Sunday, August 28, 2011

Review: Steps4Kids -- Printing and Cursive

Earlier, I posted a review of Steps4Kids to Multiply.  This is a review of their handwriting DVDs.

Steps4Kids to Write Their ABCs is the one we used the most.  This is a traditional printing program, going through upper and lower case letters.  They advertise that it is "compatible with penmanship programs using non-slanted printing styles such as Zaner-Bloser®, Palmer®, HWOT®."  I can speak to it working well with Handwriting Without Tears.

I primarily had Trina and Richard using this DVD, as they are both right in the target age range for it (ages 4-7).  However, the older boys watched as well.

About an hour in total, the individual letter tracks are mostly under a minute each -- most actually seem to be in the 30 to 45 second range.  Basic and no frills, much like the multiplication DVD.  Each track goes through and does the following:
  • Names the letter
  • Shows and says two words beginning with that letter (x being an exception)
  • On the traditional lower-elementary style writing paper (two solid lines, dashed line in the middle) she writes the letter while talking through what she is doing.
  • Then the letter is written twice more, with more abbreviated verbal instruction
Interspersed among the letter lessons are little drawing lessons that have you start by writing a letter, then you add some extra lines or circles for eyes and you end up with some cute little something.  I rolled my eyes at these.  My kids adored them.  Goes to show that I don't always know what will motivate them, huh?

My *plan* for this DVD, which failed, was to pull it out as we worked through our language arts program and to watch the segments for the letters we were learning in there.  What I found, though, was that was too confusing for my 5 year old.  The order the letters are introduced in the language arts program makes a lot of sense for that program... but transferring it over to this DVD meant we were getting hints about how to write the letter that didn't make sense, as we hadn't seen the earlier letters.  Richard would have been okay, but he's more comfortable with the letters already.  So even if he hadn't heard the Steps4Kids suggestions for a letter, he still knew enough to understand it.

So -- what we did instead was to stop the other program and work on the writing first.  We can go through the DVD in *their* suggested order, and that has worked so much better for them both, but especially for Trina.

In September sometime, we'll go back to the language arts program.  And now we'll be able to just watch the applicable segments because the kids are already familiar with the whole thing.

The suggested order on the DVD makes sense to me.  Starting with upper-case, you do the straight vertical and horizontal line letters (F or L, for instance).  Then you introduce the curved letters (J or D, for instance).  Finally you get into letters that have slanted lines (M or V, for instance).

In the lowercase segment, the letters are grouped into related groups as well.  So, you learn to make an r, then use the r to make an n, and then an m.

What I like:
  • There is something about having someone else show them that seems to stick.
  • The little drawing segments motivate my kids
  • The progression of letters was clearly very well thought-out
  • My kids enjoy this
There are a couple of things I don't love, but they are fairly minor.  All are related to the drawing segments.  Some of the drawing sections have you using letters you haven't learned yet (doing m's as flower petals before you learn m).  But... the bigger one is that you are taught that you can use a c to make a nose and ears on a face.  The drawing is cute, and it works for my current two little ones... but my older boys had SO MUCH trouble remembering which direction a c went in the first place, that I couldn't help but cringe at the idea of actually teaching them to make a backwards c.

Steps4Kids to Write Cursive was the reason I was so excited to try this series in the first place.  My older boys have all totally failed to learn cursive, and I'm constantly debating with myself as to how important it is.  I had decided, though, that while working through the language arts program for the little two that my two struggling readers were going to be my teaching assistants.  And that I was going to pull Connor (9th) grade in as well for the writing segment... and while the little two learned to print the letters, the big three were going to learn cursive.

This DVD confirmed that.  But again...  doing it in the order of the LA program was a nightmare, and we had to give it up.  Honestly, I think it was the issues with the cursive that made us switch for the printing too.  Because my boys are NOT at all used to cursive.

The letter order on the cursive DVD is very different from that on the printing one.  Obviously.  Because the letters are grouped by similar strokes, and while some of that is similar between cursive and print, not all of it is.  So I was not really able to keep the kids going on the same letters.  Not a big deal, really.

Okay, so while very similar, there are some differences, so let me talk about the letter tracks on the Cursive DVD:
  • They show the letter
  • They talk about how it 'connects' and then give two words starting with the letter emphasizing how it connects (or doesn't, in the case of letters like a capital O)
  • The letter is demonstrated first very similar to the printing DVD, talking through and showing the strokes
  • Then there is ONE practice of each letter
  • And in between letter groups, instead of a drawing break, there is a Look2Write segment where they look at a collage of items and are to write (in cursive) the things they see that start with the letters from that group
The Look2Write segments are not at all appealing to my kids.  Yet.  As we work back through this again, maybe.

What is really great about the DVD is the fourth section (1 is introductory, 2 is uppercase, 3 is lowercase) teaches about connections.  I wish I had watched this segment with the kids before we started watching the letter-teaching parts, but I assumed we ought to go in order.  It is about fifteen minutes.  I wouldn't necessarily have them watch the entire thing before starting the rest, but the first five minutes or so talk about the rules for connecting that just make so much sense.  The remaining ten minutes are practice, which obviously they wouldn't really be able to do until they learn to make the letters.  They could watch it though.

This is going a lot more slowly than I expected it to, however it is far more effective than anything else I have tried to do to teach cursive. 

Disclaimer:  I received these DVDs in exchange for an honest review.  No other compensation was received.  All opinions expressed in this review are my own.  

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