On January 16, 2017, Arizona PBS is launching an all-new 24/7 children’s channel dedicated to providing quality educational programming.
The new channel, Arizona PBS KIDS, will feature an array of programming to help young children master important skills, ranging from reading and basic math and science to problem solving and emotional skills. Shows like “WordGirl,” “Wild Kratts,” “Sesame Street” and “Odd Squad” help children from preschool through early elementary school to develop a strong educational foundation.
“Research confirms that PBS KIDS programming helps children build the critical skills they need to succeed in school and life,” said Linda Simensky, vice president of children’s programming at PBS. “Studies show that PBS KIDS resources improve kids’ achievement in important areas, such as literacy and math, and increase parent engagement in their children’s learning.”
The current slate of PBS children’s programming is also designed to encourage young viewers’ problem-solving, emotional and social skills. “Kids are curious how specific things work, they are interested in laughing, and they’re interested in characters they can really relate to and stories that they care about,” Simensky said. “They are just learning how the world works, and the world is pretty mysterious.”
Through the new 24-hour Arizona PBS KIDS channel, children across the state will have access at any time to programs that are proven to move the needle in early education. Most TV viewing by young children today takes place in the evening and on weekend afternoons, according to Nielsen data. Although PBS KIDS programming has long been a key component of our daytime and Sunday morning schedules, the 24/7 channel opens up family viewing opportunities through the rest of the week.
Because watching live TV accounts for 68 percent of the time young children spend watching video, it was essential for the new 24/7 channel to be offered as a local service, explained Keith Kennebeck, director of children’s programming for PBS. “More than 40% of PBS KIDS viewing comes from broadcast-only homes.” he said. Since many of these are low-income homes with no other access to educational kids content, it is critical to have a presence in those homes. Simensky noted that the 24/7 PBS KIDS channel will be the only free, nationally-available kids service.
Still, kids’ use of digital platforms is also significant and growing, so the PBS KIDS team knew it was also important to provide a livestream of the new channel – which will be available both on the web and via the free PBS KIDS video app. Kennebeck said that later in 2017, PBS KIDS will also launch an interactive gaming component that will allow kids to toggle between watching a show and playing a related game. According to Kennebeck, research has shown that this combination of learning and reinforcement leads to better learning outcomes.
For the foreseeable future, PBS KIDS programs will continue to air on the main Arizona PBS channel as well as the new 24/7 kids channel, though as Kennebeck noted, the programming team took care to ensure that shows don’t air on both channels at the same time, providing options for young viewers and their caregivers.
“Our goal is not to encourage kids to watch more TV,” Simensky said. “Our thinking is, when they are going to watch TV, we want to make sure they have programming that is beneficial and age-appropriate and fun to watch.”
“Arizona PBS has established a legacy of providing Arizonans of all ages with innovative, valuable content,” said Arizona PBS CEO and Cronkite School Dean Christopher Callahan. “Arizona PBS KIDS will help fill the need for effective, innovative approaches to developing core skills and school readiness in our state.”
What Sets PBS KIDS Apart
Linda Simensky, who joined PBS in 2003 and has been involved in developing shows such as “Curious George,” “Super Why!,” and “WordGirl,” spoke warmly about what sets PBS KIDS programming apart from other children’s shows.
There are a set of core values that all PBS KIDS shows share. The educational focus is one aspect, of course. Another is the emphasis on featuring a diverse range of characters. “Every child should see themselves reflected in our shows,” Simensky said. PBS KIDS programs also all “approach the world as an optimistic and hopeful place, one that’s worth engaging with and asking questions about.”
Plus, “there are no magical solutions to a problem,” Simensky said. “That doesn’t mean our characters can’t encounter fantastical situations – I mean, we have a whole show about dinosaurs riding on trains. But even if the problems aren’t realistic, the solutions have to be something that kids can take and apply to their own experiences. And this is especially important to kids in our audience who are from low-income households, who are encountering sometimes very real obstacles and stressors every day. So, no about of wishful thinking is going to help them through their challenges, but knowing how to talk about their feelings, how to ask questions or how to work through a problem – those sorts of things might help them.”
Did you know?
Unlike the creation of most children’s television, Simensky and her team do not start with a show concept, but instead with learning objectives they are trying to achieve. They then work with show creators to design a program around that framework.
“We want our programming to help kids grow into curious, empathetic, inspired individuals. We focus on shows we hope will have an impact on kids, and we encourage kids to go out and ‘play’ our shows. I always say the most important platform is the ‘yard platform.’” – Linda Simensky
For more information, find Arizona PBS KIDS on the web at azpbs.org/kids