New Tools for New Learners

The power of media to improve learning outcomes for all children.

GUEST COLUMN | by Lesli Rotenberg and Debra Tica Sanchez

CREDIT PBS Kids peg+catTo ensure children develop the skills that are fundamental to academic and professional achievement, we need to reach them early. According to a recent “Kids Count” survey from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 54 percent of America’s 3- and 4-year-olds do not have the opportunity to attend preschool. The need for offering content and resources to all of America’s children to prepare them to be successful in school – and in life – is critical.

A gap remains between low-income communities and those who have access to newer digital technologies and resources. 

Today we have more technological platforms available than ever, offering new ways for caregivers to engage children with research-based educational content. However, a gap remains between low-income communities and those who have access to newer digital technologies and resources. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and PBS are committed to providing all children and their learning guardians with innovative, curriculum-based resources. Local PBS stations reach more kids aged 2-5 and more children from low-income homes than any other kids TV network, offering free access to programming that is proven to support early learning. Research demonstrates that PBS KIDS series like PEG + CAT and SUPER WHY! help children improve in core academic areas such as math and literacy.

A new Ready To Learn grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement will help fund CPB and PBS’ new science and literacy media initiatives to support the learning needs of children, especially those in underserved communities. This work will build upon successful Ready To Learn-funded PBS KIDS content, such as PEG + CAT and ODD SQUAD, which have impacted millions of children.

PBS and CPB will develop new research-based educational content across media platforms, from award-winning series such as THE CAT IN THE HAT KNOWS A LOT ABOUT THAT!, to the new science-based series READY JET GO!. We will also experiment with new technologies, seeking opportunities to deepen educational impact on a variety of platforms. Accessible high-quality and developmentally appropriate technology is vital: leveraging mobile apps and digital games, in addition to broadcast programming, can effectively engage and educate children.

CPB and PBS are joining local PBS stations to establish community collaboratives devoted to early learning. Stations will partner with organizations that serve high-need populations, such as public libraries, health clinics and public housing authorities, to develop a variety of tech-enabled learning environments and resources for young kids and to support their parents and teachers.

When children and their families, caregivers and educators learn and play together in environments like these, the educational opportunities become greater. A study from WestEd found that engaging low-income parents and their preschool children with PBS KIDS content boosts math learning and helps prepare children for entry into kindergarten. Over the course of the study, parents became more engaged in their children’s learning and more confident in their role in supporting it.[i]

We have seen similar gains for educators. In another study from EDC-SRI International, children who used PBS KIDS content, featuring videos, digital games, teacher support and hands-on materials, improved significantly in their understanding of early mathematics skills compared to children who did not use the content. Teachers who used the resources spent more time on math than other teachers, had increased content knowledge and felt more confident incorporating technology into their classrooms.[ii]

Reaching children as early as possible is critical to setting them on the path to high school graduation. And we are doing more to help. The American Graduate Initiative is public media’s long-term commitment to help communities understand the challenges associated with kids staying in school and the community-based solutions that are helping them remain on course. National content, town halls and community conversations are providing an understanding of what is needed for young kids to succeed. Connecting the dots between strong early learning opportunities and increased high school completion rates is public media’s long-term priority.

CPB and PBS look forward to continuing to build on this work, helping parents, caregivers and teachers surround all children with learning resources anytime and anywhere, and reaching kids directly with content that is proven to build key skills. Together, we can ensure that all children have the chance to reach their fullest potential.

[i] WestEd. (2014). Engaging Families in Early Mathematics Learning: A Study of a Preschool Family Engagement Model. A report to the CPB-PBS Ready To Learn Initiative. Redwood City, CA. 

[ii] Pasnik, S., & Llorente, C. (2013). Preschool Teachers Can Use a PBS KIDS Transmedia Curriculum Supplement to Support Young Children’s Mathematics Learning: Results of a Randomized Controlled Trial. A report to the CPB-PBS Ready To Learn Initiative. Waltham, MA, and Menlo Park, CA: EDC-SRI.

Lesli Rotenberg is General Manager, Children’s Media at PBS and Debra Tica Sanchez is Senior Vice President, Education and Children’s Content Operations, CPB.


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