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So smart! Shapes DVD Review by Donna Campos

So Smart! Productions
320 N. High Street, 3rd Floor
West Chester, PA 19380 610-918-1888

The So smart! Shapes DVD is a 30-minute program intended to present basic shapes to babies and toddlers from 6 to 36 months of age. There is no narration, but the program is set to a calming classical music accompaniment. (Additional DVDs in the So smart! line present colors, letters, sights & sounds, and first words for babies.) The Shapes DVD presents the circle, square, and triangle, with additional exposure to the rectangle and to basic colors. The animated characters are Cecil the Circle, Suzie the Square, and Traci the Triangle. Though none of the characters ever speak and do not have any attributes outside of their legs, Suzie sports dressy shoes and Traci cruises around on skates. The shapes move around and make various objects with smooth animated movement as the program progresses from one scene to the next.

This DVD is intended to be used while parents play with babies and toddlers. At the beginning of the program, parents are encouraged to talk and narrate the words provided on the screen as they teach their children basic shapes. As this is a program for very young children, it is ideal for use in the home, but it may also be used in child-care environments or for play groups with more children. The program includes the added benefit of a "Goodies" file that can be accessed when you insert the disk into your home computer. Printable story cards can be viewed on-screen as a friendly female voice narrates the limited wording on each card. When viewing the story cards, parents may narrate on their own by turning down the volume or enjoy the included narration. The cards progress very slowly at a rate of every 40 seconds unless forwarded more quickly.

Look twice at So smart! Shapes, and take in the program as you enjoy it with your toddlers and infants. There is much that might be missed. Our family truly enjoyed this program. My toddler, at 14 months old, laughed with the movement and danced, enjoying every moment--although he was startled a few times (in a good way) during peek-a-boo sessions. My three-year-old laughed hysterically when Suzie the Square walked all the way around the television screen. I enjoyed being overly dramatic with shock and amazement as she did so, which he wholeheartedly enjoyed. The intensity of a parent's involvement will truly make a difference in the use of So smart! Shapes. And even though the creators stressed that the words on the screen were for the parents' benefit in narrating, our three-year-old was picking up on some of the words, and I don't doubt for a minute that many young children will begin some word recognition with So smart! Shapes.

The possibilities for use of this program are incredible. I know some parents may try this as a naptime video, but that would be a sad use of this DVD as it offers much, much more. I am disappointed that it is directed only to young children from 6 to 36 months and encourage families with preschoolers to make this program a family project! We know classical music has wonderful positive effects on children and adults. Add to that the many ideas creative families can come up with for support materials to be made after viewing, and this is truly a family program. Our family made a turtle and a boat similar to those demonstrated, but so much more could be done away from the viewing time. Perhaps you could make a clock, a train, a city, or phone, just as they are made in the program with simple shapes. There are six faces you could design and make with your preschoolers, each with moving eyelids as presented in the program. And don't miss the animated diorama with a sail boat, moving waves, and shifting clouds toward the end. What fun children would have making that after watching! With some planning, you could prepare shapes beforehand so that older children could be completing physical projects while watching along with younger children. The So Smart! website offers an email newsletter that may provide even more ideas.

Our more practical complaints were that the printable story cards are numbered as book pages, although the instructions tell parents to use them in any order. I wish there had been no numbering on the story cards at all. Also, more comments on color could be added. Even with this program's primary emphasis on shapes, it would have been nice to reference colors of objects more often.

So smart! Shapes DVD is an excellent program, and I have already ordered a couple more DVDs from their So smart! line. Hands-on activities are always fantastic for preschoolers and older children. Implementing some creativity will stretch this DVD out for use by your whole family. Gather your family, from 6 months to 60 years, with paper and scissors on the table, some cloth shapes on the floor with the infants, and crayons in the hands of the preschoolers, and make some designs together while viewing So smart! Shapes. You will enjoy every moment, and so will they!

Product review by Donna Campos, Senior Product Reviewer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, August 2008