Can TV Teach Your Kid to Read
by Dewi L. Faulkner
Cliff Hanger, the long word
freak-out, the Smarty-Pants Dance, those mysteriously-floating jewel-toned lips
that teach about vowel sounds using jazzy riffs and beautiful harmonies; the
list of things to love about PBS children's series Between the Lions
goes on and on. The show is fun. But can it really teach kids to read?
According to a new slew of surveys
conducted by some very well-known universities... yes. Or at least it can significantly
help. Thanks in part to these findings, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
(CPB) recently announced its commitment to funding seasons seven and eight of
the popular television show.
Studies by the University of Kansas,
the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, and others, say Between the Lions
gives children a leg up when it comes time to learn to read. In the University
of Kansas Study, performed by Dr. Deborah Linebarger, kindergarten students who
watched Between the Lions outperformed students who did not at a ratio
of 4:1 in reading skills like letter-sound correspondence, phonemic awareness,
and concepts of print. In the Harvard study, students who watched Between
the Lions, rather than Arthur, had an easier time blending words,
even though they'd scored significantly lower than these same students before
the study began.
During the two consecutive school
years (2004-2005 and 2005-2006) that eleven Tribal Head Start programs in New
Mexico implemented the Between the Lions American Indian Head Start
Literacy Initiative project in 48 of their classrooms, students showed dramatic
improvements in early English literacy skills. For example, before the project
children knew, on average approximately six letters. By the end of their
participation they knew about nineteen, according to a study by the University
of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication. The number of children
considered at risk for reading failure dropped from 39 percent to 12
percent as measured by the popular screening tool, Get Ready to Read.
Could your kid be next? Would he
learn his alphabet and master his phonics if only you switch from Sponge Bob
to Between the Lions? Unclear. But at the very least, he'll probably
love that Smarty-Pants dance.