Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Super Why! gets kids down to the letter

A couple of months ago, I was tapping away on the computer while my daughter was watching a show on PBS.

All of a sudden I heard her yelling out letters: E! I!

It was great, because we'd really started focusing on the alphabet, and I was eager to see which program was encouraging her to talk back to the screen -- in a good way.

I turned around and saw what I now consider to be the newest Fab Four: Alpha Pig, Wonder Red, Princess Presto and the front man, er, boy himself, Super Why!

So when PBS Kids organized a meet and greet for Los Angeles mom bloggers at its local outlet KCET, I was ready to jump in a Why Flyer with CC and make an afternoon of it.

The meeting was an opportunity to talk about the philosophy behind "Super Why!" and to offer feedback on what role media plays at home. It was also an opportunity to practice some "homework" to see just how educational TV can be.

If you're not familiar with the animated series, it's a program created by Angela C. Santomero about four fairytale characters who solve relatable childhood problems (such as bullying) with books, vocabulary and reading. They inhabit a universe filled with the Three Bears, Jack and Jill as well as Jack and the Beanstalk (Whyatt's, aka Super Why's, famous older brother).

Angela, alongside Senior Vice President of Children's Media at PBS Lesli Rotenberg, and KCET VP of Education and Children's Programming Joyce Campbell, chatted about building Super Why! based on a need.

"What do children at this particular age need to learn?" Lesli asked. "Literacy."

"We build a curriculum, then the show," she added.

Echoing that, Angela said, "We wanted to find the best educational curriculum and put it into a TV series."

One of Angela's inspirations was what happened after an episode of '70s sitcom "Happy Days": "When Fonzie got a library card on the show, library cards shot up like 500%," she said. "I want to do that for preschoolers."

After the presentation -- which also offered on-site daycare and fun character visits for the kiddos -- PBS outfitted each of the moms with an at-home toolkit for our kids. It was a five-day lesson plan based on one episode of Super Why! CC was supposed to watch the same episode each day and complete activities with varying degrees of difficulty.

I have to say, having a 2 1/2-year-old, albeit a brilliant one, I was skeptical as to what five measly days could accomplish. She's still young, and although we're making great progress on letters, she's not exactly ready for "Ulysses." (Heck, I'm not exactly ready for "Ulysses.")

And the first day reflected what worried me most -- CC becoming overwhelmed and frustrated. She was great watching the show, centered on the three little pigs, but when I confronted her with a full page of all 26 letters, she was easily distracted. She could pick out the correct letters if you gave her the option of just a few, but the whole alphabet was too much.

What she did love was saying "Affa Pig!" and raising her arm in the air. She also enjoyed calling out letters on the screen, listening to the music, and she really loved reading the accompanying Super Why! book about Jack and the Beanstalk. She brought it over to me several times for reading time.

But by yesterday, the end of the five days, she found W-O-L-F in a matter of seconds on the page with 26 letters. She filled in word blanks with ease and had greater participation in the show itself. It was amazing to see.

As long as it didn't feel forced, as long as it was part of a fun day, and as long as she could learn incrementally, the setup was great. For a 2 1/2-year-old, I'm Super impressed!

And I'm so proud of my daughter, but then again, I always am.


Little Gray Pixel said...

So smart! That's awesome.

L.A. Story said...

Thanks! It really gave me some insight into how CC learns, which is very cool.


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