I have fond memories of several different television shows from my youth. Sure, there was Sesame Street, and Electric Company. But do you remember Captain Kangaroo? Of course there was Mr. Rogers, but the Polka-Dot Door is less famous.
These days, kids have wheeing and silly noises from the likes of Boohbah and Teletubbies, and a certain purple dinosaur has gained both friends and exasperated parents either attracted or repelled by his calm tone of voice and super-excited child co-stars.
Via the Parent Bloggers Network, I received a free DVD with an introduction and two episodes of PBS Kids’ new series Word World. I am already a fan of Between the Lions, which is a pro-reading show for a slightly older set, so seeing a reading show targeted at the younger tykes (ages 3-5) intrigued me.
Both my kids were attracted to Word World. The Cat (age 6) enjoys recognizing words he already knows, and Spliggle (age 3) chants “Let’s Build a Word!” and shakes his hips whenever the characters would do so. We’ve watched both episodes and the introduction many, many times.
Word World is a universe made up of - you guessed it! - words. The characters’ names are also their nouns; Cat is made up of “C-A-T” and Sheep is a fluffy “S-H-E-E-P.” As the kids become familiar with the appearance of these characters (“The WordFriends,”) so will they become familiar with how to spell these names of these animals.
The plot of each episode contains several opportunities to “build a word.” Every time a new object is built, the letters are highlighted in clear easy-to-read letters before the word comes together in its new shape. Truthfully, some of the shapes are rather twisty, fluffy, or otherwise a bit tricky to “make out” the letters once they become the actual object, so it is useful that the letters of new words are shown clearly first (and are articulated letter by letter.)
One concern is that, for example, when “Sheep” turns around, the letters are indeed backwards. Or when a POT is upside-down, so are the letters. This might confuse the three year olds, but delight the five year olds. I am not sure how well special orientation works at these ages, although I see that for the most part the characters are oriented so their words read forwards and right-side up!
Word World has both repetition and novelty, a perfect blend to help “cement in” things while still retaining interest. The characters are witty (“I need some egg-spert help!” Sheep quips about needing help with an egg.) Their voices are upbeat, perky, and friendly without seeming condescending or overly annoying. Each character has a distinctive voice. I was tickled by the Australian accent on Kangaroo.
Different aged kids will get different things out of this show, which is perfect. Adults will giggle too. I chuckled when M-O-O-N dropped down one letter at a time and S-U-N rose, and then became a recognizable cartoon rayed sun. The older kids can recognize “Mountain” and realize that those trees aren’t just making a random pattern; they spell “Forest.” The younger kids can learn the easier words, making the connection between the WordFriend or WordThing and the noun those letters represent.
Word World doesn’t rely on the ability to read to understand the plot. This is important, because some of the reading shows for older kids tend to not entertain as much if the child’s level is below the target. Word World serves the early levels of readers, from those who are just learning their letters to those who can read words already. The former won’t feel left out, and the latter won’t feel bored. No matter the initial skill set, this is an entertaining and educational show.
I am looking forward to seeing more episodes, but I think my kids are even more excited than I am. Word World premires September 3rd. Episodes will run for a half-hour daily on PBS Kids.