Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Super Why! Camp

As an intern just young enough to remember PBS shows like Wishbone and Arthur, and just old enough to have missed the recent surge of educational TV shows for pre-school aged children, I was astounded by MPT’s recent Super Why! Camp.

Super Why! is a PBS Raising Readers program designed to give preschoolers the skills they need to read successfully. MPT’s Super Why! Camp uses the program and its characters to engage prospective Baltimore City Public School kindergarteners in learning activities designed to reinforce and enrich their reading skills during two separate weeklong camps, one in June and the other in July.

The recent June camp was held at the John Eager Howard Elementary School in West Baltimore. I arrived last Monday morning just as the campers began to watch the week’s episode, “Super Why! and the Three Little Pigs.” To my surprise, I was greeted by a classroom of students who were actively engaged in the story on the screen.

My generation tends to view television as a passive activity, something to while away the hours between classes or work that doesn’t require too much, if any, thought or participation beyond flipping the channel during commercials. But the campers responded eagerly to the Super Readers’ prompting, singing and reading along with the characters or sounding out letters and words in order to find the Big Bad Wolf.

Each day after watching the “Three Pigs” episode, the campers worked on a different skill set linked to the Super Readers: Alpha Pig, Wonder Red, Princess Presto, and Super Why! himself. The campers practiced letter identification, letter sounds, ALL-family word recognition (i.e. words like tall, call, ball, wall), and reading.

Although the campers responded readily to the activities designed to help them practice each skill set, I couldn’t help but think that spending extra time on more difficult skills, such as letter sounds or word family recognition, would be extremely beneficial for all of the campers regardless of their skill level. For those campers who were already close to becoming fluent readers, perhaps the extra time would facilitate pattern recognition associated with certain letter combinations and words within words, while the campers who still required prompting might learn how to blend letter sounds together in order to read words aloud.

Regardless, Super Why! Camp was unarguably beneficial for each of the campers, whether it reinforced what they already knew or helped them develop a new skill set or two. As for me, I will certainly never view television in quite the same manner again. I’ve heard arguments against television and its influence on children, but having seen first-hand the results that interactive television can produce, I believe that the technology is both applicable and beneficial, both in and out of the classroom.

Kathryn Tracey
Education Intern

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