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‘Letterland at Tweetsie’ a Big Success; Lyn and Mark Wendon Discuss the History and Success of the Program

By Paul T. Choate

(from left) Annie Apple, Bouncy Ben and Clever Cat. Photo by Mark Wendon

May 18, 2012. BLOWING ROCK — Every letter of the alphabet was alive at Tweetsie over the past two weeks as the fifth annual Letterland at Tweetsie took place May 9, 10, 16 and 17.

Former peripatetic special needs teacher Lyn Wendon created the Letterland phonics program in 1968 to help kids who had fallen behind in her classes. Over the next 10 years, the program evolved into a widely used educational program for young children who struggled with learning to read.

“I had no idea that it would be anything other than something that would help children in my classes who had fallen behind,” said Lyn Wendon. “Rule talk is dreary for children and they switch off all too easily … I found, to my surprise, I had created an innovated approach to learning to read.”

Letterland quite literally brings letters to life. Each letter of the alphabet has a corresponding character — such as Annie Apple for the letter A, or Clever Cat for C — for the many Letterland storybooks.

“The characters bring what is otherwise a squiggle to life for the children,” said Mark Wendon, Managing Director of Letterland and Lyn Wendon’s son.

The program has grown by leaps and bounds over the years. It is used both as a training tool to help children who have fallen behind catch up on learning to read and as an English as a second language (ESL) training program.

Clever Cat at Tweetsie. Photo by Mark Wendon

“Letterland is used on every continent and in over 100 countries around the world,” said Mark Wendon.

“They’re using it in Egypt. They’re using it in Abu Dhabi — Sheikh so-and-so’s academy,” Lyn Wendon said with a laugh. “Jordan; Finland; almost anywhere in the world that you could think of.”

In 2007, Burke County literacy coordinator Kathy Oliver had the vision to bring Letterland to life for children in both their Letterland and phonics-related school lessons, and Tweetsie helped that vision come true. Oliver called Lyn Wendon about bringing the program to Tweetsie and Wendon said she was unsure about the idea at first.

“I was afraid the children would have in their imagination something more amazing than anything one could do down on the ground, but I was wrong and I was delighted that I was wrong,” said Lyn Wendon. “It has become so successful in every way … There’s nothing that’s exactly like Tweetsie.” She added how special it was to see the children run up and hug their favorite costumed Letterland characters, believing they are real.

Each year since the inaugural Letterland at Tweetsie the turnout has grown. As more and more teachers use the program, more field trips are taken to Tweetsie for the annual event. Lyn Wendon said it has become a reward for children who had worked hard throughout the year.

“We understand that there are very high turnouts,” said Mark Wendon. “I believe last week it was sold out months beforehand.”

Lyn Wendon said she plans to continue writing Letterland storybooks and teaching guides for the foreseeable future. She also added that she intends to continue coming to Tweetsie Railroad each year for the event.

For more information about Letterland, visit letterland.com.

For more information about events at Tweetsie Railroad, visit tweetsie.com or call 1-800-526-5740.

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