So I almost said no.
I’m pretty gun shy when it comes to blogging events, especially ones for my kids. My social anxiety spikes and my nervousness about their behavior and their sensory needs and their everything else usually turns into a “thanks but no thanks” email back to the event planners.
But when I got the message about a PBS Kids event in Boston at WGBH, I knew I couldn’t turn it down. It was about their new initiative called “It All Adds Up“, designed to bring math and literacy skills into homes all over the world through their online programming and apps.
This is an event made for my kids.
Still, I was nervous. So nervous that I almost backed out. The first half of the event had parents in one room hearing about the new programs while the kids were right next door doing activities, crafts, etc. That can be just so unpredictable for Howie and Lewis.
So I sent this email:
Hi! It will just be two of my boys ages 7 and 4. I hope that is okay.
Just a heads up, my two boys are both on the autism spectrum. They love math and science and all things PBS but they get nervous and a little overwhelmed in large groups and with characters in costume. As long as I can be nearby for them, they should be okay. But please let me know if you are uneasy about having them there.
I hate sending that email. Not because I am ashamed of my kids. But I am always worried about the response back.
But being PBS, I guess I should have known it would be okay:
Thanks for the email Alysia. A Curious George character will be present at the event – greeting people at the door, and then coming out again at the end. You can definitely just walk past and I can let my colleague at the door know. There will be a time when the parents are in an adjoining room listening to a presentation while the kids are playing games and activities in the other room. Do you think that will be ok? We expect approx 30 kids and 20 adults.
We’d love for you to be there. I just want to be sure you have all the info about the event so you know what to expect. Let me know your thoughts and if there’s anything we can do to help.
That’s all I needed. I could prep them for exactly what was going to happen. And I had an exit strategy if needed.
So off we went.
We got on the highway around 10am, armed with munchkins and juice boxes. I usually turn on a movie or the radio for the boys but I didn’t want to be alone with my thoughts.
So we talked.
We laughed at the leprechaun hat that is the symbol for the Mass Pike. We discussed what “Mass Pike” actually meant. We counted the Jersey barriers along the side of the road and made believe we were racing the big trucks. We squealed with delight as we went under the “cool hotel that makes a bridge over the highway”.
We shouted and pointed at the large building with the Word Girl animation on it. I told them that was where we were going.
Their excitement was growing. My anxiety was almost gone.
We bounded our way into the WGBH building and were immediately greeted by Curious George. Lewis stood behind me.
Howie went right up to him and gave him a big high-five.
In the elevator, he turned to me and in an exaggerated whisper he said “that was just a guy in a costume, you know.”
I knew we’d be okay.
We entered the room to check in. The boys got name tags with their names written in their favorite colors. The room was filled with coloring pages, games, activities and kids. A giant TV on the wall was showing Curious George.
A lovely young lady motioned for them to sit with her and play. And they did.
My fears about the event now gone, I found a seat in the presentation room.
I shouldn’t have been surprised that PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting were doing so much for kids in the area of math, science and literacy. But the approach they are taking is truly remarkable. By creating content online that complements their TV programming, they are engaging kids in a whole new way. We learned about a new show called “Peg + Cat” which is all about math skills but taught in a humorous and approachable way. And written on a level that both kids and their parents can find interesting. Example : a reference to turning up an amplifier to the number 11 – a slight nod to Spinal Tap that had me and my friend Jessica giggling.
What really got me though were the online games and apps targeted exactly at my kids. Apps for Martha Speaks, Wild Kratts, Dinosaur Train and Cyberchase and games for Curious George. My kids’ shows.
When we left the presentation, we got to see the games and apps in action.
Howie is very new game phobic. He is afraid of trying a new game or app because he is hyper-competitive and worried about losing. “No, thank you.” was the response I got when I asked if we should try the new Curious George Bubble Pop game.
But Lewis? Drawn to games like…like a kid who loves iPads and computer games.
Playing Curious George Bubble Pop. And yes, that’s a breadstick in his hand. We mutli-task.
The premise of the game is that when you see a bubble on the screen, you yell “Pop!”. And it pops. George gives a little squeal and counts the numbers of bubbles that have popped.
No mouse. No keyboard. And you don’t even need to say “pop”. You can clap your hands or make any noise and the bubble pops on the screen.
It only took 10 bubbles popping before Howie joined in too. For a few minutes, they were both yelling “POP!” at the tops of their lungs. And each time Howie jumped up and down with delight.
Yelling POP! Because it’s okay to yell sometimes.
Instantly I saw the beauty of this game for kids like mine. No fine motor control needed. No speech. And online for free.
This game teaches cause and effect, counting, and math skills without having to say a word or navigate a mouse or keyboard. All accessible anywhere on any computer with a microphone.
As my kids were yelling “POP!”, I made my way over to the woman representing PBS.
“I can’t thank you enough for this,” I said. “This game is really perfect. My two kids are on the autism spectrum and for them to be able to navigate a game flawlessly without specific words or the mouse is just incredible.”
There’s a chance that I caught her a little off guard. But as she looked over at my kids smiling and jumping, I could see that she got it. “Thank you,” she said. “That means a lot to us.”
Next, we made our way over to the Wild Kratts app on the iPad. Howie got to show off his math skills as he fed the animals in the forest. Lewis honed in on the Dinosaur Train app.
I had to drag them out of there.
I tweeted: Going right to http://pbskidslab.org when we get home
And we did.
That night, Howie and I were sitting on his bed before bedtime. We were playing the Martha Speaks “Word Spinner” app that we had learned about that morning. I have never seen him so engaged in an educational app before – laughing, smiling, waiting for his turn…excited for his turn. Yesterday, he played it with his home therapist, squealing the same squeal of delight that I heard at the event.
Every time the WGBH logo comes up on the screen Howie says “WGBH! We went there!”
I am so thankful I didn’t say no.
Update from 3:15pm : I went outside to get the mail. I came in and Howie and Lewis were playing the Martha Speaks “Word Spinner” app. Together. Taking turns. Nicely. Smiling. This NEVER happens. This is huge.
Disclaimer note: We were given free app codes for Cyberchase 3D, two Martha Speaks apps, two Dinosaur Train apps and the Wild Kratts app. Considering how much my kids love them, I would have spent the money anyway. We were also shown another Curious George online game called Monkey Jump – another game where no speech, keyboard or mouse is used. You jump and Curious George jumps. All you need is a webcam. Perfect for my kids.
“Somebody come and play
Somebody come and play today
Somebody come and smile the smiles
And sing the songs
It won’t take long
Somebody come and play today
Somebody come and play
Somebody come and play my way
Somebody come and rhyme the rhymes
And laugh the laughs
It won’t take time
Somebody come and play today” – Somebody Come And Play from Sesame Street