A new study from research firm WestEd has found that engaging parents and their preschool children with PBS KIDS content and games, developed through the CPB-PBS Ready To Learn Initiative, boosts math learning and helps prepare children for kindergarten.
The study examined improvements in preschool children’s math knowledge and skills by studying families’ use of online games and at-home activities on the PBS KIDS Lab site, featuring Curious George, The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!, and Sid the Science Kid.
In an eight-week summer program implemented by WestEd, families participated in weekly parent meetings where they learned about available PBS KIDS math games and other hands-on learning activities they could easily do at home with their children. Parents were encouraged to use the Ready To Learn collection of PBS KIDS cross-platform activities with their children at home for 30 minutes a day, four days a week. The project examined whether playing PBS KIDS “transmedia suites” (digital games that span platforms and are connected by storyline and curricular goals) can help families enhance their children's early math skills. Together, parents and children played online and mobile versions of games like Huff Puff-a-Tron, Meatball Launcher, and Weather Surprise.
The study showed that children who were exposed to Ready To Learn’s content featuring PBS KIDS transmedia suites and related support materials outscored their comparison group peers on the Test of Early Mathematics Ability, a widely used measure of young children’s mathematics learning.
The summer program took place in Richmond, California, an area in which poverty rates are double the national average. Nearly half of the students in the local school district are Hispanic. One-third are English learners, and two-thirds qualify for free and reduced-cost meals. Families participating in the study were loaned Internet-enabled, portable chromebooks for ease of access to all digital content.
Young children in low income families often have less extensive knowledge of math, especially if they are also learning to speak English. Yet, studies show that early math skills are the strongest predictor of later academic achievement. Increasing early math skills could be an effective and efficient step to helping children 3-5 years old get a strong and equal start to school.
"It's encouraging to see that educational content intended for child and family use at home can have a positive impact on kids’ school readiness," said Betsy McCarthy, senior researcher at WestEd and lead investigator for the study. "The results indicate that the suites, played at home by young children with their parents, improved math skills among young learners who are especially vulnerable due to issues and conditions outside the classroom that influence their ability to learn."
Parents also benefited from playing the games with their children. Parents reported becoming more aware of their children's abilities, and said they learned strategies they could use to directly support their children's academic skills at home. A parent in the study said, “This program is not only teaching our children but the whole family, like grandparents and aunts and uncles. It is important to me that we are getting more ideas to help our children.” Another parent said, "My daughter really enjoys learning, and she told me she 'has so much fun working on the computer with me.' I can see her learning more."
PBS KIDS worked with WGBH, Random House, and The Jim Henson Company to develop the games, which are focused on improving core literacy and numeracy skills for children through well-planned and coordinated use of multiple media platforms. The games were created using math and literacy frameworks, which were developed to align to Common Core State Standards to help prepare kids for success in school. Additionally, math education advisors to the CPB-PBS Ready To Learn Initiative provided on-going guidance during game development.
The Ready To Learn collection of PBS KIDS transmedia suites include thematically linked content that is presented across formats such as short-form videos, online games, mobile phone activities, and in-classroom digital games, as well as across media devices such as computers, interactive whiteboards, tablets, and smart phones.
Further research is planned to examine ways to replicate and scale up the findings from this study. Download the complete study here.
This fall, PBS KIDS will premiere Peg + Cat, a new animated preschool series that follows the adorable, spirited Peg and her sidekick Cat as they embark on adventures and learn foundational math concepts and skills. Co-creators Billy Aronson (Rent, Postcards from Buster) and Jennifer Oxley (Little Bill, The Wonder Pets!) have teamed with The Fred Rogers Company to bring young viewers a new way to experience math through Peg and Cat’s relatable, and often hilarious, adventures.
This multiplatform media property premieres this fall on PBS KIDS with a special one-hour broadcast of two back-to-back episodes, along with integrated online and mobile content. Each episode features fascinating stories in which Peg and Cat encounter a problem that requires them to use math and problem solving skills in order to move forward. The series will air daily following its premiere.
Math understanding and skills are essential, yet national assessments show that 60 percent of students are performing below proficient levels in math by the 4th grade, and this learning gap is more pronounced in children from low-income families.* To help support math learning for young children, the National Research Council’s Committee on Early Childhood Mathematics has highlighted the need for “increased informal programming, curricular resources, software, and other media” to help build key math skills.
The Peg + Cat television series is part of a multiplatform media experience that will also include interactive content online and on mobile. The series currently offers games and other resources online at pbskids.org/peg/. Additional interactive features, including more games, parent resources and a mobile app, are slated to launch along with the on-air premiere in fall 2013.
Every half-hour episode of Peg + Cat will feature two stories, each an eleven-minute adventure in which Peg and Cat find themselves thrust into an unexpected math word problem. But it’s not just an abstract academic exercise for them — it’s a messy and funny quandary they have to solve. The show focuses not only on helping kids build math skills, such as how to add or subtract, but on how to think about larger math concepts as well — concepts that form the foundation for learning math at any level, from kindergarten to calculus. In each episode, Peg and Cat use foundational concepts like relative size, geometry and algebraic thinking to solve the problem and save the day. The series’ curriculum is based on Common Core State Standards.
Peg and Cat’s adventures take them through worlds of infinite possibilities — from farms to purple planets, from 16th-century Verona to New York’s Radio City Music Hall, from a land of pirates to a prehistoric valley — demonstrating that math is everywhere.
Peg + Cat stories are at once engaging, appealing, accessible and age-appropriate. As Peg solves a seemingly insurmountable problem, she has to think through what went wrong and how she can get back on track. Life skills such as cooperation are also important parts of the series, as Peg and her friends have to work together to solve problems; and since Peg might not get it right the first time, viewers also see value of learning from mistakes and experimentation. Music is also used as a teaching tool throughout the math series; each episode features an original song.
Peg + Cat is funded in part by the U.S. Department of Education through the Ready To Learn Initiative, a program that supports the development of innovative educational television and digital media targeted at preschool and early elementary school children and their families, and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).
Peg + Cat images courtesy of The Fred Rogers Company, (c) 2013, all rights reserved.