We've previously used and liked Signing Time and Baby Signing Time from Two Little Hands Productions, so when I recently discovered that the company now offers a series called "Rachel & the TreeSchoolers", I was immediately interested in seeing them! So I was pleased to receive three of the DVDs in return for my honest review.
About Rachel & the TreeSchoolers
This entire series of DVDs is designed to be a complete preschool level curriculum package for kids ages 2 or 3 up through 6-8 years old. They are done in the light-hearted, silly, cute, and fun-loving style of Signing Time and Baby Signing Time. The Rachel & the TreeSchoolers videos incorporate various applicable American Sign Language signs throughout, but the primary focus of the series is on providing preschool level educational material. In addition to being an introduction to another language, the signs function as an excellent kinesthetic tool to enhance and reinforce memory of the preschool and early elementary concepts. Creative, catchy songs, real-life kids, and cute characters enhance each lesson to make them engaging and interactive.
Current available DVD topics include:
1: A Rainy Day
2: Incredible Insects
3: Plants and Flowers
4: Awesome Animals
5: The Amazing Human Body
6: Happy, Healthy Me
7: Scientific Reasoning
8: Extraordinary Earth
9: Our Solar System
According to the TreeSchoolers website, the program uses proven teaching methods, such as the “CORI 4-Step Learning Cycle”, which involves “1) observe and wonder, 2) search for answers, 3) learn & know, and 4) share with others”.
We haven’t seen all of the series yet, but we received a nice sample - 3 of the 9 DVDs: A Rainy Day, Awesome Animals, and Extraordinary Earth.
This is quite a fun program! My children are ages 6 & 8, so they are at the upper edge of the target age range for the videos, but since we have another little one on the way, we’re planning for the future as well. Additionally, to get a more complete perspective, I asked my neighbor with a preschool aged child to watch the videos as well and let me know what they thought. My neighbor told me that her son is usually too active to sit and learn from a video but that she was quite surprised how much he liked TreeSchoolers. Her son even asked to watch it again right after seeing it the first time and again later on too. He learned quite a bit and they were very impressed. She went ahead and ordered her own copies afterward, so they must have liked it!
Despite the videos being oriented toward younger children, my girls also enjoyed watching them a few times each so far. The topics presented were mostly ones they have already learned, of course, but some of it served as a nice review and they all reinforced things we’ve covered in the past (and a few things they had forgotten). They liked the DVDs because they are often high-energy and silly and not just something to sit and stare at. They loved seeing other kids that were just like them (not trained actors) on the screen, dancing, signing, and having fun. They could get involved through practicing the signs and learning the songs. These videos are more mentally engaging than many others we’ve come across, making them both educational and entertaining.
I watched the DVDs with my kids, keeping in mind what I’d be looking for in a preschool program. To be clear, I usually prefer to avoid technology and screens with young children for the most part. We prefer an approach that involves reading, exploring, being outside, building and deconstructing, and engaging educational through real life experiences and teachable moments! We limit screen-time with our kids, particularly at the youngest ages. That said, we don’t exclude it entirely because we recognize that it is a part of our modern society and our children’s future. Nonetheless, our most successful experiences in early education have occurred spontaneously and/or through parent-child interaction. For this reason, I was very pleased to find out about the downloadable activity guides (mentioned above), which give lots to do beyond the screen time! In my opinion, while the guides are not necessary, they are a very valuable supplement and I think they are really worth using. We also try to improve the experience by sitting with our kids, talking to them about what they are seeing, encouraging them to interact and use what they’re learning, and using it as an opportunity to cuddle and connect.
Some of the DVDs special features were similar to advertisements (sample clips) for other Rachel & the TreeSchoolers DVD, while others were more useful, like a more detailed and slower explanation of the ASL signs in the video (which I was very much hoping for and very happy to see included!), plus other short clips that gave further insight or explanation of the educational concepts presented in the main feature.
I was impressed with the amount of educational content in the TreeSchoolers series, at least from what we’ve seen so far. Most other so-called educational TV programs sprinkle in a few things to learn here and there, but these seemed to pack in the knowledge and skills without sounding preachy or being a lecture. The creators of the program seem to approach their child audience with a respect for their ability to learn, offering plenty of knowledge and skills above and beyond the basics in a fun and easy to understand manner.
It is worth noting that the first few DVDs of the series appear to have fewer signs incorporated, but the number and variety of signs increase in the later volumes. You can see which signs - and core educational concepts - are included in the series on the TreeSchoolers website.
I also liked how the videos introduced and taught about life skills (like washing hands) and character traits (like kindness and sharing). These videos did not seem like just a cartoon with a few lightly educational points sprinkled in, but instead they seemed like they were thoughtfully designed and fairly comprehensive. I’ve not seen another DVD series quite like this one.
Overall, I would recommend the series to someone with a preschooler that enjoys sign language (or just using their hands and bodies to express themselves), songs, and seeing other kids having fun and learning. While there are a lot of excellent preschool programs out there and several others that I would also recommend, I think this is also a good option to provide a casual and fun basis of a preschool program, while offering plenty of opportunity for personalization and exploration of educational concepts according to what catches a child’s interest most. The Activity Guides provide even more direction for those that need or want it.
To be sure, we found the DVDs to be quite cheesy, with a somewhat low-budget appearance, but my kids were engaged and liked them nonetheless. The quality was better than something homemade, but they are not on the same level as the fancy modern technological marvels we often see in current movies. While this can seem like a drawback at first, it really didn’t detract from the program as much as I would have expected. To the contrary, even if they aren't a Disney-Pixar style movie with a fancy musical score, the impact of the DVDs was still quite effective and fun for my kids.
If you aren’t certain if this product is the right fit for your family, the DVDs are available for purchase individually (at $14.99 at the time of this review) and they offer a digital option that makes the price even lower (currently $9.99), so it’s easy to just try one out and see how it goes.
If you've tried these DVDs, please feel free to comment below and let me know what you thought of them as well!
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of three DVDs in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated in any other way. All opinions I have expressed are my own or those of my family (and, in this case, my neighbor who also tried the videos with her son). I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC Regulations.
Image Disclaimer: All the above images included in this review where posted with permission from Two Little Hands Productions LLC.
Note: Aside from the review of this product, I am not affiliated with Two Little Hands Productions. The above links in regards to this company and product in this post are NOT affiliate or referral links and I do not benefit financially or otherwise from any purchases made through said links, nor is it required that you use these links to reach the company.
I'm a homeschooling mom of two, enjoying our time in Hawaii and hoping to share some of that experience with you, including ideas, reviews, resources, and information.