Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Letters Make Words (iPad app by Barchowsky Fluent Handwriting) (TOS Review)

My girls are extremely smart,  but their handwriting is awful.  It’s not quite to the level of physician handwriting, but it’s getting close.  We’ve done handwriting programs in the past to no avail, and I sometimes wonder if it’s a motor skills issue.  I’m always looking for handwriting instruction that would appeal to them.  When I found out we’d get a chance to review an iPad app to practice handwriting, I was hopeful they’d love it.


Developed by Barchowsky Fluent Handwriting (iTunes store reflects Swansbury, Inc. as the seller, but it links to the Barchowsky Fluent Handwriting so I’m assuming it’s one and the same), Letters Make Words is a new iPad app (just released in November, 2011) and is available at an introductory price of $2.99.   The iTunes store rates this app as 4+, which means it contains no objectionable matter.

The app complements and reinforces the method used in Barchowsky Fluent Handwriting which reinforces pattern, movement and rhythm, resulting in a italic-like style. 

From the iTunes store:

Learn and teach handwriting with phonics, an app designed by a Handwriting Specialist and an Early Childhood Specialist. The purpose of Letters Make Words is to help beginning writers develop good handwriting habits for all academic and adult needs, and to learn basic phonemes.

The first screens offer suggestions of how to use Letters Make Words. Then letters are presented. The user can select any letter. Each one comprises a complete unit of instruction for that letter, a warmup pattern, the letter and a word to trace and to sound out. When a letter has a different sound depending on its usage in words, choose from either of two words. The next screen has three words to sound out with a silly sentence for the child to write on paper.

A friendly voice coaches the child to finger trace with the index finger, thereby encouraging good pencil/pen hold when actually writing. It’s the index finger that should push a pen to make marks with the greatest ease of movement.

Lowercase letters are featured. An app for capitals and numerals will follow soon. Lowercase are the ones we most need when we write, and are the easiest to form.

Letter-related warmup patterns start each unit to help the child with formations.

Starting points and directions for strokes are clearly defined, graphically and by the audio that guides a child through all finger tracing and pronunciation.

Letters are designed for ease of writing and legibility. Reversals (b for d, etc.) are never an issue with the formations used in this app.

Upon opening the app, you’re shown this screen:


Click “Begin”, and you’re given an intro with instructions on how to use the app (with the option to skip the intro).

If you prefer to  choose a particular letter to work on, click" “Choose a Letter” and you’re given  this screen from which you can choose a letter:

The student is first shown a pattern in which the letter falls, asked to trace it several times, and then shown how the letter “fits”in the pattern.


The student is then shown the letter itself and asked to trace it several times.

Then the student is asked to trace a word using that letter.



After tracing the word, students are given a short sentence and asked to practice it on pencil and paper.


It seems like a game.  Handwriting practice that seems like a game?  As Martha Stewart is fond of saying, that’s a good thing.

The letter darkens as the student traces correctly.  Great visual clue.


I wish there was a way that the app could recognize whenever a child isn’t tracing.  After the pattern tracing, the child is asked to trace whatever letter has been chosen.  The female voice leads them through tracing the letter a couple of times, but even if the letter isn’t traced the app is ready to move on and shows the “next” button.  On the screens where the child is to trace words, the first letter will sometimes cue them to start (green blinking arrow), but if the child doesn’t trace the remaining letters the app doesn’t seem to recognize it. 


I don’t think a child has to be 4 years old to enjoy this app and begin learning letter formation.  While they might not be able to take full advantage of the app, it believe it’s simple enough for very young children to start using.

This app currently only addresses lower case letter.   According to the description on iTunes, an app for capitals and numbers is planned.

The letters/patterns change color shades (darkens) as the child traces, but the whole letter/pattern changes at once and not a little at a time as it’s traced.  However, it pattern does not continue to darken of the child veers off the pattern.  If the child follows the entire pattern, the shade turns much darker by the end and they’re rewarded by a magical “ding”  sound at the end of the pattern.

Sometimes the app goes back to the main menu page after a period of inactivity.

I haven’t figured out a way to “mark” your place.

I chose to purchase a stylus for my girls to use with this app, as I think it simulates using a pencil more closely than using their fingers.

We experienced a couple of instances where the app froze.  I had to close the app and restart it, which meant starting back at whatever letter we’d chosen.


Read about Nan Jay Barchowsky, the creator of the Barchowsky method, HERE.

Read an interesting article about the history of handwriting HERE.

Get this app.  You can’t beat writing instruction for only $2.99!


Swansbury, Inc
P.O. Box 117
Aberdeen, MD 21001

Phone: (410) 272-0836
24 hour fax ordering: (410) 297-9767

Hours:   8:00 am - 5:00 pm, Eastern Time, Monday - Friday



We will continue to use this app.  Even while I’ve been finalizing this review and going back through the app on my own, Hannah has been standing over my shoulder asking when she can trace.  I’m a fan of anything that makes my girls want to practice handwriting!


To see other reviews of this product, click HERE and look for the linky tools list at the bottom of the post. For giveaways, other product reviews and other fun things, follow the 2011-2012 TOS Homeschool Crew blog at:


**Disclaimer: As part of the 2011-2012 TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I received the product referenced in this review at no cost in exchange for my fair, honest and unbiased (and not necessarily positive) review. No other compensation was received.

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