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October 2006 | Vol. V - No. 10
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Preschool Prep Brings Life to Letters

A Happy Accident Leads to a New Way of Learning

“I'm trying to tell parents that letters are just words.” Kathy Oxley, Preschool Prep Company
Preschool Prep Company (Gift Guide) produces DVDs and books that teach toddlers the alphabet, numbers and shapes while they are learning to talk. Kathy Oxley, a former investment banker, mother of four, and now president of her company, told  TDmonthly in her own words what drove her to develop these engaging educational tools.

I stumbled into the toy business.

My first daughter learned her letters when she was very young — 14 months. I was sitting with her, watching a video. This video wasn’t meant to teach letters — it was meant to expose kids to classical music and interesting objects.

As the letters appeared on the screen, I would say them, and after a short number of viewings my daughter learned all of her upper-case letters. I didn’t have to push her … there was a curiosity.

She would become frustrated with the lower-case letters. It’s very hard to find a video that teaches lower-case letters, but I found an electronic toy. Once it clicked — before she was 3 — she started reading. Letters were words, and they were her friends.

Parents thought my daughter was smart. Other parents wouldn’t sit with their kids and do it. And even I didn’t listen to my own wisdom!

My son was 15 months old when my daughter was 3, and I didn’t sit with him. He got into preschool and he wasn’t interested in letters. When they’re learning letters at 3 and 4 years old, it’s just not as easy.

I thought: I’ll design a video. It will have lower-case letters, upper-case letters, different types of letters. I’ll teach upper- and lower-case letters separately.

Preschool Prep (Gift Guide) was formed in April 2004. That summer, we conducted a study with more than 50 children ranging from 9 months to 5 years of age. By the end of the study, 90 percent of these children knew all of the upper- and lower-case letters.

I showed the program to my two littlest kids; my 15-month-old and 2.5-year-old daughters learned their letters within 2 months.

I didn’t release the products until September 2005 because I didn’t want to release just one product. I would have a hard time sitting at a trade show selling one DVD.

"Meet the Letters" and "Meet the Numbers" both debuted on the new release best-seller list.

It’s always difficult to figure out where to advertise. There have been a lot of ads — full-page ads in magazine — that I haven’t had a single sale from, and then smaller ads that have brought in sales.

Toy stores carry the products; the majority of them are school supply stores. It took me awhile to figure out that was my niche.

Another area that’s finding me is special needs. I’m getting calls all the time from mothers of children who are autistic and have other types of special needs, too. They say, “You wouldn’t believe how effective this video is.”

I’d like to emphasize that I’m not trying to push kids. I’m trying to tell parents that letters are just words. The point of my company is to give kids a foundation so when they’re ready to read, they can learn.

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Elizabeth GreenspanWriter's Bio: Elizabeth Greenspan edits and writes for trade and technical publications. She has interviewed and collaborated with some of the top practitioners in their fields. She lives in Philadelphia and travels extensively for her work. Read more articles by this author

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