A conversation with Angela Santomero, co-creator of the highly popular PBS Kids series Super Why.
Angela Santomero is a Founding Partner and Chief Creative Officer of Out of the Blue Enterprises LLC, overseeing the research and creative development of all of the company’s groundbreaking children’s media projects, with a mission to bring educational entertainment to a whole new level. She is Co-Creator, Executive Producer, and Head Writer of the award-winning PBS KIDS series Super Why, the first preschool property to help build literacy skills through classic fairytales with an original twist and empowering young heroes. Ms. Santomero was also the Co-Creator, Executive Producer and Head Writer for Nick Jr.’s landmark series, Blue’s Clues.
Ms. Santomero, please give us some background on the Super Why Reading Camps.
Taking place for the third consecutive summer, Super Why Reading Camps are interactive learning adventures that show children the power of reading and guide them as they play with letters, sounds, and words. Featuring a comprehensive curriculum developed by noted literacy experts, this year the program has been expanded from one to three weeks. Each day the 4 to 5 year-old campers participate in a range of fun literacy lessons, games, crafts, exercise and music that will help them practice key strategies for reading success. The first week is all about “ Super Why and The Three Little Pigs” and some of the reading-powered activities include a “Lickety Letters Craft Activity,” where participants find the letters of their name and make a colorful sign; “Letter ID Bingo;” and the entertaining and educational “Freeze Dance Rhyming Game.” On the last day of the week, campers invite their caregivers to come join in the literacy fun! Watch the short video above, which illustrates the power and appeal of the Super Why Reading Camps in action.
Why you did you decide to develop the Super Why Reading Camps?
We created the Super Why Reading Camps to bring the mission of the show one step further by working directly with preschoolers at a grassroots level to help them learn to read—and develop a lifelong love of books. As educators at heart, we were excited to find a way to bring our proven Super Why curriculum from the show and into classrooms. The amazing improvement in literacy skills we see from kids starting the program to when they leave is inspiring and uplifting for us. Kids get motivated, want to read, and truly learn!
What advice would you give to parents to ease the critical transition between preschool and kindergarten?
Parents, caregivers, and preschool teachers can foster kindergarten readiness skills every day in many easy and engaging ways at home and in the classroom. The key is to keep it simple and fun with games or activities in early reading, math, and thinking skills. For example, play “ABC I Spy” together and ask kids to identify the first letter of something that you see such as “F for flower!” or “S for sun!” Or you can count signs while in the car and count cups and silverware as you set the table. And of course, I always advise parents to read with their children to boost their expressive vocabulary and talk through problem solving strategies with preschoolers. Shows on PBS KIDS like Super Why, Martha Speaks, and Sid the Science kid can also help to ease the transition from preschool to kindergarten as young viewers watch the characters practicing essential skills, sometimes in a school setting.
What are the most compelling results from the research studies on Super Why Reading Camps?
Recent research conducted by the Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Pennsylvania illustrated that Super Why boosts young viewers’ early literacy skills. In addition to learning the reading skills written into each and every episode of the show, the kids who tuned-in to Super Why in the study outperformed non-viewers on 5 out of 7 standardized early literacy measures including letter recognition, letter sounds, reading simple words, and rhyming. And when researchers from San Diego State University analyzed data from Super Why Reading Camps that took place around the country in 2008 and 2009, they found that the groundbreaking program significantly improved campers’ scores on a number of standardized literacy assessments by an average of nearly 12 percent. So both studies clearly show that Super Why viewers and Super Why Reading Camps participants are absorbing and applying the key concepts that we introduce.
Daily viewing of a Super Why episode is part of the Reading Camp curriculum. How can television viewing help young children develop reading skills?
We developed Super Why to bridge the gap between television and reading. The show’s mission is to turn reading into a fun, interactive adventure and the medium of television is the perfect way to do this. In every episode, we show how words have power—visually and clearly so when we change one word in a sentence it can result in a whole new meaning! Sometimes it’s through something silly like transforming the Big Bad Wolf into a "small bad wolf"—he can still huff and puff but only blows down a flower! Television shows with a solid curriculum proven to help improve reading skills, like Super Why, can go a long way towards inspiring kids to read.
Several Super Why Reading Camps will be established here in Massachusetts beginning this summer. Where else can we find Super Why Reading Camps?
That’s right. Here in Massachusetts, WGBH is partnering with Little Sprouts, an award-winning early education provider with sites throughout the eastern portion of the state, to establish 33 camps serving approximately 600 children. We are also working with public television stations and their local educators across the country to establish camps during the summer, as well as during school vacation breaks.
Is there a camp story that’s had a particular impact on you?
We’ve had so much positive feedback from stations around the country saying that the children who attend the Super Why Reading Camps display a new focus and enthusiasm toward literacy—which is really great! A number of us from Out of the Blue have visited different camps and it’s truly inspiring to see how excited the kids get about the alphabet, words, and reading. Watching the young campers laugh and learn totally underscores for me that what we strive to do every day with Super Why is working!
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