Written by: Robert E. Slavin

Around the Corner: A Technology-Enhanced Approach to Early Literacy

            Every parent of a four or five year old knows the drill. Your child comes home after pre-kindergarten or kindergarten. “Whadja do today?” you  say with eager anticipation, thinking of all the friends your child must have made, the stories your child heard, the songs your child sang, the projects or dress-up or phonics or math, or…well, anything.

            “Nuffin,” your child says, wandering out of range to avoid further interrogation.

            You know your child did a whole lot more than “nuffin.” But how can you find out, so that you can build on what the teacher did each day?

            One answer is something our group at the Success for All Foundation created under i3 funding with partners at Sesame Workshop, Sirius Thinking, and Johns Hopkins University. We call it Home Links. Home Links are 10-15 minute shows that parents and children watch together, 4 evenings a week. Each show uses content from Sesame Street and animations we have made with Sirius Thinking, so they are a bit like Sesame Street shows themselves, with one huge difference: The content of the shows reflect the activities that children and teachers were doing that day in school.

            The Home Links give kids reinforcement and extension of vocabulary and skills they learned that day, and that’s important. But more important, they tell parents what’s happening in school. When a show contains skits about fall, the letter V, counting to five, and singing traditional songs, the parents know that all of these things are happening in school. Our surveys found that 96% of the time, a parent, grandparent, or other relative watches with the child. At the end of each show there is music and movement, and parents tell us they dance with their children, and love the closeness and fun. But parents also now know how to support their children’s learning. If the topic is markets, they know to point out interesting things when they next are at the market with their child. If the letter is T, they know to point out things that begin with T. If the math segment is on shapes, parents know to ask children about shapes they see in daily life. Home should not be another classroom, but it’s the ideal place for a child to learn that the things he or she is learning in school are important to his or her parents, exist in his or her community, and that knowing about and learning about those things brings pride and builds curiosity.

            Home Links were sent home on DVDs each day. We are now looking for funding to make an online version, so we can beam Home Links to digital devices, such as iPhones and iPads.

            Right now, Home Links are being used in about 300 preschool and kindergarten classes already using our proven Success for All whole-school approach. In the future, we hope to disseminate them to preschools and kindergartens whether or not they use Success for All.

            When this happens, more and more parents won’t have to ask, “Whadja do in school today?” They’ll know. And they’ll know how to build on what they find out.

            And that ain’t nuffin’.