To support the millions of children lacking the basic early learning skills to succeed in school, the U.S. Department of Education’s Ready To Learn Television grant has funded, for the past two decades, the development of educational television and digital media targeted at preschool and early elementary school children and their families, especially those who live in low-income communities. Under this federal grant, CPB and PBS KIDS work with producers, researchers, local public media stations, and other partners to develop, distribute and evaluate PBS KIDS multiplatform content – including television programs, video, interactive games, mobile apps and hands-on activities – to engage children, families, and educators in learning experiences at home, in preschool, and in out-of-school settings.
Through the Ready To Learn initiative, public media stations collaborate with a network of partners to extend the reach and impact of the RTL content in low-income communities. Through collaboration and research, public media connects content and community in a model of community engagement.
Getting Ready To Learn: Creating Effective, Educational Children's Media, by Shelley Pasnik (Routledge, 2018), based on years of data from the CPB-PBS Ready To Learn Initiative, describes how educational media have played and are continuing to play a role in meeting the learning needs of children, parents, and teachers.
In this grant cycle, CPB and PBS are working with experts in early learning to create science and literacy-based television series, videos, games, mobile apps, and engagement resources. The grant has funded new content for PBS KIDS series such as The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That! and Ready Jet Go! along with a new science version of the PBS KIDS for Parents Play & Learn app and innovative short form videos from The Ruff Ruffman Show. PBS KIDS is also launching two new Ready To Learn series: Molly of Denali, focused on informational text literacy, and Elinor Wonders Why (premiering in September 2020), focused on scientific inquiry. CPB and PBS are leveraging this content by developing personalized learning experiences for children and provide meaningful data to parents, caregivers and teachers. Local PBS stations and community partners around the country are ensuring that this content and related resources are being used in the neighborhoods that need them most. Recent data from the CPB-PBS Ready To Learn Initiative indicates that 15 million children watch RTL-funded science television content, and 19 million children use STEM games and mobile apps. Information related to this round of the grant, include links to content and research reports, can be found on PBS LearningMedia.
The 2015-2020 Ready To Learn grant supports the development of two new multiplatform series:
Molly of Denali, produced by WGBH Boston with animation collaborators at Atomic Cartoons for PBS KIDS, centers on Alaska Native Molly Mabray, a feisty and resourceful 10-year-old who brings viewers along for adventures in America’s 50th state. With a curriculum grounded in informational text, Molly of Denali also emphasizes family and intergenerational relationships and Alaska Native values. Ready To Learn is funding 38 half-hour episodes, a one-hour special, a digital app, online games, and hands-on resources for children ages 4-8, families, and educators.
Elinor Wonders Why, created by Jorge Cham and Daniel Whiteson and produced in partnership with Pipeline Studios, will launch on PBS KIDS in September 2020. Elinor, the most observant and curious bunny rabbit in Animal Town, will introduce children ages 3-5 to science, nature and community through the adventures with her friends. Ready To Learn is funding 40 half-hour episodes, digital games, and hands-on resources for kids, families, and educators.
The 2015-2020 grant also supports new episodes, games, and resources for existing properties and familiar characters on PBS KIDS:
- Ready Jet Go! Ready To Learn funded 40 new episodes (including the one-hour special,“Back to Bortron 7), two digital apps (Jet’s Bot Builder and Space Scouts), and two engagement resources (PBS KIDS Family & Community Learning and Space Scouts Camp). Produced by Wind Dancer Films, the property introduces children ages 4-8 to new adventures of Jet Propulsion and his group of friends, who explore the solar system to learn about Earth and space science, and engineering and technology.
- The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That! Ready To Learn funded 40 new episodes, The Cat in the Hat Builds That! app, and a PBS KIDS Family & Community Learning series. Produced by Portfolio Entertainment, the property models early science and engineering concepts and practices for children ages 3-5.
- The Ruff Ruffman Show. Ready To Learn supported the launch of an online series with corresponding online games, the Photo Stuff with Ruff app, and two engagement resources (PBS KIDS Family & Community Learning and Sensational Science Camp). Produced by WGBH, these YouTube-inspired short form videos introduce children ages 4-8 to core science concepts and the science inquiry process.
- PBS KIDS for Parents Play and Learn Science App. Ready To Learn funded the newest version of the Play and Learn app (featuring 15 engaging games covering core topics in Earth Science, Physical Science, and Life Science) and a PBS KIDS Family & Community Learning series to encourage families to explore science together.
RTL science and informational text content as well as personalized and adaptive learning features are rigorously reviewed, tested, and evaluated at every phase of development and implementation by experts to assess their usability, appeal, and impact on children’s learning.
- Early Learning & Engineering: The Impact of The Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That! on Learning (2019, EDC & SRI). Preschool children living in low-income households learned critical science and engineering concepts and practices from The Cat in the Hat media.
- Community Collaboratives for Early Learning & Media: A National Picture of CC-ELM Results, 2017-2018 (2019, EDC & SRI). Nearly all parents who participated in Community Collaborative programs feel more confident about helping their children learn science and want to spend more time each week helping their children learn at home.
- Ready To Learn Research: What Parents Talk About When They Talk About Learning: A National Survey About Young Children and Science (2018, EDC & SRI). Nearly all parents want to be involved in their children’s education, but most are less likely to feel confident teaching their young children science than reading, writing or math. (Executive Summary and Infographic).
- Ready To Learn Research: PBS KIDS ScratchJr Family Creative Learning Workshop Implementation Study (2017, EDC & SRI). The workshop boosted parents and children’s interest in and learning of technology and coding (Report Highlights).
2010-2015: Expanded Learning Through Transmedia Content
Between 2010-2015, CPB and PBS collaborated with numerous partners to produce, evaluate, and disseminate a collection of evidence-based educational media and learning resources to advance the math and literacy skills of young children, particularly those in low-income communities.
- A Preschool Math Property, PEG + CAT – Peg and Cat use math and problem-solving skills to save the day. In 2015, PEG + CAT reached 11 million children on television and 12 million users digitally.
- An Elementary Math Property, ODD SQUAD – Young agents are presented with a unique math problem that they must solve together through teamwork, critical thinking, and related math skills and practices. In 2015, ODD SQUAD reached 10 million children on television and 20 million users digitally.
- Transmedia Game Collections and Apps – These integrated collections of interactive content and games feature over 135 new games and mobile apps based on characters and storylines from popular PBS KIDS series such as Curious George, The Cat In The Hat Knows A Lot About That, Cyberchase, Dinosaur Train,Martha Speaks, Sid the Science Kid, Super WHY!, and others.
- The Electric Company Immersive World – The project developed a web and mobile-enabled immersive world called Prankster Planet to extend the math and literacy impact of The Electric Company. A wide range of resources, both in-school and out-of-school, were also created to support summer learning, bilingual education, and more.
- Technology Innovations to Empower Parents and Educators – The project built and tested Measure Up!, a cutting-edge learning analytics platform that captures data from children’s real-time gameplay to help parents chart their child’s progress and receive recommendations for ways to further support their children’s learning.
- Learning Resources and Community Engagement – Through collaboration with local public media stations and their partners, CPB and PBS scaled the usage of RTL content and tools across the country with parents, caregivers, and teachers who work with target audience children. Tools featured PBS KIDS Lab, the PBS KIDS Play and Learn app, RTL’s Mobile Learning Program, Teaching Tips modules and videos, as well as PBS KIDS Afterschool and Summer Adventures. and more.
RTL math and literacy content is rigorously tested and evaluated at every phase of development and implementation by experts to assess its impact on children’s learning. More than 100 research and evaluation studies completed since 2005 show that this content engages children and enhances their early learning skills, and that children can make significant academic gains when taught through a combination of media.
- Supporting Parent-Child Experiences with PEG+CAT Early Math Concepts (EDC & SRI, 2015). This randomized RTL study found that children who used media content from PBS KIDS’ series PEG + CAT showed improvement in critical math areas involving ordinal numbers, spatial relationships, and 3-D shapes. Parents and caregivers also showed greater comfort and confidence in supporting their children with math concepts and problem-solving strategies.
- ODD SQUAD: Learning Math with PBS KIDS Transmedia Content at School and Home (2015, WestEd): Use of ODD SQUAD resources was shown to improve elementary-age students’ mathematics learning.
- Learning with PBS KIDS: A Study of Family Engagement and Early Mathematics Achievement, (2015, WestEd) 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.
- PEG + CAT Content Study (2014, ED/SRI): PEG + CAT resources were shown to improve children’s learning and engagement and were viewed favorably by parents.
- PBS KIDS Mathematics Transmedia Suites in Preschool Families and Communities (2013, WestEd): Children’s math scores improved and parents increased their support of children’s math learning while using Ready To Learn content.
- Preschool Teachers Can Use a PBS KIDS Transmedia Curriculum Supplement to Support Young Children’s Mathematics Learning (2013, Pasnik & Llorente): Results of a randomized controlled trial indicate that Ready To Learn content improved children’s understanding of early math, and increased educator content knowledge.
- Evaluation of The Electric Company Summer Learning Program (2011, WestEd): Students made significant gains in math, vocabulary, numeracy and phonics skills.
2005-2010: Improving and Measuring Children’s Literacy
Ready To Learn Grant Awards 2005-2010