Research Parents Should Know About!

 nephewThis week, we’re giving you a behind-the-scenes look at an integral phase of development for Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood & Super Why!. I sat down with our Research Director, Rachel Kalban, so she can tell you a bit about the research process & her experiences working on the series.

Explain your role as Research Director & a bit about your creative process.

At Out of the Blue, we believe that the only way to know if children will enjoy or understand a story is to ask them! We start doing this very early on in the process of creating a Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood episode. The research team creates a storybook based on an early draft of each script, & takes it to where the kids are: preschools, daycare, Head Starts. We sit on the floor with small groups of preschoolers & read them the story, asking questions along the way. In doing so, we are able to assess if & how the kids are understanding & learning from the story.

The time I spend with the kids is not only the most fun part of my week, but also the most important, as the process teaches me so much about how kids think & process new information.  After each research session, I sit down with the writing team & explain what the preschoolers taught me: what they liked, or didn’t like, how they understood the story, how much they were interacting and singing along… & we then work together to rework the script so that it is both maximally educational & appealing. I use the information that the preschoolers give me along with my knowledge of child development to give notes at all stages of production.Rachel Kalban

What is your favorite aspect of “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood”?

Oh wow, there are so many! As a child that grew up with Mister Rogers, I of course love the nostalgia elements that are woven into the new series. And I love that we push kids to use their imaginations. I think my favorite thing is how we are right where the kids watching are, dealing & grappling with the same issues. I have had parents tell me that their child “IS Daniel!

I love that we take themes like not wanting to share, or feeling jealous, or even not wanting to stop playing to go to the potty as serious issues, because they are for these little ones, & they deserve to have them recognized and dealt with as such. We strive to do so with love & even some humor!

What was the most emotional moment for you while making the show?

I get very emotional when I get to talk with parents of viewers. When the pilot episode premiered, 1 parent told me she overheard her son singing, “Grownups come back” when he was put to bed. Another parent said her son now tells his friends, “You can take a turn, & then I’ll get it back,” (he, like Daniel, also reminds her ‘When you feel so mad you want to roar, take a deep breath and count to four!”)

I don’t want to say I was shocked to hear these responses, because we worked very hard on getting the ‘strategies’ just right & that was always the plan, but it really moves me that we have given kids tools they can use in these hard day-to-day situations.

Just recently, an aunt of a child with Asperger syndrome told me that Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is one of the few shows he is allowed to watch because of how much it has helped him.  The family had just been to a restaurant, & in this new place, with new people, he knew just what to expect, because he had seen Daniel do it in “Daniel’s Night Out at the Restaurant”. Something that was very hard for him just a few weeks before was now manageable & enjoyable: he looked for the waiter, sat with his menu, waited patiently & had a wonderful night – just like he had seen his friends do.

SchoolSure, I like hearing that we get high ratings, but these stories are the reason I do what I do.

 

What was your most embarrassing mistake while working on the show?

In the beginning I was always saying Prince Tuesday instead of Prince Wednesday & X the Owl instead of O the Owl.  Almost thirty years later, those original characters still stuck with me!

On behalf of  hundreds of thousands of children, Thank You Rachel!

 

Rachel Kalban is the Director of Research & Curriculum at Out of the Blue Enterprises, a leader in children’s educational media.

Prior to her work with Out of the Blue, Rachel completed her Masters Degree in Developmental Psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University & held several positions at Nickelodeon & Penguin Publishing Books for Young Readers. Rachel received her Bachelors from Cornell University.

 

by: Angela Santomero | Filed under Parenting, Research Parents Should Know About!

I thought crying after dropping our girls off for school was reserved for the early days of September.

But here we are today, aching after dropping each daughter off.

My heart hurts in worry and fear of the unmentionable.

My heart breaks for those parents who, unknowingly, said their last goodbyes to their babies.

It’s all so wrong.

My anger, so raw, as I struggle to figure out what to do today and every day to protect.

To prevent.

To trust.

As Lisa Belkin said in Huff Post, “We can’t just grieve & hold our children close. We have to demand that our country earn the right to call itself a civilized nation..our central job as parents..is to keep our children safe. Make your demands heard”

As Fred Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers“.


The teachers & staff of Sandy Hook Elementary are my heroes.  They saved lives and put the emotional & physical well being of the children above their own.

I dreamt of Kaitlin Roig, the elementary school teacher who kept telling her students, as she kept them hidden, how special they were.  She wanted those words to be the last that they heard.  Fred would have been proud. And in the end, she kept them safe.

Six other adults spared their lives for the sake of the children. Real heroes who fought against evil.

 

Is it even a question that assault Weapons or Semi-Automatic Firearms have no place in civilized society? Stricter gun laws & the removal of illegal guns from our streets would undoubtedly assist the situation.

While assembling this post, I  finger the serial number that’s etched inside my Caliber bracelet..the same number that was on the gun used to create it. While I’m pleased to know that illegal guns were taken off the streets and transformed into something positive (& beautiful), it gives me a certain sense of pride knowing that a percentage of the money will fund Newark’s gun buyback programs (& beyond).

Will the Caliber Collection solve the gun violence issue? If it were only that simple. But it is a form of ACTION that HELPS.

We need people who put their strong beliefs into action. Through Jewlery for a Cause, Jessica Mindich has raised over $300,000 for some 300 schools & charities..that’ll do more good than plain old media verbiage.

 

As I ride my train into Grand Central, I pray for the families of Newtown and the heroes of Sandy Hook Elementary.

And I pray for my daughters to be safe and feel safe at school today and every day. Be well

What do we want for our children?

I want my daughters to believe that they can do anything that they want to do..within reason.  I want my daughters to learn everything they need to know to go out into the world and make a difference.  I want them to learn, 1st & foremost, what will make them happy. Especially as an Executive Producer in Children’s TV, I am uber aware of the influence that media has on all of us, including my daughters.

“Kids spend nearly 55 hrs a week watching television, texting or playing video games.”  -The Daily Green

What they see & hear truly affects their view of the world.  I give careful thought to even the smallest details in my shows – what the characters eat, how they feel, what they do, which character traits go with which character, and whether or not they should be boys or girls.  It’s important to me that we don’t show our characters eating sugary snacks and cakes for a “special occasion” because, truth be told, it’s always a special occasion on a television show. In addition, one study found that 98% of food ads seen by children on top-rated shows were for junk food  –Health & US News

We know that boys are more reluctant readers, so we intentionally chose our main character, Super Why, to be a boy. We know that there are much fewer girls on television so we made our main character, Blue, a girl.  And we made sure that she didn’t have long eyelashes nor a cute little bow. She is blue. And she is a girl.

But when I look at media as a whole, for my own daughters, I worry. As much as I can talk with them and model for them the type of women I would like them to grow up to be, I find that in media, women are still typecast in traditional roles, while men are portrayed as the more dominant figures. Women are stereotypically represented as dependent and emotional. Women are the mothers, and men are the bread winners. Women are under represented in television about 3:1.

The fact that a majority of voice-overs on television are male, that there are more male news readers on TV & that many of the major film directors are men indicates that it is the male who has the authority & the control of the world of TV.” –Elena Beasley

This presents a male view of the world. When women are featured, their voices in commercials are often used to sell products such as laundry detergent, diapers & jewelry. And it should also comes as no surprise that advertisers typically use women as sex objects to sell a wide array of products.

We know there are no limits to what our children can do. So why are we feeding our children the idea of limits in the form of media?

And what can we do about it?

A lot.    [Thanks for joining us Bonbon Break friends!]

 

  1. Model behavior in your own lives that needn’t be so defined by gender

  2. Talk with your kids about such issues when opportunities present themselves in your day to day

  3. Limit the amount of questionable media our kids ingest..the same way in which we limit the amount of sugar they eat.

  4. Keep their dreams and expectations for themselves free and unrestrained

And I’ll do my part by continuing to write strong, smart female characters that create their own destinies!

Most kids’ programs today say they’re “educational” simply to draw in parents. But effective programs aren’t created overnight..& like modern art, just because something’s minimal, does not mean that it’s simple

There’s a huge amount of R&D that goes into successful programs. On PBS Kids’ Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,we set out to create a show that would make the tenets of our socio-emotional curriculum as clear & straightforward as singing the ABC’s or counting to 10. We know that socio-emotional skills are skills that kids need for life.   

But how do you teach through TV?

At the end of 40 episodes, we want preschoolers to have seen the world through Daniel’s eyes & feel what he is feeling, learn the words that he uses, care so much for Daniel, and most of all, comprehend, learn & use the strategy of the day in their own lives.

A lot to ask? Well, I’m the one who’s guilty of pushing for an entire kindergarten readiness curriculum for Blue’s Clues & to ensure that kids’ reading skills skyrocket via Super Why. So, I’m always up for a challenge. And besides, us parents know how smart kids are. If we can give them the information in a well crafted story that they are interested in, they will learn. A LOT.

The Secret Sauce:  RESEARCH!

The key to creating a show that effectively reaches & engages children, is to involve the young audience in the process. We test our episodes starting very early on in the scripting stage, reading a script with storyboards to our most honest critics: the kids.

In our first episode, Daniel and his friends set out for a picnic at the Clock Factory Park. They set up a picnic with a blanket, some snacks & games to play. But, alas, it starts to rain! Disappointed, the kids run inside the clock factory.

Dad Tiger takes his time talking to the kids, breaking down the strategy to help Daniel & the home viewer apply it. Dad then sings the strategy to drive his point home: When something seems bad, turn it around, and find something good!

Suddenly, all the clocks inside the clock factory start to light up & chime all at once! The kids have an idea as to how to turn their rainy picnic around. “What about an inside picnic, with all the clocks?”

Hurray, the kids are not disappointed anymore.

Rachel Kalban, MA, head of Out of the Blue research held many sessions on this first script. What she found at the end of the first script testing is that the kids in research knew, after one reading of the story, that disappointed meant sad. This result came from children who didn’t have any knowledge of the word beforehand.

Success!   [ If you’ve just joined us from Bonbon Break, welcome! ]

Excited about our success, we decided to drive the idea home. Since we know that repetition is the key to learning, we decided that the 2nd 11 minute episode in the 1/2 hour should be about disappointment, as well. A different story, but 1 focusing on the same theme. At the end of 1/2 an hr, preschoolers would have about 10 instances of “disappointment” in the animation alone, including a full 1 minute song that exemplifies the use of the strategy. This ensures that all kids would walk away having learned our theme & strategy. Because preschoolers like to watch shows over & over, the learning would only multiply after repeated viewings. In fact, when Blue’s Clues launched, the study by Dr. Dan Anderson showed that with multiple viewings, “comprehension improved, & children increased their application of a demonstrated problem-solving strategy to problems both shown & not shown by the program.”

It was important for us to understand how kids were watching the show in their own homes & how the lessons would play out in their own lives. We sent a DVD to parents of kids ages 2-6 & asked them to watch the episode over the course of 1 week. They would then fill out the enclosed viewing diary, noting how many times their child watched & how they were using the lessons themselves.

We were thrilled to get these viewing diaries back. Kids were asking to watch the episode again & again. And after watching this episode only a few times, kids were applying the lesson into their own lives!

Some of my favorite feedback:

“Even though it’s raining, it’s good because we get to stay inside & play Barbies!”  –Madison (5.75 yrs old)

Zachary was upset that the bubble bath dissolved and I started the phrase and he finished it, then discovered he could make more bubbles by splashing. (Parent of boy, 3.75)

When Tamar was drawing a picture she “messed up” something in her picture but then just changed it to something else, like Daniel did in the first story. (Parent of girl, 6.25)

Teaching disappointment was a strong catalyst to propel our desire to enrich children’s lives by teaching many important, but overlooked, emotions such as empathy, resilience, persistence, and unconditional love in addition to sharing, remembering to go to the potty, and mad feelings.   

Zach said he had an idea of how to fix his broken zebra and turn it around and make something good.  (Parent of boy, 3.75)

 

 

by: Angela Santomero | Filed under Kids, Parenting, Research Parents Should Know About!

What if your Mom was forced to retire after contracting severe health ailments from the dilapidated school where she taught? While many of her coworkers relied on air fresheners to disguise the mold, most went home with the typical “2:30 headache” due to the conditions.

Rachel Gutter told us that this was what urged her to work for The Center for Green Schools in 2007 & to become it’s Director two years later.

Tomorrow, Sept. 29th, the US Green Building Council is holding it’s 1st Green Apple Day of Service, where over 1,000 schools across the nation will join with their communities for healthier, more sustainable space.

The Center for Green Schools is putting out a clear message that a school’s physical environment truly affects the outcome of it’s students. Once parents, educators & school officials realize that there are some simple steps that can convert their school into a healthy, safe & enhanced learning environment, they realize it’s a win-win for everyone.

“It’s also about putting funds back into the classrooms” says Ms. Gutter. A school in Kentucky learned that after calling in an energy manager to review their building, they would save enough (over a short time period) to keep 104 teachers on payroll that were about to be dismissed. Our children’s (& teachers’) health and ability to succeed should not be compromised as a result of situations that have solutions.

You can find locations in your area that are taking part in the greening at MyGreenApple.org, because we need to take care of tomorrow’s leaders today!

[Follow up post to Are you Ready for a New Pet?]

One decision made: We are getting a dog! Lots of new decisions to go..

The kids want a small “cute” dog & my husband wants one that is easy to travel with, so we are aiming for one that will be no more than 20lbs.

My husband is also mildly allergic to dogs, which we didn’t discover until after our pug had been gone a few months & his allergies miraculously cleared up! So we need to look for a low-shedding, low-dander, “hypo-allergenic” variety. Poodles, havanese, maltese, shih-tzus, bijons, some terriers, & many of their mixed-breed puppies can be good for people who suffer with allergies..so we are looking for one of these.

We also live in a city apartment, so we need a dog that isn’t “yappy” that will annoy the neighbors. We all agree we want a puppy that we can train and love and watch grow from the beginning.

When we first decided to get a puppy, I was set on rescuing one from a shelter, but after weeks of searching, I quickly realized it isn’t quite that simple. First, puppies are very hard to come by in shelters. You should be open to adopting a dog at least over a year & sometimes even much older or of unknown-age to adopt from a rescue shelter. Next, you are often unsure of parentage, making allergen prediction nearly impossible.  I also found that in our city, the shelters were filled with large guard dog types..not what we were looking for.  To find a small-dog puppy with known parentage I had to search shelters in a much wider radius & they were so rare that several in a row were snatched up before I could get our adoption application approved.

I was even told by one rural shelter that they probably wouldn’t even approve us for adoption because they don’t believe that dogs should be placed in “urban locations” regardless of whether we were fit to be dog-owners! So as much as I had hoped to “rescue” a dog, we have decided that we were going to go the route of a breeder, which poses a whole set of additional decisions and a lot more researching to avoid puppy mills.

I’ll be back with updates on our search for our newest furry family member soon but in the meantime, should you have any tips for acquiring a new dog, PLEASE share your comments here!

I spoke at BlogHer 2012, Keeping Things Private in a Public, Digital World, with NY Times moderator Jennifer Preston and fellow panelists Lynne Seitz & Vicky Colf (Warner Bros) about the ongoing changes in regulations & privacy agreements that leave the end user confused and vulnerable. While there are all types of informative ways to help protect oneself in the online world, I came out of the BlogHer conference with 5 main points top of mind:

•  Turn OFF geo tagging (or geo location) on your phone’s camera app settings – unless you choose to allow the public to know your private details which are embedded within those shared pictures

Try not to share with everyone – only selected users (i.e. semi-personal information with your friends..not friends of friends)

• DO NOT simply rely on a company’s privacy plan because they constantly change. Stay updated & change your perspective as these terms of service change.

• Think more than twice about allowing apps to share each others data. While you may trust Facebook or Twitter, those cute lil’ 3rd parties rarely have the same privacy terms

READ those terms of privacy..you’ll be very surprised at what they’re having you agree to.

Last week the Federal Trade Commission attempted to tighten up the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) – in particular, the collection of personal data from children’s websites/services and also to create a more concrete definition of personal information. While it looks like a step in the right direction only time will tell.

 

What steps do you take to keep your information private or what methods give you peace of mind in the online world?


Angela's Clues

Sure I enjoy whatever glitz I might receive from working in the “entertainment” biz, but I really am a research geek at heart. There’s nothing like having your hard work tested, then not only approved but given a confirmation that it is statistically effective by the top researchers in the country, and the icing…children will benefit from the work!

Just a few days ago, Barbara E. Lovitts, Ph.D. (Dir. of Research & Evaluation of the Corp. for Public Broadcasting) shared the analysis of our Super Why Summer Reading Camps with us. The thorough study entitled Reading & Learning: Building Literacy With Public Media by James Marshall & Diane Lapp (San Diego State Univ) details public broadcasting’s support of emergent literacy for 30 years and how Super Why!, through the support of PBS & the CPB, meets the needs of children.

Angela's Clues

While they probably won’t make today’s cover story, here are a few of our favorite snippets from the study:

“Super WHY! & its media-rich content has demonstrated consistent and replicable results over time.”

 

Reading is power & Super WHY! is the only preschool program created to help children learn the fundamentals of reading through interactive storybook adventures.

 

Children showed significant gains no matter what their age or ethnicity…They achieved greater post test scores, relative to pretest scores, for each literacy focus area & the full assessment.

 

Children were able to transfer the episode-specific content to new & novel uses of the same skill set.

Feel free to read (& share!) James Marshall & Diane Lapp’s entire study HERE and if you are willing/able, please support your public broadcasting station & the Corp. for Public Broadcasting

 

 

by: Angela Santomero | Filed under Conferences, Research Parents Should Know About!

Angela Santomero

Building on Fred Rogers’ belief in the power of media to foster early childhood development, The Fred Rogers Center has been bringing experts together from educational, developmental, media fields, etc. to discuss quality digital media for young children and the construction of a framework to strengthen this endeavor.

June 3-5th the 2012 Fred Forward Conference will be held in Latrobe, PA.  On Monday afternoon, June 4th, I will be speaking with Cathy Cohen Droz, Kevin Morrison & Jesse Schell on the subject of What’s New at The Fred Rogers Company. Chances are that I may bring up Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood at least once during the discussion 😉

Angela's Clues

In the quest to raise a responsible child, it’s often difficult to provide the motivation for them to tackle their day to day tasks without constant parental reminders…better known as nagging. While old fashioned sticker charts have helped this process for many, there’s not much depth to them, so their use naturally tapers off after a brief period of time.

The Silicon Valley company, “Got Clues” (no, no relation to Blue’s Clues) was excited to share their app iRewardChart with us. Their app takes this reward chart concept and converts it into a well oiled, customizeable and interactive app for your mobile device. It’s loaded with many great features, including your child’s option to choose their payout or reward at the end of the timeframe you choose. iRewardChart has won the Best Parenting App for past 2 yrs and has been on NBCs Today show, CNN, HuffPost & many others.

As much as we all need a little help as parents, kids need some more acknowledgement of their positive choices/actions…iRewardChart could benefit us all.

 

I’m giving away FREE copies of iRewardChart to the first 5 people that LIKE the Angela’s Clues fanpage. Already liked the Facebook page? Then simply comment on the iRewards post below or on the Fb page. Good luck!