T always thought that Reading Rainbow would always be around. While not technically an audiobook, the show read picture books to children and showed the illustrations. In my mind, it’s audiobooks for toddlers.
Reading Rainbow is being discontinued for a number of reasons. Funding is one issue. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are needed to renew Reading Rainbow’s broadcast rights.
It seems that PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting are declining to provide the hefty sum. Another issue is related to the shift in the focus of reading instruction. With No Child Left Behind and other government initiatives, the primary objective of reading education is providing the fundamental rules and skills of how to read.
Programs are based on sight words, phonics, and spelling. RR isn’t about teaching children to read. It never was. Reading Rainbow never set out to teach reading. It had a completely different goal: Teaching children to love to read.
Why RR Worked
During its run, the show won 26 Emmy awards for obvious reasons. LeVar Burton provided a simple, gentle approach to hosting. He was encouraging, but never patronizing.
He introduced viewers to children who also love to read and who enthusiastically recommended their favorite books.
With a combination of read-aloud stories, reviews of favorite books, and exploration of new subjects, Reading Rainbow didn’t push the mechanics of reading down kids’ throats. It simply let them know that once the mechanics were mastered, they would have fun with it. Reading would open new doors and excite them. Lots of kids like to do it – and its fun.
Television is a staple of children’s entertainment diet. I understand the idea of supplementing learning with the medium. I get that the process of learning to read is critical. BUT… who is going to encourage kids beyond the basics?
Where will they find that jumping off point where books and themes collide? Who will encourage them to ask what others are reading? How will they learn that reading is fun?
I hope that parents encourage their children to love reading. Visit the library. Check out audiobooks so kids can follow along as they did with Reading Rainbow. And if you can get your hands on DVDs of RR, watch them with your kids and appreciate the unique qualities that the show brought to our kids’ lives.