for any child aged 2-8. Ellis's son had difficulty forming alphabet letters although he could recite and read them. Marnie, his occupational therapist, agreed to video tape her therapy sessions with Ryan to be used at home. The videos helped him so much that Ellis knew others would benefit from a similar product. The videos began to be professionally produced in 2006, and have received acclaim from therapists, teachers and parents. Alphabet Beats received the "Preferred Choice Award" by Creative Child Magazine in 2008.

Alphabet Beats, writing lowercase teaches all 26 lower case letters in 5 minute mini-unit studies. The very happy, engaging and encouraging, Miss Marnie shares vocabulary words, songs, objects, visits around town and of course specific direction for each letter formation with humor and energy. Alphabet Beats, lowercase, however is more than simple handwriting practice. In my opinion it is a full pre-school curriculum filled with alphabet organized mini unit studies.

A typical unit shifts from video segments demonstrating letter formation for handwriting practice to short segments relating to the letter sound. For example, the letter P unit teaches the student, "dotted line down, follow up and around" with Miss Marnie chanting the catchy reminder and demonstrating on lined paper how to form lowercase p. After reciting the chant a few times the segment shifts as Miss Marnie narrates "P is for police officer!" The camera reveals a man dressed in uniform. The officer smiles at the camera saying, "Hi! I'm a police officer. You can come to me for help if you need it. I'm your friend".

Other examples of the comprehensive pre-school units include taking a virtual field trip to the dentist with Miss Marnie and learning a song to remember the days of the week. These activities are part of the unit dedicated to learning lowercase d letter formation.

Handwriting practice is demonstrated on chalkboards, dry erase boards and lined paper. Parents can download the same lined paper Miss Marnie uses from the TV Teacher website for free. Miss Marnie uses colored magic markers and dry erase makers adding visual impact for children.

Parents using Alphabet Beats for teaching handwriting instruction are offered the following teaching tips at the beginning of the video:

  • Watch the DVD with your child. (Alphabet Beats is NOT a video babysitter)
  • Practice the handwriting skills for 10 mins. a day
  • Complete no more than 3-4 letters in a day

Aidan is 5, almost 6 and I would agree with all the teaching tips offered with the exception of 3-4 letters in one day. We chose to focus on one letter per day by watching the video through once, then watching it a second time while he practiced letter formation along with Miss Marnie on the screen. At the conclusion of the video segment, Aidan spent some solitary time completing more letter writing practice before we called it a day. I found focusing on one letter at a time with Aidan had a greater impact in helping him remember the lesson.

"I liked it!" commented Aidan. "The letters are easy to make. I liked using the markers to write with. The paper made it easy too. I really liked the A's (for Aidan) the best.

I think the use of color and other visual stimulation accompanied with the chanting and narration are excellent examples of teaching to auditory and visual learning styles. Approaching handwriting through a variety of senses helped Aidan's handwriting lessons find their way into his long-term memory. Add in the "fun factor" brought to lessons by Miss Marnie and handwriting practice evolves from dreaded, boring chore to one of the best parts of the school day.

"It's really cool! When we were learning about the letter P my favorite part was picnic", said Aidan.

Alphabet Beats lowercase DVD sells on the TV Teacher website for $35.00. A spiral bound from the top student workbook of the special lined paper Miss Marnie uses sells for $4.49. For the frugal minded individual sheets of paper can be printed free of charge directly from the website. In addition, TV Teacher's Uppercase and lowercase DVDs sell as a set for $64.99.

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