I first heard about Vtech's Write & Learn Desk in a Toys R Us guide about toys for differently-abled children. I was intrigued because Jack, my autistic son, is having a hard time with writing.
Writing is difficult for him and he often tries to avoid it, partly because of some problems with fine motor skills and because his grip on his pencil is not the best.
It is also difficult for him to write with certain instruments. For example, it is easier for him to write with a marker than with a crayon.
Because he responds really well to electronics, I thought something with electronic prompts and rewards might encourage him to write.
We ended up with the Write & Learn Smartboard (Although ours is the one that looks like this, not the one on the Vtech website. I can't speak to the differences between the two versions.)
When I got the toy, I immediately pushed a button that prompted me to write the letter "W". I did so, and was told that I had done it incorrectly. I tried again. And was again told I was wrong. I tried again, and when the chirpy little voice told me to try again, I almost broke it in half and never gave it to my children.
I'm glad I didn't. The reason it didn't give me credit for the letter is because I didn't form it correctly, according to the Zaner-Bloser method. Now, if you just want your child to learn to make the shapes of the letters, and are not concerned about them making the letters precisely and with specific pen strokes, this may not be the toy for you.
It also says it is for ages 3 and up, but I would have to recommend this feature for an older child. My three-year-old can successfully recreate the "O" and sometimes the "Q", but that is about it.
For my five-year-old though, this is precisely what his teachers want him to learn. He's been turning some of his letters around and makes the letter shapes without any rhyme or reason. We've been using the Smartboard to work on a few letters a day before bedtime and I've been encouraged by how quickly he is picking it up. Whereas he doesn't seem to care when I tell him how to form his letters, if the little electronic voice tells him, he will carefully draw the letters until he gets it right.
There is a number writing feature that is very similar to the letter writing feature.
There are, however, other features to the Smartboard that are easier for the younger set. The one my children enjoyed most is the drawing feature. You can let the toy give your child a prompt for what to draw or your child can draw whatever he or she wants to. Once done, pushing the "go" button causes the drawing to appear in the screen and dance. All three of my kids liked doing this. Oddly, they especially liked filling in the entire square. They were weirdly proud of that accomplishment.
There is a spelling feature, an activity that prompts the child to put letters and numbers in the correct order, and and ABC sing along that teaches letter order.
My children like this toy, the younger two more than the seven-year-old (although he could really use some help with his handwriting, thank you very much!). I wouldn't say it is for everyone, but if you are looking for the specific things this toy teaches, you will not be disappointed.
Honesty Clause: Vtech gave me the Write & Learn Smartboard for free. It retails on their website for $29.99.