Reading Rainbow goes digital with new RRKidz app

Faith Merino · September 14, 2011 · Short URL:

But is more screen time the answer to slipping test scores?

The whole time I’ve been researching and writing this story, I’ve had the Reading Rainbow theme song stuck in my head.  “Take a look, it’s in a book, a reading rainbow…I can go anywhere…”  And thus I pass my burden onto you.

Actor LeVar Burton, executive producer of Reading Rainbow from 1983 to 2006, is launching a new digital education product: RRKidz, a new app that will take the Reading Rainbow experience into the digital age.  The free app, which will be available for the iPad and select Android tablets this winter, will allow parents and kids to access hundreds of “enhanced e-books” through a subscription service.  The books will be curated by Burton, himself, who also plans on reading approximately 15% of the titles, according to VentureBeat.  The app will focus on kids ages 3-12, with a particular focus on grades K-3.

"For 25 years Reading Rainbow gave me the opportunity to excite children about books and reading through the medium of television. With RRKidz, I will be able to bring that same spirit of discovery, imagination and adventure to today's digitally connected kids through enhanced e-books," said Burton, in a statement.

The startup has raised funds from Raymonds Capital and the Kauffman Foundation, which is dedicated to education and entrepreneurship.

Burton told VentureBeat that RRKidz grew out of his concerns with the current state of education in the U.S. “We are slipping on the world’s stage in education, very precipitously.  To remain a world leader, we have to do a better job educating our children,” he said.

Personally, I’m always a little skeptical about educational games and products that aim to get kids to spend more time playing on computers and mobile devices.  The general consensus among child development specialists is that too much screen time is bad, which is why I tend to cast a wary eye on “edutainment” ventures.  But in the interest of full disclosure, I’m still in my smug mom-to-be phase, which I’m sure will pass.

Interestingly, a study published this week by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that not all screen time is created equal.  The study, which focused on young children’s TV-watching habits, found that kids who watched just nine minutes of a fast-paced cartoon like Spongebob Squarepants demonstrated “significant impairment” of executive function immediately after watching, compared with kids who engaged in a drawing activity or who watched an educational program, like Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood (ugh…that show bored me to tears as a kid).  

Why?  Because children’s brains aren’t wired to process quick, successive scene changes and sequences, which are rapid in cartoons but naturally paced in live-action shows.

So maybe Burton’s on to something.  If the study’s findings can be applied to all digital activities, then maybe listening to LeVar Burton read a book on an iPad has just as much educational value as listening to a parent or caregiver read a physical book. 


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