Kids soak up information like sponges. As a result, they are often the targets of savvy marketing strategies that barrage them with a constant stream of programming and advertising, both on TV and online.
A new study is evaluating whether these multimedia approaches can be used to deliver positive content and messages about reading and literacy. The study, conducted by EDC’s Center for Children and Technology (CCT), explores how public media can use new technology to close the literacy gap.
A five-year evaluation by CCT will examine children’s programming by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and the Center for Public Broadcasting (CPB), supported by the Ready to Learn initiative. Ready to Learn is a U.S. Department of Education effort to support children’s literacy through TV programming, online tools, and games, with an emphasis on supporting lower-income children.
CCT will begin by exploring how long-running PBS shows Between the Lions and Sesame Street have supported literacy efforts among children in Mississippi. They will then study newer programming, including Super WHY!, Martha Speaks, and The Electric Company.
Bringing literacy to life
This fall, PBS unveiled new Ready to Learn programs, including Super WHY!, an animated series that teaches reading skills to preschoolers through “story adventures” in which characters come to life.
Each episode of Super WHY! begins in a three-dimensional world that lies behind the bookshelves of a children’s library. Storybook Village, as it is called, is home to four best friends, including Whyatt, who discovers he can fly into books to find answers to his questions.
Each character is re-imagined as an everyday kid who transforms into a literacy superhero ready to tackle the problem of the episode. For example, Super Why has the “power to read.” The program also engages preschool viewers as participants, calling them “Super You” and giving them “the power to help.”
PBS also launched a social marketing campaign to accompany the new programs. These segments, which are aimed at parents and older siblings, encourage them to support young children in watching literacy programming, and to engage in activities and games that support their early literacy skills and knowledge.
“This is building on decades of commitment that public media has made to improving children’s educational outcomes,” says EDC’s Shelley Pasnik.
Visitors to PBS’s new Raising Readers Web site will find literacy materials, games, and content related to Super WHY! and other Ready to Learn programs. Kids can engage in activities and games, while parents can follow and support their child’s literacy skills and development.
For example, parents of a three year old can learn how to engage in letter play with their child, while parents of a five year old can explore the sounds that letters or letter combinations make. PBS is also exploring the use of cell phone technology through which parents could receive on their cell phones a ‘word of the day’ or a literacy activity to play with their child.
“The Department of Education is very eager to pursue this programming beyond the traditional medium of television, so as a result there are a lot of online activities,” says Pasnik. “They are also interested in supporting professional development. What supports help child care providers lacking a literacy background to understand and use materials so that they can support children’s literacy?”
Originally published on January 1, 2008