The PBSKids.org website was the first place my 6 year old twins went on the Internet (and the first URL they memorized). It worked well with my Internet filter because I can add the whole PBS Kids website as approved because it is safe. PBS was also the first channel my kids watched on TV. I was happy that educational shows were available that met the changing needs of my kids. When my Kinder twin boys were in preschool, they enjoyed watching Super Why. My twin boys enjoyed the superhero characters and engaging storyline. I was happy that pre-reading skills were worked into the story in a way that made learning fun. Because they are engaged in Super Why already, it was easier to engage them in the Super Why summer Right On Read-a-thon for summer reading practice.
The Super Why area of the PBS website has a section for parents and teachers with the mission of the site being "the mission of this site is to help kids learn key reading skills,
including alphabet, word families, spelling and reading comprehension,
through interactive online games, activities and more!"
But what I did not realize is how much thought went into building learning
into the stories until I went to a Silicon Valley Moms Group event in
June that took me behind the scenes. SUPER WHY Creator and Executive Producer Angela C. Santomero and Lesli Rotenberg, PBS' Senior Vice President of Children's Media spoke to the group about the show.
The following are my own liveblog notes that I took. I tried to type as fast as possible because it was so interesting, so some of this may be re-phrasing:
- Open up possibilities for children – who we view as citizens.
- When we do shows we start with your child and they are curious
about the world. We see media as the facilitator of that curiosity. Our
characters are role models
for them. We try to provide opportunities for learning whenever they
are ready for it. we have preschool 2-5, PBS go for school age… Kids
are ready for shows at different times.
- Exciting is that with new technology we don't need to limit ourselves to TV. We are thinking about our role on all of these new social media platforms (like iPod or iPhone apps). We use characters and use those to reinforce messages to help kids succeed.
- Parents are the most influential people in their kids lives.
Parents have given feedback that they are excited that what some
parents are doing at home are reinforced on the PBS shows. For example,
even kids that don't eat fruit may eat a banana when they see eating a banana.
- We think media is powerful, we know kids learn from media -but important question is "what are they learning?"
- On our shows we always start with a need, for example literacy,
science, technology or math – or what you need to learn in preschool.
We think of the whole child. Kids need physical as well as academic
and social/emotional lessons. They try to create extensions for parents
and teachers for those who want to take something that they learned and
expand on that. Kids can learn from shows, but when parents reinforce
it improves the learning.
- We take the best curriculum and put it to television. We studied
how kids learn in classroom versus TV – and how to take the curriculum
and put it in script. There is an idea that kids speak to TV. They
should interact – play is their work. If Power Rangers can get kids to
kick can I get kids to point our super letters?
- Attention and comprehension – taking reading and combing with TV (V through TV). When Fonzi took out library card – library cards taken out by teenagers went up 500%.
- Super why started with a mission – it is all based on research.
Kids learn to read with interactive story adventures. They talked to
teachers and looked at national reading panels.
- Shows cover: Letter identification, decoding encoding and r
model pre-reading skills – school starts in library. We start with a
title - then read left to right with engaging stories and preschool
relatable problems. We create a character based on skills from national
- For the character Alpha pig – we wanted to show power behind words.
When you do read you feel like you have a super power. Why we have
superheroes? Super Why is Batman and Spiderman. Prince Presto
- We start with preschool relatable problem. Transform into
superheros – jump inside in a book that represents the problem of the
day. Then once you get the theme – go back and reapply always put
alphabet in bigger context.
- Sentences don't have power until read, change sentences and they
see the result. Formative research process. If you don't know what
letters are – you know they are red and sparkly and can identify them.
- PBS is in schools every week, doing mini groups with the kids. Take
a script in and turn into picture book. They look at attention and
literacy skills – then change scripts to make them better.
- There is also 3rd party research (Super Why team is not apart of
it). They have two consultants per episode that read every script and
literacy specialists. Final episodes go to kids then they find what the
like. Control groups for 8 week study. Children who viewed Super Why
outperformed the control group on nearly all tests of program specific
literacy skills and a majority of standardized test.
PBS has also engaged with social media outreach. Other then reaching out to mom bloggers (which we got to enjoy), there is also: