PBS gives kids new Saturday morning shows


LOS ANGELES - Armed with a study that says watching television can teach preschoolers to read, PBS yesterday announced that it will bring a new book-friendly lineup of kids' programs to public television in September.

The launch of six new shows under the banner of PBS Kids Bookworm Bunch will mark the first time in its 30-year history that PBS has offered original programs for children on Saturday mornings - a time that has traditionally been dominated by cartoons and some of the most violent action-adventure series on commercial television.

Calling it "a counter-programming alternative" to what's on commercial television on Saturday mornings, John F. Wilson, senior vice president for programming, added, "With the addition of this block of programming, PBS is creating a new programming part exclusively targeted to our most loyal viewers - the preschool set."

The lineup, which will debut Sept. 30, features programs based on the books of several well-known children's writers.

The day will start with "Corduroy," based on Don Freeman's books about a corduroy teddy bear and his friend, Lisa. Next in the Saturday lineup will come "Elliot Moose," from Andrea Beck, which combines live action and puppetry with animation. Rosemary Wells' "Timothy Goes to School," which tells the story of a 5-year-old raccoon's first year in kindergarten, will follow.

The other half of the three-hour block will include: Maurice Sendak's "Seven Little Monsters," an animated series about the monsters and their mom; William Joyce's "George Shrinks," the story of a boy who shrinks to three-inches tall; and writer and illustrator Andrea Beck's "Marvin The Tap Dancing Moose," an animated series about a moose who loves to perform.

News of the major expansion of its preschool, book-friendly lineup was paired with the release of a study from the University of Kansas that found kindergarten pupils who watched "Between the Lions," a PBS weekday show that debuted in February, improved key reading skills.

The study, which was commissioned by PBS, used a standardized reading test to measure reading skills of kindergarten pupils in the Kansas City area who watched "Between the Lions." The skills include: the ability to match letters with sounds, the awareness that spoken words are made up of sound units, and the understanding that print is read from left to right and top to bottom.

Students who watched the show saw a 50 percent improvement in such skills versus a 13 percent gain for those students in the same kindergarten classes who did not watch the show.

The students were then given a standardized reading test that showed those students who watched "Between the Lions" scoring 26 percent higher versus a 5 percent gain for those who did not." 'Between the Lions' is making a real contribution to children's literacy in America," Wilson said, citing the study.

The study, which was done by Deborah L. Linebarger, of the Juniper Gardens Children's project at the University of Kansas, is the second study at the school to show that watching PBS preschool programs can help kids learn to read and do better in school.

In 1998, Aletha Huston and John Wright tracked a group of children for a decade and found that those who watched "Sesame Street" did better on standardized tests in elementary school than students who did not.

PBS also announced yesterday that two new kids' shows will be joining the weekday lineup in September. "Clifford The Big Red Dog," based on the books of Norman Bridwell published by Scholastic, and "Caillou's Here," which chronicles the life of a four-year-old boy, will debut on Sept. 4. Both are aimed at preschoolers 2 to 7 years old.

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