The day was a typical one. My daughters excitedly engaged in playtime, reading, and making a mess all over the house. Of course, they argued from time to time. There really were no signs that anything was amiss, until my preschooler uttered those dreaded words.
“Mommy, I don’t feel good!”
I did not have a chance to ask her what was wrong before she broke down crying and said, “Mommy, my ear hurts. It hurts really badly!” I looked at the clock. It was 5:03 pm on a Sunday. With no chance of being seen by our pediatrician at that hour, I frantically searched the internet for urgent care facilities in our area. Several closed at 5:00 pm, but I was able to find one that accepted walk-ins until 5:45 pm and I hurried my daughter into the car. We arrived at urgent care in time; however, there was quite a wait. After checking in, I encouraged my daughter to take nap while sitting on my lap, but she wasn’t interested. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she spotted it. The television playing a cartoon!
She perked up. I was so relieved. Super Why to the rescue! Whyatt Beanstalk, Red, Pig, and Princess Pea filled the screen on their latest superhero quest to become super readers. I did not immediately recognize the cartoon, but I did recognize the name that popped up onto the screen toward the beginning of the show: Angela Santomero. I perked up too, as I knew we just booked Angela to be a keynote speaker at our 10th annual Help Me Grow National Forum in Buffalo, New York. Angela’s influence on the early childhood years of children across the country and beyond is extensive. Not only is she co-creator of the PBS cartoon Super Why, she is also well known as co-creator of the popular Nickelodeon hit Blues Clues and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood on PBS, among other accomplishments.
As a parent and early childhood advocate, I am impressed by the extent that research informs the direction of her work. For example, in a Q and A with parents regarding Super Why, Angela and co-creator Samantha Freeman described their process in creating an interactive show where young children practice their alphabet, rhyming, spelling, and reading skills. They highlighted their research-based decision to modify existing fairy tales to spark creativity and make them more appropriate and accessible for a younger audience. They also applied knowledge of existing research into the development of lesson plans to incorporate upper case letters into the first 25 episodes and lower case letters into additional episodes.
While the benefits of early childhood educational television programming are numerous, as a parent I am also mindful that there are certain concerns to consider as well. Chief among them – the appropriate call by physicians and others for parents and caregivers to limit screen time for children to allow more time for physical activity, as well as time spent learning or reading together as a family.
There must be a balance between the two.
In an age where televisions, tablets, smartphones, and other devices are so widely available and utilized by children, we must encourage conversations about the benefits and drawbacks of screen time. We should not ignore it. It is a relevant issue for parents and caregivers, and one that should be on the minds of those who work with and interact with children and families.
That is why I am so excited to hear Angela speak at the Help Me Grow Forum.
I am interested in hearing about her highly successful career as an executive producer and co-creator of award winning educational children’s programming. I am also interested in hearing her speak about how much is too much for young children to watch. As our children learn and grow, my husband and I strive to limit the amount of television they watch. However, Super Why remains one of our youngest daughter’s most requested shows. We make sure to offer opportunities for physical activity and read to our children daily. We also encourage our second grader to read independently and get such a kick out of our preschooler “reading” (paging through) chapter books to be just like her big sister. We also use flashcards to introduce our youngest to sight words, which can be a challenge depending on her interest on any given day. So, imagine my excitement when, just the other day, she ran over and said, “Mommy, do you know that I-T spells it?” I was so excited! That was one of the words on our flashcards. I asked her where she learned that, confident she would credit school or her time working on sight words at home.
She smiled and pointed to the television, and said “Mommy, I learned it there!” A soon-to-be super reader, for sure.
Debra Dudack is a communications manager for Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health. Help Me Grow National Center is a program of Connecticut Children’s Office of Community Child Health.