Kids’ Shows Focus on Literacy

It’s that time of year again, the middle of winter, when although the days are shorter, they seem much longer. For those of us who live in colder climates, it can be hard to find ways to entertain our kids for days on end when we can’t get outside. I don’t know about the rest of you, but even with the best intentions, I find myself turning the TV on more during the colder months. Fortunately, there are plenty of shows today that are not only entertaining for kids, but also encourage development and teach valuable skills. Although TV should never be a substitute for learning and enrichment activities, it does make me feel better turning on the television when I know my daughter is engaging in learning and not just mindlessly watching the screen.

There are several educational shows that have been around for years, like Dora the Explorer, Blue’s Clues, Barney and Friends, to name a few, and some that have even been around for decades and still enjoyed by today’s audiences, like Sesame Street. But every year, more and more shows are popping up that focus on learning. Some of the channels that air kids’ shows (PBS Kids, PBS Kids Sprout, and Nick Jr., formerly Noggin) even market themselves as being preschool teaching channels. You might be familiar with the PBS Kids Sprout slogan – “All Preschool. All the time.” Or the Nick Jr./Noggin slogan – “It’s like preschool on TV.” All the preschool shows that these channels air, and the corresponding websites for these channels, focus on learning. And with educational standards in schools becoming increasingly demanding, the focus of many of these shows has turned to reading.

Here is a list of six great shows that I am aware of which focus on reading, both for the preschool-aged and elementary-aged kids. These are shows my daughter enjoys watching and that I find fun and educational, emphasizing key reading skills. Check your local listings for times and channels.

Between the Lions (PBS) – This show features a family of lions who run a library. The books come alive and each episode addresses the five key areas of reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. This show is intended for beginning readers, approximately ages 4-7, but it depends on your child’s development. My daughter is 3 and she enjoys the show, and it is at the right level for her learning. There is also a website that corresponds with this show and enhances learning through games, video clips, and online stories as well as offers parents and teachers resources for helping kids learn to read and write (http://pbskids.org/lions/).

Here is the description of this show from the PBS website: “BETWEEN THE LIONS is funded in part by a Ready to Learn cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Education through PBS. Theo, Cleo, Lionel and Leona – a family of lions – run a magical library where characters pop out of books, vowels sing and words take on a life of their own. The series combines puppetry, animation and live action to help young children learn to read. Between the Lions gives young viewers a chance to have meaningful and manageable reading experiences by using key words in simple, decodable, connected text onscreen. The program also reinforces high-frequency “sight” words to help children become more comfortable with reading.”

Pinky Dinky Doo (Nick Jr.) – This is a creative, silly show, and my daughter loves it! As a teacher, I think it is very imaginative and a great way for her to practice early reading skills. I enjoy watching it with her, although it is hard to escape singing “Yessarooni, Positooni” in my head for the rest of the day. What I like about the show is that after the main character, Pinky, makes up a story to help her brother Tyler with a problem, she plays reading games that interact with the viewer and focus on reading comprehension skills such as main idea, characters, setting, and problem/solution, at a preschool level.

Here is how the Nick Jr. website describes the show: “Pinky Dinky Doo is an animated preschool series starring an imaginative seven-year-old named Pinky who loves to make up wacky, wonderful tall tales. Pinky uses her stories to find solutions to her little brother’s problems (like finding a lost shoe, being anxious over a new situation, not wanting to go to bed) and encourages young viewers to make up their own funny and fantastic stories.

Super Why (PBS) Another show my daughter enjoys, this one focuses on fairy tales and features a cast of superhero “Super Readers”, who solve problems while interacting with books. The show promotes literacy development of alphabet, rhyming, spelling, and comprehension skills.

Here is the description of this show from the PBS website: “Super Why! is an animated children’s adventure TV series produced by the creators of Blue’s Clues for PBS Kids that follows the adventures of four fairytale friends, Whyatt Beanstalk, Jack’s younger brother; Red, from Little Red Riding Hood; Pig, from the Three Little Pigs; and Princess, from the Princess and the Pea. Super Why! is designed to help children between the ages of 3 and 6 to develop the critical key reading skills as noted by the National Reading Panel with lessons on the alphabet, rhyming, spelling, and comprehension while also creating create lifelong readers. The four friends change into their superhero alter egos, the Super Readers, and interact with the books, such as classic fairytales as the Boy who Cried Wolf, Humpty Dumpty, and Goldilocks and the Three Bears, to solve mysteries and overcome obstacles. This show not only promotes reading as a way to reach solutions but also includes the young audience as an additional fifth Super Reader, who can go to the related interactive website on http://pbskids.org/superwhy with their parents help in order to further their skills as growing learners.”

Word Girl (PBS) – Another superhero-themed reading show, this one features a 10-year old superhero girl from the planet of Lexicon who fights crime while expanding her vocabulary. Although this show is intended for older kids, even my 3-year old finds it fun to watch, though she is a little young for some of the content.

Here is the description from the PBS website: “WordGirl is a PBS Kids animated television program aimed at expanding the vocabulary of elementary-aged children. The show follows 10-year old 5th grader, Becky Botsford, whose secret identity is the crime-fighting superhero, WordGirl. Born on the planet Lexicon, WordGirl was aboard a spacecraft piloted by a monkey named Captain Huggy Face that crashed into Earth when she was an infant. Tim and Sally Botsford adopted the baby girl, named her Becky, and brought her into their Fair City home. No one, including her parents or best friend Violet Heaslip, know Becky’s true identity. Though she spends half of her time fighting villains like the evil Butcher, Granny May, Dr. Two Brains and a host of other atrocious criminals, Becky is also a normal kid who plays with her dollhouse, fights with her younger brother TJ, and has a crush on the dreamy Todd “Scoops” Ming. Becky can instantly transform into WordGirl, who has super strength and an amazing vocabulary, by shouting her catchphrase, “Word up!” Each 30-minute episode is divided into two shorter segments featuring two new vocabulary words that are introduced at the start of the show. The show was created by Dorothea Gillim, a firm believer in creating children’s programming that is both intelligent and entertaining.”

Martha Speaks (PBS) – This is another show intended for older children that focuses on vocabulary, but it can also be enjoyed by younger audiences as well.

Here is the show’s description from the PBS website: “Martha Speaks is a PBS Kids television program that aims to teach children new vocabulary words to develop their reading skills. The show follows Martha, an energetic dog who lives with 10-year old owner and best friend, Helen Lorraine in Wagstaff City. Martha discovers her ability to speak after Helen feeds her alphabet soup! This special talent is unique to Martha, as other dogs can only “woof” after eating the same soup, including Helen’s other puppy, Skits. Martha can understand almost all animal languages, and she uses her linguistic abilities to help her friends and family solve problems and crack mysteries. She and her friends also go on many exciting adventures! Each 30-minute episode is divided into two shorter segments that feature up to 20 new vocabulary words. Martha encourages young viewers to learn and practice unfamiliar words in order to build a strong foundation for reading. Martha Speaks is based on a popular collection of children’s books (by the same name) written in the early 1990s by Susan Meddough.”

Word World (PBS) – This is a great show for developing word building and spelling skills, with a focus on reading comprehension as well. The characters and the world they live in are imaginative and fun for kids.

As described on the PBS website: “WordWorld is an animated children’s TV series developed by PBS that focuses on reading and comprehension in this fun and educational series where characters and items are formed out of the letters that spell their names. Based on the curriculum of the National Reading Panel’s Teaching Children to Read, WordWorld is a wacky and word-rich world that hopes to promote a love of learning and reading by challenging kids to build words that eventually morph into the thing it spells. This out there world is guided by a handful of animal hosts, including the letter-retrieving Dog, counting fiend Duck, food obsessed Pig, superhero aspiring Sheep, scientific genius Frog, athletic Bear, and radio announcing Ant. WordWorld has won three Emmy Awards for Outstanding Children’s Animated Program, Outstanding Writing in Animation, and Outstanding Achievement in Main Title Design.

Do you know of any other kids’ shows that focus on reading? What educational shows does your child enjoy watching? Share your comments.

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