Penpals at Home

Jenny writes:

Many primary school aged children in the UK will already be familiar with the Penpals for Handwriting scheme as it is used in a large proportion of UK schools. However, most of their parents have probably never heard of some of the phrases that the scheme uses such as ‘long ladder’ or ‘one-armed robot’ which is one of the reasons why these Penpals at Home books are so great. The Penpals at Home series including Getting Ready for Handwriting and Forming Letters are by Gill Budgell and Kate Ruttle and allow parents to encourage their children to practise at home, what they have learnt or will be learning in school. The books are laminated making them wipe-clean meaning they can be re-used again and again and are aimed at the parents of 3-5 year olds.

penpals1My son James is three and half and has reasonable pen control and loves writing and making marks on paper. We started with the Getting Ready for Handwriting book as it focusses on making shapes such as dots and straight lines and progresses onto more complicated patterns including spirals.

James was immediately hooked by the cover of this book. It is bold, colourful and has very clear, big pictures which he found very appealing. These beautiful pictures and bold colours continue throughout the book and are themed differently on every page including a garden theme, jungle theme and a very happy dinosaur theme. The pictures really do make you smile as you look at them.

My son enjoys working through this book, the patterns are not too hard and there is not too much on each page meaning that he does not get bored of one patterns and wants to go on to the next page.

One of the most appealing things about this book is that on each page there is a link to the Free Penpals at Home app which is available for both iOS and Android (although not for Windows phones). On most of the pages there is a mobile phone symbol which you can scan and then watch the page come to life on your mobile. James enjoyed watching the patterns draw out on my phone and then he sat and copied them into the book.

At the top of each page there are also some ideas on how to carry on practising the patterns on a large scale. The ideas are all very simple but appealing and my son thoroughly enjoyed completing them – including making dotty pictures using paint on a cotton bud.

The second book is called Forming Letters and focusses on the correct formation of each lower case letter.

The images and colours on each page are just as lovely in the first book although a lot more space on each page is dedicated to writing and practising the letter formations.

penpals2The book uses the letter family groups that many schools use, these include:

  • Family of long ladders
  • Family of curly caterpillars
  • Family of one-armed robots
  • Family of zigzag monsters

The order that your child works through the letters of the alphabet are linked to these family groups, just like they would learn them in school.
There are clear instructions for you to read to your child at the top of each page and these explain how to form the letter. At the bottom of each page are some notes and tips for the adult.

As James is quite young, we only concentrated on the letters in his name which he is already able to write in large, messy and poorly formed writing so he needs some fine tuning. My son tried to trace the letters on the page but it wasn’t until I showed him how to form the letters by using the app that his enthusiasm really shone. He eagerly wanted to copy the images on the app by drawing in the air and then asked to scan the next page so he could do that letter too. The app that accompanies the book is definitely what makes this wipe clean book so different from others on the market.

My son has thoroughly enjoyed using these books and will continue do so. I would recommend these books to parents of young children learning pen control or learning to write, especially if their school uses the Penpals for Handwriting resource. My only very small criticism is that there is no wipe clean pen provided with the book, however wipe clean pens are available from many places including art and craft shops, stationary shops and even many supermarkets.


For more information, take a look at the full range of Penpals at Home from Cambridge University Press

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