Study Finds Preschoolers’ Math Skills Improve with Combination of PBS KIDS Educational Content and Family Engagement

Nov 09, 2015

New research demonstrates that PBS KIDS content helps narrow the math achievement gap for children from low-income families and better prepares them for kindergarten

San Francisco, CA–November 9, 2015 – WestEd, a national nonprofit research, development, and service agency, today released the findings of a study that measured the impact of PBS KIDS content and family involvement on preschool children’s math learning. Study findings suggest that PBS KIDS resources, coupled with family engagement, can help narrow the math achievement gap for children from low-income families and better prepare them for kindergarten. The study is the third in a series of research studies that analyze and report on the positive effects of public media’s television, interactive content, and hands-on activities on early learning and family engagement. 

The study was conducted on behalf of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) using videos, online games, and offline hands-on activities from PBS KIDS series CURIOUS GEORGE, PEG + CAT, and THE CAT IN THE HAT KNOWS A LOT ABOUT THAT! These resources were developed by PBS KIDS as part of the federal Ready To Learn initiative. The initiative, administered by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement, has a goal of promoting early learning and school readiness among young children ages 2 through 8 years old, with a particular interest in reaching children from low-income families.

In the study, Learning with PBS KIDS: A Study of Family Engagement and Early Mathematics Achievement, WestEd researchers followed 153 children ages 3 to 5 and their families in preschool and home settings over nine weeks. Nine preschools participated in the study, with three as members of the treatment group and the other six serving as the comparison group. Two related previous studies can be found here.

The intervention focused on two math concepts: numbers and operations from 1 to 10 and shapes. Using videos, games, and hands-on activities that included children’s favorite PBS KIDS characters, such as Curious George, Peg and Cat, and the Cat in the Hat, family members and children worked together on PBS KIDS activities for 30 minutes a day for four days a week, and parents and guardians were encouraged to attend weekly meetings at their child’s preschool.

For children and families in the treatment group preschools, the study found that:

  • Math knowledge increased significantly for children from both low-income and higher income families.
  • Children’s math scores on the rigorous Test of Early Mathematics Ability (TEMA-3) were, on average, 3 points higher — a statistically significant gain — than those for students in the comparison group over the study’s duration. Children from non-low-income families increased their TEMA mean scores from 23.22 pretest to 29.33 posttest; children from low-income families increased their mean scores from 16.00 pretest to 22.54 posttest.
  • Parents’ awareness of their children’s math learning increased significantly, as did their use of strategies to support their children’s learning. Participation in the study motivated parents to set aside time each day to do math activities with their children.

“The results of these studies suggest that the PBS KIDS materials are promising for boosting young children’s mathematics knowledge and skills,” said Betsy McCarthy, Ph.D., Senior Research Associate of the STEM Program at WestEd, and the study’s principal researcher.

“For me, with my daughter, it was fun,” said one parent. “I learned how to ask her more questions, and we found a way to learn together.”

“Public media, through Ready To Learn programs and online content, is helping to bridge the early-learning opportunity divide and make sure that all children have the chance to be the best students possible,” says Pat Harrison, CPB president and CEO.

“PBS is committed to using the power of all media on TV and digital platforms to help children succeed in school and in life; offering resources that support the whole child — including materials for parents — is essential to fulfilling our mission,” says Lesli Rotenberg, General Manager, Children’s Media, PBS. “This new research demonstrates that not only is PBS KIDS content helping kids build critical skills, it is also empowering parents to support their children’s learning.”

About the Ready To Learn Initiative
The Ready To Learn initiative is a cooperative agreement funded and managed by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement. It supports the development of innovative educational television and digital media targeted at preschool and early elementary school children and their families. Its general goal is to promote early learning and school readiness, with a particular interest in reaching low-income children. In addition to creating television and other media products, the program supports activities intended to promote national distribution of the programming, effective educational uses of the programming, community-based outreach, and research on educational effectiveness. 

About WestEd
WestEd is a nonpartisan, nonprofit research, development, and service agency that works with education and other communities throughout the United States and abroad to promote excellence, achieve equity, and improve learning for children, youth, and adults. WestEd has more than a dozen offices nationwide, from Massachusetts, Vermont, and Georgia, to Illinois, Arizona, and California, with headquarters in San Francisco. More information about WestEd is available at, Twitter, and Facebook.

PBS KIDS, the number one educational media brand for kids, offers all children the opportunity to explore new ideas and new worlds through television, digital platforms, and community-based programs. Kidscreen- and Webby-award-winning provides engaging interactive content, including digital games and streaming video. PBS KIDS also offers mobile apps to help support young children’s learning. The PBS KIDS Video App is available on a variety of mobile devices and on platforms such as Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Xbox One, and Chromecast. For more information on specific PBS KIDS content supporting literacy, science, math and more, visit, or follow PBS KIDS on Twitter and Facebook.

About CPB
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a private, nonprofit corporation created by Congress in 1967, is the steward of the federal government’s investment in public broadcasting. It helps support the operations of more than 1,400 locally owned and operated public television and radio stations nationwide, and is the largest single source of funding for research, technology, and program development for public radio, television, and related online services.

The contents of this release were developed under a grant from the Department of Education. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government. [PR/Award No. U295A100025, CFDA No. 84.295A]

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Ginger Tulley