By Nikki W. O’Meara, MSU Today
Roughly 1,500 people visited the WKAR Public Media studios at Michigan State University’s College of Communication Arts and Sciences on Saturday, January 14 to celebrate the launch of a new, free, localized 24-hour kids channel and multiplatform services from WKAR Public Media. The channel, called WKAR PBS Kids, broadcasts PBS KIDS shows 24/7 with a particular focus on kids aged two through eight. The channel is now available for free over the air on channel 23.4 and through Comcast in the capital region, as well as live streaming through pbskids.org and on the PBS KIDS Video App.
Susi Elkins, interim director of Broadcasting and general manager of WKAR Public Media, spoke with MSU Today about the impact she hopes the channel will have.
“Research shows kids learn more when they’re co-viewing the content with an adult who takes them through the material. And most viewers are watching in the evening after work and sometimes even late at night. The viewing there is double what it is in the morning so we want to have the most impact where the viewers are,” said Elkins.
At the kick-off event, children and families got their photo taken with Cat in the Hat, Clifford the Big Red Dog and Sparty. Many also explored and played science games at the Curious Crew station, touched real sheepskin and wool at the MSU Extension Science Work Group station, held snakes and saw an owl up close at the Potter Park Zoo station and did a science experiment at the Impression 5 station. Early Childhood Education experts and the Michigan Digital Library were also in attendance to answer questions and provide assistance to local families.
When it came time to introduce the channel and flip the switch, MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon noted how important the new channel is to the mid-Michigan community and what viewers can expect, stating, “you’ll see content… built just for kids, at your disposal, any time of the day. We know your schedules are not all the same. It’s an encouragement for people to sit down together and learn together. The way we build a stronger community is for all of us (to work) together… and to make Lansing one of the best communities in the world for children.”
Jennifer English from PBS Kids spoke to the crowd about the partnership between PBS, MSU and WKAR. “At the core of what we do is research-based content that is designed to engage kids, not just through video, but also through digital learning. And that’s also one of the reasons why we’re excited to be part of this project with WKAR and with Michigan State.”
Kids from the WKAR original series Curious Crew helped Sparty flip the switch and officially turn on the channel. Now airing on channel 23.4 and Comcast, WKAR PBS Kids is available 24/7 for mid-Michigan families and anyone with access to a smartphone, tablet or computer.
In addition to the new channel, WKAR also launched WKAR Family, an initiative which brings together the resources of PBS Kids and MSU to provide free programming, technology and learning tools to kids and dedicate resources to researching early childhood development. Included in this effort is a new outreach and research effort that will put a PBS Kids tablet in the hands of every kindergartner in the Lansing School District.
“We believe it’s important for us to be on the cutting edge because our kids deserve it,” said Yvonne Caamal Canul, superintendent of the Lansing School District. “I’m on my 42nd year as an educator… and this is absolutely the most exciting year for me ever.”
Ultimately, it was made clear to the crowd that the biggest driving force for both WKAR Family and the WKAR PBS Kids channel was to help build strong families in mid-Michigan. Prabu David, dean of ComArtSci, told the audience, “We want to do something fun for kids, and parents and grandparents. Empowering kids to empower others.”
Joining the launch ceremony were April Clobes, President and CEO of MSU Federal Credit Union and Dr. Heather Adams of McLaren Greater Lansing. The new WKAR PBS Kids services are supported in part by MSFCU and McLaren.
Many partners and supporters were also in the crowd, including Rachel T.A. Croson, Dean, College of Social Science, Jeff Dwyer, Director, MSU Extension, Ann Austin, Associate Dean for Research, College of Education, Dr. Joan Rose, Director, College of Agriculture & Natural Resources, Molecular Microbiology Laboratory, and State Senator Curtis Hertel Jr.
Watch the Sparty and the Curious Crew throw the switch on WKAR PBS Kids here: Celebrate! WKAR PBS Kids Launch