Super Why! is a PBS reading program targeted at children ages 3-6.

My three-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter loves it.

It has engaging characters and does present a lot of useful information for beginning readers.

However, nothing in life is perfect. Parents would be wise to take a closer look at this program before parking their children unsupervised in front of it.

Use of Standard English
The characters are pleasant and well-spoken. In one episode I was surprised and delighted to hear the following standard grammar in the mouths of a pig and a mermaid:

Pig: I’m different from you.

Mermaid: Mermaids can flip really well.

That word “kid”
A negative is that, like most children’s programming, Super Why! overuses the word “kid” as a generic, not only for “child,” but apparently for “human being.”

Confusing phonics instruction
The producers of this show, no doubt upon consultation with “whole language” reading specialists, ignore the existence of letter combinations that represent single sounds. For example, they treat the digraph ch as if it were two letters.

The Super Why! template
Each episode of Super Why! follows a template. The characters are faced with a social problem; for example, being different in some way. A traditional fairy tale is chosen to illustrate the problem. Some aspect of the original tale is changed in order to make it suit contemporary attitudes, changing the moral originally intended. It seems to me a better approach would be to create a modern tale.

Super Letter Search
A less than helpful approach to beginning reading instruction is the “Super Letter Search.” It has the unfortunate effect of teaching children to approach a word in directions other than from left to right.

Reading games that an experienced reader can enjoy may not be appropriate for the beginner.

For the beginner, everything is new–including the direction in which a word is to be read.

Games or exercises that require the beginner to look at words in any direction other than from left to right are confusing and can interfere with reading success.

Not all bad
Super Why! has many positive aspects, but its approach to phonics is flawed and potentially confusing to the beginning reader.

Parents would do well to watch the program with their preschoolers and provide supplemental phonics information as needed.

Viewers of Super Why! may wish to review “the rest of the alphabet.


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