As a child growing up in the ‘90s there was a small selection of television shows to watch, especially if you were without cable. Four shows that come to mind—“Sesame Street,” “Mister Rogers Neighborhood,” “Barney and Friends,” and “Reading Rainbow”—were educational and a part of so many of our afternoons and summer vacations.
“Reading Rainbow” stood out not only because it took you inside the world of books, but its main focus was getting children to actually enjoy reading books. Plus, the host—LeVar Burton—was the same man who played Geordi La Forge on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
Burton kept children engaged by introducing a scenario relating to a book, reading that book, and then tying it all together with something relatable to the viewers. For example, in one episode Burton walked through his neighborhood market while purchasing fruits and interacting with neighbors. He explained that it is not only good to live in a multicultural neighborhood, but it is also important to interact with neighbors. This is because you learn so much from different cultures. Back then interacting with viewers was difficult because technology was limited, but somehow Burton made the show feel interactive. “Reading Rainbow” aired from 1983 to 2006 on the Public Broadcasting Service, or PBS, channel.
Burton and Reading Rainbow want to bring back the program for free to children everywhere with the help of funding through Kickstarter. The idea is to make it accessible for every child with the help of computers and tablets so the generation of kids growing up with today’s technology can have access to a digital library of books and field trips. Another important thing to point out is that Burton wants it to be used inside classrooms.
Burton considered reading to be important thanks to his mother, who instilled these values at a very young age. “It was my mother who taught me that, by picking up a book, I could ‘go anywhere’ and ‘be anything,’” Burton said. “Ever since ‘Reading Rainbow’ began in 1983, I have dedicated myself to fostering a love of reading in children, just as my mother did for me.”
“I believe that every child has a right, and a need, to be literate,” Burton also said. “We have a responsibility to prepare our children and right now, the numbers show that we, as a society, are failing in that responsibility.”
“Over the past year, I have watched Kickstarter bring communities together to support artists and inventors. Again and again, I have been inspired by watching like-minded people team up to accomplish impossible dreams, and to change the world,” Burton said. “Now, I am hoping you will join me on my mission: to bring ‘Reading Rainbow’ back for every child, everywhere.”
Burton brought his idea to Kickstarter to help raise $5 million. This sounds like a lot, but the original goal was $1 million. Amazingly the project surpassed that amount, with over 75,000 backers and $3 million as of June 3. Therefore, they have increased the goal to $5 million. When the goal was set for $1 million the money was going to go toward making “Reading Rainbow” available online as well as providing free access for 1,500 classrooms nationwide. Now with the new goal, Burton and Reading Rainbow will use the money toward making “Reading Rainbow” available through mobile and Android devices, as well as by way of gaming consoles and OTT boxes. There will be free access for 7,500 classrooms.
Pledges of $35 or more will receive Burton’s gratitude for making a difference in a child’s life along with a special thank you posted on Reading Rainbow’s website and Twitter. Backers also have their choice of a Kickstarter-exclusive bumper sticker or fridge magnet. Pledges made of $100 or more receive everything in the $35 package, plus the choice of three of the following: an exclusive Reading Rainbow Kickstarter T-shirt, tote bag, or coffee mug. Higher pledges are rewarded with a signed Burton headshot, a Reading Rainbow 2015 calendar, a signed copy of Burton’s children’s book, or even a five to 10 minute phone or video chat with Burton.
The reason for this project is to prevent future generations from growing up illiterate. Statistics show that “1 out of 4 children in the United States will grow up illiterate. And: numerous studies reveal that children who can’t read at grade level by the fourth grade are 400 percent more likely to drop out of high school.” Reading Rainbow was around for most of the ‘80s, all of the ‘90s, and ended in 2006. That is almost three decades of viewers trusting in Reading Rainbow.
Visit the project’s Kickstarter page to learn more and pledge.
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