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Alphabet Beats--Writing Uppercase Letters DVD Alphabet Beats--Writing Lowercase Letters DVD Strokes, Shapes, & Scenes DVD (pre-writing to pictures) Review by Courtney Larson

The TV Teacher
PO Box 71926
Marietta, GA 30007

I have five sons, ranging in age from 10 down to 4. Teaching handwriting is not my favorite thing to do, and penmanship has been enjoyed by only one of my sons. I've used several different programs with my boys over the years trying to make this necessary subject a little easier for all of us, but the TV Teacher is the first program that has had any of my boys asking to do penmanship lessons.

Strokes, Shapes, & Scenes is a DVD that instructs children in pre-writing skills. It begins with strokes (vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines), moves onto shapes (circle, square, triangle, rectangle, heart, oval, and star), and then onto scenes (using the skills learned in previous lessons). There are two Alphabet Beats DVDs. One DVD teaches uppercase letter formation, and the other teaches lowercase letter formation. The DVDs are recommended for children ages 2  through 8. They are not meant to be viewed from beginning to end. Instead, the child should watch each lesson individually. The DVDs are easy to navigate; all three have a main menu that allows selection of the stroke, shape, scene, or letter you would like to work on.

The TV Teacher is Miss Marnie, and my 7, 6, and 4-year-old sons all enjoy watching her. Miss Marnie is a very patient and upbeat teacher, and she's always smiling. She teaches each stroke or letter by singing a catchy little tune that describes how to form it. In the Alphabet Beats DVDs, Miss Marnie writes the letter on the chalkboard and on paper several times throughout the lesson, each time singing the letter formation chant. The writing is broken up with fun little segments that introduce different vocabulary words. Each segment is around five minutes long. Because the Strokes, Shapes, & Scenes DVD is full of pre-writing activities, the segments are shorter. Miss Marnie sings a chant that teaches how to form the stroke or shape and demonstrates how to write the stroke or shape, but the writing segments are broken up with children forming the stroke or shape. Miss Marnie encourages children to try to write along with her, and she encourages using a correct pencil grip.

Each DVD has corresponding workbooks available. These workbooks are spiral bound at the top, making them easy for both right and left-handed children to use. The Strokes, Shapes, & Scenes workbook includes pages with light gray dotted-line pictures from the video segments. There are two different workbooks (beginning and advanced) available for each of the Alphabet Beats DVDs. All four workbooks contain only one letter per page, and each page has the letter formation chant printed on the page. The beginner workbook has larger lines, and the child will only write the letter 12 times. The pages are not overwhelming, and they are easy to complete, making them great for beginning writers or children who melt at the thought of handwriting. The advanced workbooks have smaller lines, more space to practice letters (the letter will be written a total of 40 times), a word to trace and copy, and a section in which children circle pictures that begin with the letter they are working on. These workbooks are great for an older child who is working through the videos.

I am using the Strokes, Shapes, & Scenes DVD with my 4-year-old son. He asks daily if he can watch the TV Teacher, and then he practices his writing without complaint. He loves to sing the chants along with Miss Marnie, and he enjoys the workbook as well. I'm using the Alphabet Beats DVDs with my 6 and 7-year-old sons. My 6-year-old was still learning how to correctly form letters when this arrived, and my 7-year-old was in need of some serious remediation. (He taught himself how to write a couple of years ago and has never formed his letters properly.) I have seen penmanship improvement with both boys. The catchy chants help them to remember how to form each letter.

Each Alphabet Beats DVD is $35, and the Strokes, Shapes, & Scenes DVD is $24.95. The workbooks are between $4.49 and $4.99 each. There are also various bundles available, and these cut down on the cost. I think this program is worth every penny, and I highly recommend it. I only wish I'd had it six years ago when I began to teach penmanship to my boys.

Product review by Courtney Larson, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, February 2010