Happy 31st Birthday, Reading Rainbow!

Today is kind of a big deal. If you don’t know, today marks 31 years for the popular show, Reading Rainbow, which is in the middle of a massive Kickstarter undertaking. Aside from Wishbone, and a family that fostered a love for reading, Reading Rainbow is why I love the written word so much, and is probably one reason I ended up excelling at English as a subject during my academic years from First grade on up to High School, and beyond. For those who are unaware of what Reading Rainbow is, let me explain to you what it is, what it isn’t, and why it’s important.

  • It is a show that inspires kids to love reading.
    They do more than just read books to kids on this show, although that is part of the programming. But even when I was a kid, aside from the occasional Reading Rainbow video in class, kids aren’t taught to fall in love with reading. They’re shown how to read, spell, write, but it’s never about fostering a love for these things because simply having a love for reading isn’t going to get a kid to pass a standardized test.

    Most teachers, especially these days, are too focused on getting kids to pass tests both state and nationally, to nurture a love of reading in their students. Unfortunately, when teachers develop the tunnel vision that only has them thinking “how can I get these students to pass this test?”, the “how do I get my students to care about this and carry this throughout their lives?” gets lost in the teaching. When students are forced to learn something for a test, however, they are more inclined to detest and forget what they learn, because “it’s all just for some stupid test.”

    What made Reading Rainbow so revolutionary when it began was that it met kids where the technology was. For the longest time, that was the TV. But the world is getting increasingly digital, which means that kids are moving to mobile devices, gaming consoles and tv boxes. Right now the Reading Rainbow app is on the iPad, even though they want to expand to other platforms and devices. That’s why the folks at Reading Rainbow are doing a Kickstarter – so that they can continue to be relevant and meet kids where the technology is, and unfortunately, they can’t do that without money, because decent app developers don’t come cheap.

  • It doesn’t teach kids how to read.
    I don’t know how this misconception started, but apparently some people at some point thought that Reading Rainbow was going to save the world from illiteracy by teaching kids how to read.  That’s not what Reading Rainbow is designed for. Reading Rainbow isn’t intended to teach kids how to read, or give them critical thinking skills. Those are still skills that are best left to be taught in the classroom.

    Reading Rainbow is all about giving kids a reason to read. Most kids these days would sooner pick up a “shoot ’em up and blow ’em up” video game over a book any day. I’m not saying that all video games are bad. (I believe that MMORPG can have value, since those kind of games are generally built around a storyline developed by the game developers. It can be a great, hands-on approach to storytelling.) However, given the alternative, a kid is more likely to complain and bitch about having to pick up and read a book, even for class. Even at the high school and college levels, it’s becoming increasingly common for people to “watch the movie or tv-series version”, and not trudge through a wall of text for a class assignment. (If you think I’m inventing this, I took a course in English literature for fun during my last spring semester in college. There was one girl who would always tell me, when we met in the hallway before class, that she watched the movie version or the tv-series version because she didn’t want to be bothered with actually reading the book.)

  • It’s important because writing and Reading go hand in hand.
    I haven’t heard a single author who hasn’t said that writers read. And it makes sense. Because it’s more than just fully immersing yourself in your genre – it’s about a deeper love for the written word. English, for all its infuriating contradictions, spellings, and nonsensical rules, is beautiful. And as a storyteller, it’s not good enough for us to simply enjoy arranging them in a way that delights us as individual writers. Language, by its very nature, is creative, and to not read is to limit your enjoyment of your creativity.

    Additionally, we need to know how to write so we can comprehend what we read. Writing is how we learn sentence structures, parts of speech, and grammar. As a generation comes up that is more fluent in text abbreviations than grammatically correct writing, writing and reading comprehension are becoming increasingly valued skills in the work place.

So if you have $5, or even $1, maybe consider donating to the Reading Rainbow kickstarter. It will be the best investment you ever made.

But you don’t have to take my word for it.

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