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DVD Review: Rock ‘N Learn – Letter Sounds

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A DVD sporting the simple title Letter Sounds may sound unimpressive. Teaching letter sounds, how hard can that be? Well, if you’ve ever taught children to read you’ll know that structured, consistent, repetitive practice is required in order to teach young ones the basic building blocks of the written English language.

Rock ‘N Learn’s Letter Sounds DVD both meets those requirements and tackles much more than simple letter sounds: introducing the alphabet, learning the short sounds of the vowels and consonants, fun ‘interactive’ tests, guiding children into blending, an introduction to consonant blends, sight words, and reading full sentences. It does all that in a fun-filled, bright, musical DVD that has drawn both my three-year-old and six-year-old into repeating letter names, sounds and has my older child reading along.

Recommended for children from four- to seven-years-old who are just beginning their phonics education, I recommend that parents interested in teaching the alphabet, sounds, and early reading skills to pick up the disc before teaching their child the alphabet song. Letter Sounds opens with a lively performance of “The New Alphabet Song”, a jazzy, rocky tune that allows for clear enunciation of each letter. It’s about time parents had a new version to work with, young children often believe that “lmnop” is one letter due to the slur in the traditional tune. Rock ‘N Learn’s version features clear spaces between each letter name, and is followed by a spoken chant so that children won’t rely upon the tune alone. Flashing letters that flip from upper to lower case along with the song effectively combine audio and visual learning strategies to reach children.

After the alphabet is introduced, the short sounds for each letter are presented from A to Z. The upper-case and lower-case letter appear in the upper left-hand corner of the screen. A talking mouth that speaks and clearly demonstrates how to form each letter sound with the mouth, teeth, and tongue appears in the upper right hand corner. A visual illustrating the word spoken appears in the lower half of the screen. For the letter D the mouth says, “Dee, d, d, dog”, after which the word ‘dog’ appears beneath the capital and lower case “d”s on screen. The mouth then repeats the information, allowing for children to join him on the second repetition. Not only is this an effective way to convey the sound information for each letter, it is also useful for children learning to clearly pronounce each sound in their daily speech. Children in speech therapy, or those still working on a few problem sounds can benefit greatly from this portion of the disc.

My oldest already has a solid foundation in the short-letter sounds that are introduced on the disc, but doesn’t have a great understanding of connecting letter sounds and names, something the “Letter Sounds Quiz” is designed to remedy. Presented in a game show format, a sentence with a prevalent sound is read to the children (accompanied by cheerful pictures). After listening for the repeating sound the child is to give the letter’s name before the timer goes off.

The DVD then demonstrates how to sound out words by the standard television technique of lighting up letters individually, pronouncing them one by one, and then pushing them towards each other to eliminate the spaces between them, repeating, and finally reading the word. Blending is such a tricky skill for children, and seems to require a certain ‘click’ developmentally, any help visualizing the process is very helpful. An similar technique is used in the introduction to consonant blends, and for the sight words the letter names are read for each letter rather than their sounds.

The disc concludes with “Reading Sentences in a Story”, my favourite feature. Simple sentences using short words (most are three letters long) and short letter sounds are presented for children to read aloud before the narrator reads the sentence as it highlights each word. An accompanying animation enlivens brings the sentence to life visually, at times playing throughout the sentence, at other times playing only after the sentence has been read. What a neat and adorable way to encourage children to read.

While the total running time is 52 minutes, the DVD is best used with a mastery-based approach. Children should be introduced to one track at a time until the material is well understood before moving onto the next step, as each builds progressively upon previously established skills. The easy to use disc menu makes it easy to select the desired chapter. As much as it’s tempting to just sit our children down in front of the TV so they can learn, parental involvement and encouragement create much higher interest and comprehension levels in young learners. With parental commitment to the program, this DVD will create a solid first-step for your child to stand upon as they pursue further phonics studies in the future. Letter Sounds is a fabulous introduction to phonics that I wish I’d known of sooner.

A video sample can be viewed online at the Rock ‘n Learn website.

Lessons Included:

1. The New Alphabet Song
2. Learn the Sounds
3. Letter Sounds Quiz
4. Name That Letter!
5. Reading Words
6. Words With Consonant Combinations
7. Common Sight Words
8. Bonus: Reading Sentences in a Story

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