For local parents on the search for educational programing for their children, this quest has often ended at one place: Maryland Public Television. This month, MPT celebrates 50 years of providing excellent programming to the state’s residents, and not an insignificant amount of those TV and digital offerings are for children, their parents and their educators.
Betsy Peisach, MPT’s vice president of education, is one such parent.
“PBS Kids is what brought me into public television,” Peisach says. “I loved PBS Kids with my children. Now I have a grandchild and we are circling right back. We love ‘Daniel Tiger.’”
Indeed, PBS Kids provides some of public television’s best-known shows, from “Sesame Street” and “The Electric Company” for Gen Xers to “Arthur” for millennials to “Daniel Tiger” and, yes, still “Sesame Street” for today’s kids; it’s been a trusted, high-quality “safe haven, a place for kids to learn,” Peisach says.
But for every PBS Kids show, MPT offers more content for families online. Many are research based and developed specifically for learning, particularly playful learning, she says. This includes not only content that connects viewers with those well-loved shows, but also locally created content made by MPT’s media producers and instructional designers.
Some of this content development began after 2000 when the Department of Education gave MPT a grant to start ThinkPort, a portal of educational offerings for students, parents and teachers, some of which were developed in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University. ThinkPort is also where educators can take online classes each year for their certification.
Students themselves can use ThinkPort to take online lessons or field trips. One recent example is “Bait to Plate: An Insider’s Look at Maryland’s Crab Industry.” Kids accessing ThinkPort also can explore the Chesapeake Bay, contemplate the environmental future of Smith Island and find out more about Maryland’s wind farms; soon, they also will be able to learn more about Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass.
In addition to this locally created curriculum, MPT does regular outreach in the community with both families and child care providers, including work with Judy Centers, early childhood centers across the state that provide extra resources in Title I areas. MPT’s education team also is working with families and providers in Baltimore’s Forest Park neighborhood. Part of what these projects emphasize is how parents can be active learners with their children.
“The wonderful thing about digital is that it is interactive,” Peisach says. “TV can be so passive. These digital learning programs make any time learning time, and it’s made learning more engaging.”
Another recent offering is Bright by Text. Parents of children under 5 can text the word “grow” to an MPT number and receive developmentally appropriate activities for their child as well information from local education partners.
“We have so many fantastic resources to share,” Peisach says, adding that these resources are free and can be used whenever convenient for families. “And so much of it is high-quality content.”
How to Watch TV with Your Kids
With so much of its focus on educational offerings, it makes sense that MPT’s staff has some tips on how parents can best use these options.
✦ MPT’s education team is a big proponent of co-watching, Betsy Peisach, MPT’s vice president of education, says.
✦ Even if you can’t watch the show with your children, ask them questions about it.
✦ Help your child make connections between what they saw and real life to extend their thinking.
✦ Are there physical activities that connect with the show? For example, if a child watches an episode of “Peg + Cat” that is about patterns, parents can take their child on a walk to discover patterns in the flowers outside or inside at a grocery store.
✦ Are there creative activities that connect with the show? After that same “Peg + Cat” episode, parents and children can create patterns together on paper or with other art supplies.
✦ Finally, especially for parents worried about substituting too much digital time for TV time, PBS Kids offers an app, Super Vision, that allows parents to track in real time what their kids are doing on pbskids.org.