Super WHY! Activities Day 2: Wonder Red

2009-05-15_0001Ready to roll with Word Power?  Today’s Super WHY! activities are focused on using auditory or visual discrimination to create and decipher between all words.

For today’s activities, you will need:

If you want to do the additional activities, you may want to have a music CD handy.

My observations:  JavaGirl had a harder time with these worksheets.  It’s not so much that she didn’t understand the concepts overall, as she found the worksheets themselves limiting.  I pointed to the ball and said, “what’s that?”  And she would say, “A soccer ball.”  So I’d say, “well, yes, but let’s try just ball, what letter does BALL start with?  Find the letter that BALL starts with.”  And she got mad and said, “No, Mommy, not BALL, that’s a SOCCER BALL, S, SOCCER ball.”  I went through the same thing with the “BRICK wall” and so on.  Does this mean something about JavaGirl?  I have no idea.  Teachers, can you tell me?

JavaBoy whizzed through his sheets.

I couldn’t find my Super Why! music CD, but JavaBoy knew WonderRed’s rhyming word’s tune so we sang along to that for a while.  Then we just put on some music while I called out various -ALL words (for which they would FREEZE) and the episode-specific non-ALL words (red, pig, wolf), for which they’d keep dancing.  They had a great time!

Overall I’d say JavaBoy likes the worksheets and either JavaGirl is just not a worksheets kind of a girl, or these worksheets in particular aren’t for her.  I really haven’t done a lot of worksheets with her, partially because she seems more interested in coloring them than doing them, whereas JavaBoy has ALWAYS loved doing them even from a younger age.

Tell me about your experiences and remember — posting gets your name into the drawing for a DVD from PBS!

Super WHY! Activities – Day 1

A, B, C, D… sing with me!  Yep, it’s time to break out the Super WHY! pre-assessment and Alpha Pig activities today!

If you have no clue what I’m talking about, jump back a post and catch up — we’re going on an interactive journey with the characters of Super WHY! this week. AND… if you comment on the PBS-related posts this week, I will put your name into a drawing for a DVD (I’m awaiting its arrival, so I don’t have the title yet) from PBS.  Yes, if you comment on more than one post, I will put your name in more than once. 

So, let’s get started!

First, you will need the pre-assessment questions.  You will also want to go ahead and save and print all the worksheets— you will need these both for the pre-assessment and for the corresponding days of the week.

The pre-assessment, of course, allows you to see where your child is in his or her literacy journey before you begin this whole process.  Please try to remember that this is not a pass/fail kind of a test — there is no winning or losing, this is just to gauge where your child is in his or her development.  At the end of the week, you will do the same exercises with your child again.

My observations:I did these separately with JavaGirl (turned 3 the week we did this) and JavaBoy (5).  JavaBoy already reads, so he basically whizzed through this pre-assessment.  JavaGirl was familiar with the story of  The Three Little Pigs, could point to the letters W-O-L-F,  couldn’t read “wall” but once I read it, could read “fall” and “ball” because she knows her letters, didn’t know how to spell “big” and “pig,” knew the opposite of the word “big” and knew the opposite of the word “bad” and figured out that “good” was the word that started with the “g.”  The problem for me, as a non-teacher, was that I didn’t really know what this meant in terms of where she was in her literacy skills — I just knew that she knew how to do some things and not others — I wished the pre-assessment had a little more info for a novice like myself!

Who Let The Pigs Out?

alpha-pig-day2I have a really terrific photo of  JavaDad wearing the Alpha Pig mask playing Bingo with JavaBoy, while shirtless, but he has threatened to yank my high-speed Internet connection if I post it, so instead you will only see partially obscured photos of JavaBoy.  Yes, he is wearing Christmas pajamas in May.  That’s how we roll here in the Java household. 

Print out and cut out the Alpha Pig mask (this file prints out all the masks or just select one) — color is ideal.  I made a small hole on each side and ran ribbon through, Teach Mama apparently finally put hers on kiddie sunglasses — do whatever works!  By the way, she is a much better mother than I am because she had her children cut theirs out as a bonus activity and I, always short on time, cut the masks out myself while the children were busy with something else.  You will also need the Alpha Pig Day instruction sheet, and the bingo instruction sheet, the bingo cards, and the bingo markers (or if you already have bingo markers, save yourself the trouble, and use those).  Incidentally, the bingo instruction sheet refers to some 17×11 sign — this was never in my kit and I have no idea what they are referring to, but apparently you don’t need it.  I just wrote down the letters I saw on the bingo cards and made my own letters to call out.  Nor do you need 20 bingo cards — just as many cards as you have players.  You will also need the Alpha Pig worksheets, which you have already printed out for the assessment.

Okay — so you’ve printed out a zillion things, now watch the show!  It’s available either in podcast or quicktime format — and today you will pay special attention to Alpha Pig.  After watching the show, follow the instructions on the Alpha Pig Day instruction sheet — transform into Alpha Pig, do the worksheets, and if you have time, sing the song and play bingo!

My observations:We’ve seen this episode before, but the kids enjoyed having something interactive to do afterward.  JavaBoy already knows how to spell his name and was more interested in practicing coloring neatly inside the lines (as this is a challenge he’s working on) as he colored in the letters.  JavaGirl does not yet know how to spell her name (it’s a bit complex even for grown-ups) and she’s still learning how to write letters, but she happily circled the letters when I told them which ones they were and was happy to color them in.  Then we ended up having a little bit of a handwriting lesson, which I was actually glad to have because I only recently grasped the fact that one of the reasons she and I have had some challenges in that area is because I’ve been to dim-witted to realize she’s a leftie!  (By the way, if anyone has tips for a right-handed mother with a left-handed kid, I’d love to hear them — I never realized all the challenges that could present.)  They both enjoyed hunting for letters in Storybook Village, although I think I was the only one who noticed the correlation between the letter and the location (i.e. L was on the library, W on the windmill…)  I missed out on playing bingo because I had to take a phone call, but JavaDad said they thoroughly enjoyed it.

Oh, and yes, you will be humming the Alpha Pig version of the alphabet song all week.  Seriously.  I find myself singing it under my breath at the oddest moments now.

What Makes PBS’s Super WHY! So Super?

When Angela Santomero was a little girl, she’d lean into the TV set and she just knew she was special, because Mr. Rogers told her she was.  And so did I.  And I’m willing to bet, so did you. superwhy1

We are the generation who learned our ABCs on PBS, and now our children are too, but they are learning so much more, so much faster, and Angela Santomero is one of the reasons why.

Maybe you don’t recognize her name… unless you happen to pay close attention to the credits of your children’s favorite shows.  She is creator of Nick Jr.’s Blue’s Clues  and creator, executive producer, and head writer of the award-winning PBS show, Super WHY!   She has the Midas touch of children’s programming, so I jumped at the opportunity to peel back the layers at PBS headquarters May 6 and find out just what goes into putting together a show like Super WHY! 

The Invitation

JavaGirl was afraid of our official PBS greeter at first.

How did I get in on this gig?  Quite simply through the DC Metro Mom Blog.  Lesli Rotenberg, Senior Vice President of Children’s Media of PBS is reaching out to bloggers in order to reach out to parents everywhere to get feedback about the role media plays in our lives, especially with regard to our children.    She wants us to start an online dialogue — on our blogs but also on PBS Parents about how we use not just the television shows, but the PBS web sites,,, and the site (which I didn’t even know about, frankly!) to engage the naturally curious minds of our children.  Or as she said, “Children are born explorers, we are trying to provide a safe environment for them to explore.” 

Around the table there were a lot of nodding heads… we already trusted PBS.   PBS is what we were raised on — Sesame Street, the Electric Company, so fortunately for them, half the battle was already won out of the gate.  But back in our day, there wasn’t a Disney Channel or a Nick Jr. or… gasp… the WEB to compete with.  So just winning parents over isn’t the entire battle if you want to win in the game of capturing the audience of young children — you have to be entertaining enough to keep the kids interested and educational enough for the adults in the house to approve.  That’s a tall order.  Fortunately for PBS, Santomero was just the person to fill it — and in the two-hour briefing, we learned a little bit more how, but even better, there is an interactive component to this — a week long of activities you can do with your own children and you can comment here as well as on PBS.  And the kind folks at PBS have even offered to give me a prize to offer up — which  I will give away in a drawing for my commenters.  How cool is that?!

Pssst… Want to Know the Secret to Building an Award-Winning Children’s Show?

Angela Santomero

Angela Santomero

As we bloggers quieted down around the conference table, we were told we’d get to put an award-winning show on the operating table and find out how one is really put together.  Having grown up in the television industry, I found the idea quite intriguing.  Each of us around the table came from different backgrounds, while all of us are of course, writers, some are teachers, some are lawyers, some  are in politics— and many in the group I am still learning about.   So we each approached the show with a different eye and probably each left the briefing with a different takeaway — but we all had one thing in common: we’re all mothers.  And we knew anecdotally what this press release was capturing statistically:  Super WHY! helps young children learn to read.  I know the show is one of the main reasons why JavaGirl knew her ABCs by age 2 and I know that it helps JavaBoy with his reading skills.  There are some shows that you just know work for your kids, and you may not be able to tell why, but you can see that this one engages them and that one doesn’t — so this was a rare opportunity to figure that out.

Santemero says that when she used to watch how kids would kick at the TV screen when they watched the Power Rangers, she wanted to create a show that was that powerful, but inspired children to learn something instead of kick.  So Super WHY!was actually her Master’s thesis when she got her degree in Child Developmental Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University.   She knew how powerful TV was, “I mean c’mon, I had the ‘Rachel’ haircut.  And did you know that when Fonzi from Happy Days got a library card, the number of people getting library cards went up 500%?”  She wanted to have that kind of an impact, on children, in a positive way.  But she also wanted to be sure that she made books the go-to resource for children, the way books had always been a resource for her. 

According to Rotenberg, unlike many other TV shows, PBS shows begin with a specific need or problem to solve, and the problem Super WHY! tackles is the need was to teach children ages 3-6 to read.   But “teaching children to read” can be a bit nebulous, so they broke it down into more specific terms:

  • letter identification
  • word decoding
  • phonemic awareness
  •  word encoding and phonics
  • reading comprehension


So that is what needs to be taught — but how to do it?   They created four characters to help with specific tasks:  each begins as a “regular” Storybook Village character who then transforms into their “super” character with a special power.  Pig (of Three Little Pigs) becomes Alpha Pig, a builder with alphabet power.  Little Red Riding Hood turns into a rollerskating Wonder Red with word power — whom many little girls have come to adore because she is a non-princess heroine.  Princess Pea (of The Princess and the Pea) transforms into Princess Presto with Spelling Power and is also the one who always picks the right book for the story portion of the show.  The bloggers at the briefing expressed their thanks to Santomero for making Princess Presto your non-stereotypical princess — she’s not a blonde-haired, blue-eyed princess and that was important to their daughters.  And then there is Whyatt, whom Santomero described as the “Zac Effron” of Storybook Village — he’s the younger brother of Jack, as in Jack and the Beanstalk, and he becomes Super Whywith your more traditional super hero garb, with the power to read.  Personifying each element of the reading process is one of the many ways Santomero’s team of writers helps keep the lesson entertaining.  Of course there is a fifth, very important “character” in the show — the child in the audience.  Super Why! breaks that fourth wall and addresses the child right through the TV screen, asking his or her name, and then “transforms” the child into his/her super self as “and Super You, with the Power to Help!”  The viewing child is asked to actively participate throughout the show.

Each episode has a framework of introducing a socio-emotional problem (i.e. “Jill keeps stomping on my blocks”), then a reading adventure (The Three Little Pigs), then a conflict resolution (make friends).  This not only makes for a plot, but reinforces Santomero’s goal of teaching kids that books are a life resource.

The amount of work, thought and detail that goes into each show is far too much to be captured in a single blog post, but here are some highlights:

  • Because every child is at a different point in their literacy journey, the show has something for everyone — even the non-reader can feel some success simply by singing along to the updated version of the alphabet song with Alpha Pig.  And with Alpha Pig, a child can simply point to the letters that are already on the screen — the answers are right there.  And yet later in the show, there are more complex questions and answers for the more advanced reader.
  • The fractured fairytales are often changed around with some “girl empowerment,” thanks in part, to Santomero’s daughters.  For example, Rapunzel can now get herself down from the tower.
  • Every script goes to a school three times during development.  First as a storybook reviewed by a reading teacher, and later screened as an episode by children where researchers watch how children react and how attentive they are.
  • Santomero pays careful attention to each individual learning element, but also the totality of the final product.  Or as she says,  “With every episode — I’m baking a seven-layer cake.  Each layer on it’s own is important, and has to work, but it also has to all come together and taste good together as well.”

Does Super WHY! Live Up to the Hype?

After the briefing, we were sent home with media kits of activities to try with our children.  You can download many of the same materials here — including the show episode and a week’s worth of activities.  I’m going to post about our day-by-day results with the activities as well.  Please post back about your experiences with these activities, the show, or any other comments about children and media here and you will be entered into a drawing for a prize from PBS!

If You Ever Have to Explain a Pow-Wow…

I recommend — it has lots of information and photos and even videos from Pow-Wows from around the country.  JavaBoy’s preschool will have a mock Pow-Wow tomorrow as part of their unit on Thanksgiving and I think this site helped give him a greater appreciation of the cultural significance of this type of gathering. 

When I get more than a few minutes, I hope to post some more “explaining Thanksgiving to your kids” resources.