Up to date information about children's entertainment – film, TV, DVD and more…. from founder and president of KIDS FIRST! Ranny Levy

Archive for September, 2007

Words, Words, Words – New Focus at Sesame Street

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

Last week, I spoke with Rosemarie Truglio, VP of Research for Sesame Workshop. We spoke about their new literacy and language development focus.

Now, if you’re like me, you think of Sesame Street as the epitome of educational preschool programs. So, I asked Rosemarie, “How does this differ from past seasons on SS?” She explained, “Sesame Street is the only TV program that rethinks its curriculum focus on an annual basis. It is a whole child curriculum that reflects a preschool curricula.”

She went on to explain how they are constantly on the lookout to determine the critical needs of today’s children. Rosemarie, a 10 year Sesame Workshop veteran and mother of a 3 ½-year-old added, “Developing a rich vocabulary and a love of words at a young age helps children become better prepared for school and more successful readers.”

Literacy has never been the number 1 issue on Sesame Street. But it is this year. They looked around to see what are the new developments in terms of literacy and examined how they could implement them. The importance of VOCABULARY emerged as the big need. Vocabulary is not necessarily easy to teach. It requires repetition. Since repetition is inherent in Sesame Street, a natural extension to “the letter of the day” became the “word of the day.”

For this season, Sesame will focus on one word in each of its 26 shows. Season 38 will present viewers with words, words, and more words in order to build their vocabulary to describe their thoughts, ideas, feelings, and observations about the world. At the top of the show will be a new segment, a Muppet named Murray asks people: “What’s the Word on the Street?”

Interesting enough, an image representing the word and the sound of word will be shown. But, the word will not be printed on screen. I asked Rosemarie why not. Obviously, many programs for preschoolers do print the words on-screen; something I’ve always though peculiar since kids this age don’t read. “They’re not reading. They’re preschoolers. Their language is oral and they have an oral understanding of these words. It’s more important for the words to be part of their spoken vocabulary, ” she replied. Makes sense.

Carol-Lynn Parente, Executive Producer of Sesame Street adds, “We were particularly struck by the statistics illustrating a vast discrepancy in the size of a child’s vocabulary between middle and lower income families.” There is a vocabulary gap. That gap is primarily due to their exposure. Middle income children have exposure to not just reading a book, but having all kinds of other words thrown at them from their parents and other adults or older siblings. As a result, middle income children are exposed to rich language. On the other hand, low income children are not being exposed to those same conversations. That’s why the folks at Sesame Workshop decided to focus on vocabulary words.

I was interested in how they would determine whether or not the promise of increasing vocabulary was successful. So, I asked, “What does success look like here?” Trugilo responded, “Success comes in different forms. One is, our own formative evaluation, to inform us what’s working and what’s not working. Right now we are conducting a study in day care centers. We hope to see a significant increase in pre- and post- vocabulary. I guess we’ll hear the results from that later.

By now, my burning question was, what are the words? Rosemarie laughed. They’re not your usual, run-of-the-mill words but words that offer depth of understanding. For example, “tricycle” and “pumpernickel.” Notice that it’s not bike or bread. Tricycle is a bit more complex than a simple bike or bicycle. Same with pumpernickel. It’s not plain old white Wonderbread. Other words that you’ll be finding are family, angry, ballet, predicament, apology, pretend, newspaper, lazy and so on. I can’t give them all away but you get the drift. Frustrated, dog…

Tune in to Season 38 of Sesame Street and you’ll find a plethora of words to enjoy with your preschooler.

Meanwhile, as we all know, the real key is having parents and caregivers get involved in exposing their children to language and an expanded vocabulary. They need to have more conversations with their preschoolers. Introduce new words. Introduce new ideas. Talk with them. All of this takes time, that’s true. But, parents who take the time will have a child better prepared for school, for reading, and lifelong learning.

Here are some activities that the show has provided that you can enjoy with your child to help enhance his/her vocabulary:

1. Go Beyond the Alphabet Song

While many young children have a rote understanding of the alphabet by learning the ABC song, they often lack the ability to identify each letter and recognize letter sounds. Help your child develop a more meaningful and rich understanding of letters by emphasizing what each letter looks like, sounds like, and showing letters forming words.

Write out the alphabet on a large piece of paper. Then, have fun starting each day with a different “Letter of the Day!” Begin with the letter “A” by circling it, describing the way it looks, and repeating the letter sound. Go on a “Letter Hunt” throughout the day and search for things that begin with the “Letter of the Day.” For example, encourage your child to look for as many “B” foods as possible while you’re at the supermarket. Remember to emphasize the initial letter sound: “ B…B…Bananas! B…B…Beans! ” Your child can also look for the “Letter of the Day” in books, magazines, or different rooms of the house!

2. Explore Letters and Words Everywhere!

Letters and words are everywhere! Just be on the lookout throughout the day. On your walks to school or through the neighborhood, label and talk about any print that you notice on signs around your environment like “SCHOOL,” “SUBWAY,” or “RESTAURANT.” Point out and describe each letter and word you see.

Help your child develop language and a love for words by exposing her to a variety of print rich materials such as books, poems, nursery rhymes, labels, recipes, and childfriendly magazines.

Involve your child while making shopping lists, writing letters, or filling out birthday invitations. Talk out loud about the letters and words you write. Encourage her to help by drawing scribbles or pictures.

3. Use Words, Words, and More Words!

Developing a rich vocabulary at a young age helps children become more successful readers and learners. Expose children to new words, words, and more words every day! As you go about your daily routine, have fun conversations using lots of words to describe all the things you see and do together.

Have fun playing with words and language with your child! For example, play a rhyming game together by listing words that rhyme with “ball.” You can say, “ball, fall, wall, small… crayon!” Recognizing this silly mistake can be a very funny and exciting activity for your child. Allow them to correct you and then think of a word that does rhyme with ball!

Allow your child to hear you use words repeatedly in many meaningful ways. This can help him understand and remember new words and what they mean. For example, if you’re introducing the word “predicament,” they need to hear the word “predicament,” what it means, and the word used in various predicaments. If it’s raining outside and you don’t have an umbrella, you could say, “This is a real predicament!”

Learning new words is more effective when you build on words your child already knows. For example, after seeing the word “STORE” outside, talk about what a store is: “ It’s a place where you can go to buy something.” Then, with your child, explore other kinds of stores are in the neighborhood (e.g. hardware store, food store, shoe store, toy store, book store, etc).

There are so many wonderful words to learn and exploring words through categories makes it easy! Categories provide a way to link words together. For example, when investigating the word, transportation, you can explore all the exciting words in this category – cars, buses, planes, trains, trucks, bikes and boats! When you link words to categories your child will learn that all these things have something in common. They are all used to help people get from one place to another! Other child-friendly categories include jobs, animals, family, food, containers, and clothing.

4. Bring Books to Life!

Reading books together provides wonderful opportunities for your child to hear new words, learn about the world, and discover the power of language. Sharing books at an early age can also help your child build vocabulary as well as their love of reading!

Make story time a special part of your child’s daily routine. Introduce the book by talking about the book cover. Encourage your child to look at the picture and think of what the book will be about. Read the title then begin the book. Take your time so your child can get the most out of each page. As you read, point to the text from left to right. Pause to label and describe the pictures, letters, and words. Be expressive with your voice and actions. If a picture shows two frogs hopping through the woods, pretend that you are both frogs hopping and making “ribbit” sounds!

Ask who, what, when, where, why, and how questions as you read. For example, “Who is this?…What do you think will happen next?…Where are they?… Why does she look so happy? How did that make him feel?” When the story is over, continue the discussion by talking about the story: “ What was the story about? What was your favorite part of the story?”

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Mallory Lewis – Friend to Moms and Grandmoms

Monday, September 10th, 2007

Mallory Lewis, daughter of beloved children’s entertainer, Shari Lewis, will be one of our featured guests at our KIDS FIRST! Best Awards on Sunday, October 7 at the Calamigos Ranch in Malibu. Mallory is a hero to parents and grandparents everywhere! Recently, I had the most delightful conversation with Mallory who began her career working with her Mom with whom she won an Emmy when she was only 12. Mallory is the new puppeteer for Lamb Chop and the on-camera personality for the soon-to-be-released, “Phonics 4 Babies – Baby’s First Words,” a thoughtfully designed DVD that introduces toddlers to a vocabulary of 300 key words and phrases.

Before Sesame Street and way before Blue’s Clues, Barney, Bob the Builder or Clifford, there was “The Shari Lewis Show.” Now, Mallory, a Mom in her 30s, is launching a new educational program along with a new puppet, Giggles. What led her to get involved in “Phonics 4 Babies?” The show was created by Joe Giangrasso who came up with the concept, wrote all the songs and brought it to Mallory. She recruited her long time friend, Dr. Karen Kovacs North, as the show’s advisor. Dr. Kovacs North is a clinical psychologist at USC and a former aid for U.S. Representative Edward Mrkey. “It’s key,” says Mallory, “Today, everyone’s a working Mom. They are gone all day and their kids are being taken care of by someone else. That someone else’s English skills may not be the greatest. Language skills are paramount to education. “If you don’t have elementary language skills when you start school, you’re behind right from the start.” Mallory saw a need to address this critical element of children’s education so that her kids, your kids, and kids everywhere won’t be behind when they start school. “I love providing what I know is good edutainment for the little ones.” And, while she’s helping the kids, she is also helping working moms – whether English is their first language or not. “I didn’t understand how hard it is to be a working mom until I became one.”

When she’s not creating programming for kids, Mallory performs for the USO and for our troops around the world. What is that like? “Politics aside, our troops are amazing. They’re heartfelt and honest. It’s extremely meaningful to be able to move them. They’re so polite. It’s amazing to see them watch Lamb Chop. Lamb Chop appeals to little children and to grandparents alike.

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Beware of System Requirements – Holiday Video Game Shoppers –

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

Last weekend, I purchased a video game for my grandson at Best Buy. My experience in shopping there was less than pleasant, starting with difficulty in getting assistance, then buying a game that two days later I found out required hardware far exceeding my grandson’s computer, and ending with learning that Best Buy does not take returned games under any conditions.

Unfortunately, my grandson doesn’t have a very good grasp of what computer hardware specifications mean and I wasn’t attuned enough to check this out AND I was totally unaware of the fact that they had such a stringent no-returns policy.

Upon contacting the store to see if it was possible for them to make an exception, I was disappointed both with the store manager who was completely unsympathetic and with the corporate customer relations department who was slightly more so and tried to placate me by offering me a $25 gift certificate as a “way to meet you halfway.”

The reason why I’m writing about this in my blog is that I think this is something that you should be aware of as you are shopping this holiday season. Maybe I’m naive. We never have problems playing things on our office computers but I realize that kids often get the hand me downs and don’t have the capacity that up to date games do.

There – I’ve forewarned you. Pay attention Grandparents and Parents! Don’t buy a video game that requires a more powerful computer than what your kids or grandkids have!

Since this was written, I received a second response from customer service at Best Buy and an additional gift card, making our loss net zero. Even though we came out okay financially, this message is still relevant: be careful when selecting video games. 1) Don’t open the package before you re-read the system requirements and match them with your system, or your kids/grandkidss’ system. 2) Take your complaint, if you have one to the corporate office. Local managers have no control over corporate policies. If you ask them to deviate, they will not usually be able to do so.

Beware and happy holiday shopping.

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KIDS FIRST! Best Awards Celebration

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

Every year we honor the films that have been screened at our KIDS FIRST Film Festivals during the preceding 12 months at our annual KIDS FIRST Best Awards Celebration. Awards are given in 20+ categories plus five Best of the Fest Awards to the five top films overall. It’s not an easy task as every one of the 300+ films we screen throughout the year is excellent. We draw upon a jury of film programmers and film professionals who are engaged with us year round and whose expertise covers the category for which they jury. Our nominees will be announced the first week of September and the finalists will be announced October 7 at our Awards Ceremony at Calamigos Ranch, Malibu, CA. If you are a filmmaker interested in children’s films, or if you live in southern California, I highly encourage you to join us for this day of filmmaking and fun. Here’s the schedule.

Sunday, October 7th 1:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.

  • Workshops: Acquisitions for Independent Filmmakers. How to position and market your independent film.
  • Film Festival Directors Round Table Discussion.
  • 3:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. KIDS FIRST Awards Celebration. Mallory Lewis, the honored recipient of the 2007 KIDS FIRST Palmer-Vision Award will be among the featured hosts.
  • 5:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. Dinner and a movie. Delicious chuck wagon BBQ with ribs, chicken, & tasty vittles, soft drinks & make your own sundae bar, no-host bar.

    To purchase tickets, go to http://www.kidsfirst.org/filmfestival/KFBest2007.html.

    Hope to see you there.

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