Letter recognition doesn’t concern most parents until their children enter preschool. But Kathy Oxley, founder of Preschool Prep (ToyShow), a company that makes educational videos for toddlers, believes that letter recognition is easiest for the very young.
| “Letters are just shapes of a different kind.” — Kathy Oxley, Preschool Prep
“Learning letters and learning to read are two difficult tasks. It’s very easy when you’re learning to talk; you learn in a different way.” Her company’s video “Meet the Letters,” released in September 2005, is most effective with children ages 1 through 4.
Oxley noticed the different experiences of her two oldest children. With a single-minded determination that only a toddler can exhibit, her oldest daughter became fascinated with letters. “She would play with [letter-shaped] refrigerator magnets,” Oxley told TDmonthly Magazine. “She learned the names of letters like they were words.”
Her son didn’t show the same interest, so he wasn’t introduced to letters and their names until he was in preschool. “I watched these four-year-olds struggle. They would spend a whole week on one letter and come back the next week not knowing it,” she said.
Oxley began wondering why children didn’t learn the names of letters when they learned to talk. “They learn the names of animals, colors, shapes … letters are just shapes of a different kind.”
Oxley was unable to find an educational video that taught letter recognition for younger children. “Those for the very young were not teaching. At best they would show an image of a letter.”
Faced with what she felt was an overlooked need, Oxley, a stay-at-home mom after a decade as an investment banker, made “Meet the Letters.” The video teaches both upper- and lower-case letters through a series of images. A black letter becomes a colored letter, the colored letter turns into an animated character that performs an action and says the letter’s name. Then the transformation process is reversed until the image has become a black letter again.
She conducted a two-month study with 60 children between the ages of 12 months and 4 years. Parents were given the 40-minute video to show to their children at their own discretion. The children were evaluated to determine how well they knew their letters at the beginning of the study and every two weeks during the study. Just as children have an understanding of an extensive vocabulary before they actually talk, Oxley found that nonverbal participants had attained letter recognition.
“We just had to work out a way for them to tell us what they knew,” said Oxley. “When shown three cards, one little boy would just take two and play with them. Finally we placed the three cards on the floor where he couldn’t grab them and he began stepping on the correct card. Another little girl showed no recognition when evaluated, but would point to the letters that marked alphabetized sections in a video store as her mother named them. So we velcroed them to the wall.”
At the completion of the study, 90 percent of the participants had complete letter recognition; many had attained that goal in two weeks.
Oxley makes it very clear what Preschool Prep videos are not tools for teaching phonics or early reading but a way to offer letter recognition to an age group with boundless natural curiosity. Preschool Prep has also released three 30-minute videos, “Meet the Letters,” “Meet the Shapes” and "Meet the Numbers" as well as books to complement each video.
The following is more information on a few Preschool Prep products.