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Learning Letters to Music / Handwriting Exercises to Music / Advanced Handwriting Review by Kelly Ann

Exercises to Music from Around the World
Liora Laufer
Callirobics
1 (804) 293-7055
P.O. Box 6634
Charlottesville, VA 22906
http://callirobics.com

Writing is probably the one and only subject that my son gets the least bit excited about. While he doesn’t put up a struggle, I can still tell that he’s not a fan of his daily writing exercises. I’m always looking for new and inventive ways to make writing more enticing for him. I had recently come across a program called Callirobics that had me quite intrigued with the inventive way that they approach learning how to write. You see, the program uses a collection of handwriting activities coupled with music to get students excited about learning. My son absolutely loves music, so I knew that this was a program that we’d have to try. We decided to try three different products from the company, including their Learning Letters to Music, Handwriting Exercises to Music, and Advanced Handwriting Exercises to Music from Around the World programs.

Callirobics has a comprehensive collection of handwriting products to cover a broad group of age ranges and writing levels, from kindergarten all the way through adulthood. All of the student workbooks also contain a special music CD to complete the activities. After working through three of their programs, I’ve noticed that each one has a little something different to offer, depending on the grade level that it was created for.

The Callirobics Learning Letters to Music program includes two student workbooks and a music CD that retails for $30.95. One workbook is for learning how to write upper case letters and the second one is for learning how to write lower case letters. Right from the start, I was happy to see that inclusion of the lowercase workbook. We have used many programs that solely focus on upper case letters, so the lowercase letter workbook was a nice surprise.

Given that this program is intended for students in pre-k through second grade, it has a simple format that’s not too busy. There are twenty-six lessons, one for each letter of the alphabet. In the uppercase letter workbook, lessons are laid out on a two-page spread with an introduction to a letter on the left page, along with three vocabulary words and an age-appropriate illustration to match. The illustrations can be used as a fun coloring activity after children have finished their letter writing exercises. The pages on the right-hand side of every lesson display the handwriting activity with four writing lines, each with a small smiley face to notate the starting point. There is a title of the corresponding song from the CD, as well as a large letter with numerical guidelines to direct children on the proper formation of each letter. The first two writing lines offer a letter, evenly spaced out for students to trace. The third line offers the same set-up, except the letters are significantly lighter to give children a chance to start experiencing what it feels like to write the letter on their own, without a guideline to trace. The fourth and last line on each letter page still contains the smiley face starting point, but there are no preprinted letters. This is where my son was challenged to write the letters on his own without any guidelines. The lowercase workbook closely matches the overall concept of the uppercase workbook, with the exception of the exterior cover and vocabulary word coloring page, which is omitted.

After inserting the CD, students will hear a chime and then the lesson’s letter, followed by several vocabulary words that begin with the same letter. For instance, the letter E will include the words “Eddie,”“Elephant,” and “Egg.” These are displayed on the left-hand side of the lesson along with the coloring page. Each time a vocabulary word is said aloud, a group of children’s voices say each word twice. This is usually done in one sequence for each letter and group of words, and then repeated back. After a pause, a song will begin playing, so the student can begin their letter writing exercise. 

The songs are fun and age-appropriate for younger children. They really get kids excited about writing. My son, who is four, was thrilled when he started using this. His first words about the program were, “I’m writing my letters to music!” He never gets this excited about writing, so I knew we were getting somewhere. Each song is different in length, but most will give him enough time to finish the page. If there is a song that is shorter than the other, we then put it on repeat until my son has completed the letter page. The whole idea in this program is to stay on the same letter for two to three days before moving on to the next exercise.

Some of the songs on the CD are sung by adults, while some are sung by children. My son loves hearing other children sing, so this is a nice aspect of the program that makes him feel as though the children are doing the exercises along with him. He was also quick to pick up the steady flow of each writing session. When the chime was heard he knew that it was time to observe the illustration and repeat three new vocabulary words. He’d then pause and wait for the song to begin before proceeding with his handwriting activity.

The second program that we had received, Callirobics Handwriting Exercises to Music, comes with a student workbook, teacher’s guide, and music CD. This program retails for $37.95 and was created for students ages seven through fourteen. The idea behind this particular program is to get children prepared for writing in cursive. The book is different in its approach where it doesn’t use typical cursive letters to practice. Instead, it includes a series of repetitive lines, shapes, and patterns to get children acclimated with the movements involved in this stage of writing. From slants, curves, angles, and loops, this workbook tackles some of the more intensive stages of writing without overwhelming students.

The activities are broken down into ten sessions with two lessons per session. It is recommended that students take at least a week or more to work through each session. Every session follows a similar setup where one lesson focuses on straight lines or angles, while another focuses on curved or rounded lines. The lessons have clever titles such as, “At the Top of the World.” This particular lesson displays zigzagged triangles that look like mountains. There is another exercise called “Caterpillars Hanging on a Tree,” which allows the student to create small arches that connect to each other. The introduction page displays a trial run on how to form the writing pattern, focusing on the correct and incorrect way to do it. The lines to write on are narrower than what you would typically find in handwriting books for younger grades. This allows students to get used to traditional ruled paper. At the end of each session a positive affirmation is included, for example, “I am good at making decisions and solving problems.” These are added for students to read and help offer a little extra encouragement to keep their spirits up.

The music CD includes instrumental tunes that have a more mature feel for older students. Songs range anywhere from two to three and a half minutes, give or take. I’ve found that each song’s rhythm changes to match the corresponding writing activity, sometimes intensifying in tone and other times slowing down to a gentler melody. You can tell that a lot of thought and detail was put into coming up with the perfect combination of writing patterns to match the music it was being paired with.

The Teacher’s Guide is handy to have for this program, because it breaks down each lesson’s objective and outlines the major components that will be implemented throughout the activities. There is also an area at the bottom of every lesson outline, that suggests a simplified method to each exercise. This is offered, just in case the student is having some difficulty working through the main writing pattern. I appreciate how the writers of this program offer adaptable ways for it to be used, not just through simplified writing activities, but by also suggesting more hands-on ways for students to tackle each lesson. I have a kinesthetic learner, so it’s really important for me to be able to use a program that we can alter in order to fit his learning needs, rather than one that only offers a one size fits all concept. While some of the workbook activities are a little more advanced for my son’s grade level, he still enjoys working through some of the patterns using his fingers and other manipulatives as he listens to the music. I really enjoy the overall concept of this program, and the ingenuitivemethod used to prepare children for cursive handwriting.

The third program that we had received is Callirobics Advanced Handwriting Exercises to Music from Around the World, which retails for $30.95. This program, while similar to Handwriting Exercises to Music, offers a more challenging set of activities that’s geared towards students who have either graduated through the Callirobics program by completing previous workbooks, or for those who prefer more of a challenge. The lessons continue to prepare students for cursive writing by creating intricate shapes and patterns, only this time they’re inspired by different countries. We really enjoy the cultural theme that not only offers a more creative writing experience, but a little introduction to some of the customs and songs from various places around the world, such as Mexico, Israel, and Italy. There’s even an exercise for the United States.

The music CD includes instrumental songs that are signature to different nations, such as the “Funiculi Funicula” from Italy and “Hassapikos” from Greece. I was especially excited to see “HavaNagila” included for Israel’s exercise. This is a favorite song of ours that actually ended up on repeat a few times, even after the exercise was complete. The songs on the CD match the more lengthier exercises in the student workbook. They are anywhere from five minutes to almost nine minutes long. Students are able to put together unique shapes and line formations that help represent a theme relating to each country, all while listening to music. For instance, session two has a formation called “Beluga Whale” for Russia. The shape patterns of the writing exercise look like waves and whale tails coming up out of the water.

The exercises are divided into four groups with three sessions in each. The only exception is the fourth group, which has only one session. Each session includes an introduction page that highlights the country, the theme of the writing pattern, and tips on how to complete the exercise. At the bottom of this same page, there is a list of objectives that will be achieved upon completion of the writing assignment. These vary depending on the activity, but some include enhancing concentration and memory or improving control and writing movement. Exercises also include a positive sentence to encourage students as they progress through their handwriting skills. There is an extra section that allows students to become a “Happy Super Traveler” by using modified steps to make the original writing assignment even more challenging.

What really makes this particular Callirobics workbook a little different than the others, is that it offers extra creative thinking activities. As students progress through each group of sessions, there is less structure given to subsequent assignments, so they will have the opportunity to fill in the missing pieces of information. Some examples include allowing students to name their own exercise, coming up with a sentence to promote positive well-being, adding in more detail to current writing patterns, and even creating their own imaginary country while also forging a special postcard stamp to match. The final session is the most challenging of all, because it gives students the freedom to create their very own exercises from scratch, including the country being showcased and a brand new writing pattern. We were allowed to get really creative with this one, because anything goes and it’s all up to the student and their imagination.

I really appreciate the multisensory approach that Callirobics offers in their handwriting programs. My son especially enjoys the Learning Letters to Music CD, which we also sometimes listen to just for the fun of it. It’s very reminiscent of a traditional nursery rhyme CD, only with uniquely written lyrics that focus on vocabulary pertaining to a specific letter. No matter which program we’re using, the included music gets him even more excited to open up his book and get to work. It’s not just about writing, although this is the major component, rather students can enjoy art activities, learning about different nations, and even new vocabulary. The inclusion of positive affirmations in some of the workbooks are also a nice touch, especially for students who may be struggling with the confidence to write. All in all, this is a program that we’ve been enjoying quite a bit, so much that we’re actually considering others in the series to complete our writing lesson library.

-Product review by Kelly Ann, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, July, 2018

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