The world of digital learning tools just got a dose of 90s nostalgia. Reading Rainbow’s rolled out with a new app for the iPad – one that was developed by LeVar Burton himself. For anyone who learned to read sometime during the last 30 years, this is obviously exciting news. For parents and educators, it just might be a game changer. Or, as one Gizmodo writer put it, “Reading Rainbow might stop the iPad from ruining the brains of all children.”
Long before the days of tablets and ebooks, Reading Rainbow spent its screen time on broadcast T.V. Aired by PBS starting in 1983, the show ran for a remarkable 23 years, until it went off the air in 2006. But just because the cameras stopped rolling didn’t mean host and executive producer LeVar Burton was ready to hang up his hat and abandon the cause of early childhood literacy. Instead, he switched gears, turning to a new generation of tech tools to reach a new generation of readers.
Having dedicated more than two decades of his life to teaching children to read, Burton remains a powerful advocate to a cause that he believes is in more need of support than ever. “The unvarnished truth is that we have spent the last decade funding the machinery of war, and our children have been sacrificed,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “And that’s not OK. [When it comes to teaching early literacy,] educational technology is what we need to get it done, and if we marry educational technology with quality, enriching content, that’s a circle of win.”
Quality, enriching content is exactly what the Reading Rainbow app hopes to provide, along with the following features:
- 150 interactive books; frequent updates expand the library
- Recommendations customized to your child
- 16 video field trips and more to come
- Interactive activities in every book
- Reward program to motivate reading
- Parent dashboard to share a child’s reading progress
Just like the original television program, the Reading Rainbow app makes learning fun by transforming it from a duty into an adventure. Children get to design their own virtual backpack, to pick their favorite topics (from pirates to dinosaurs), and to travel from island to digital island reading, interacting and gaming along the way.
Unlike their paper counterparts, the ebooks available through the new app feature sound and animation. Children can also read alone or let LeVar read for them as they follow along – and these learning tools are important considering the app was designed for children as young as three. The new app also features puzzles to assess comprehension and keep kids engaged. To access all of the app’s features, parents can pay a monthly subscription fee of $9.99, or they can spring for a six-month membership for $29.99.
Even with the animations, videos and other interactive features, in the end, the app remains focused on building literacy. “It’s all about storytelling,” Burton told VentureBeat, “And when you are using storytelling as a tool for education — if you do it well — there is nothing more effective.”
When it comes to learning tools, this new app is one to watch out for. But to borrow Burton’s trademark phrase, “You don’t have to take my word for it!” Visit the Apple Store to download your copy of the Reading Rainbow app to see for yourself.