LaVar Burton Produces Reading Rainbow iPad App

Take a look. It’s in a book. A Reading Rainbow.

Mobile technology has breathed new life into LaVar Burton’s classic PBS program Reading Rainbow with a new app available in the iTunes store. Designed for kids ages 3 to 9, the app will offer a library of children’s books and videos and take users on animated adventures complete with audio storytelling by actors.

Look at that. It’s in an app. A Reading Rainbow.

I was addicted to this show when I was a kid. I got to watch Geordi La Forge from Star Trek talk about how much fun reading was and I believed him because he was Geordi La Forge from Star Trek. All jokes aside, I do remember appreciating the way Burton related the stories told in books to real-world concepts. As the show was broadcast on PBS for 26 years, it’s clear many other children appreciated it as well. 

Reading Rainbow made its final broadcast on PBS in 2009, making it the third longest-running children’s show in the network’s history.  A lack of funding prevented the renewal of the show’s broadcast rights, but according to an NPR interview with John Grant of WNED Buffalo, the program’s home station, “…  the decision to end Reading Rainbow can also be traced to a shift in the philosophy of educational television programming. The change started with the Department of Education under the Bush administration which wanted to see a much heavier focus on the basic tools of reading—like phonics and spelling.”

The point of Reading Rainbow was not necessarily to teach the fundamentals of reading as much as it was to encourage kids to read. Children can learn the basic tools of reading like phonics and vocabulary, but true education comes from stimulating passion in a given subject. Today, when kids can fire up Call of Duty instead of opening a book, the idea of promoting a love of reading is arguably just as important now as when Reading Rainbow first aired in the early 80s.

Burton founded RRKidz, a multimedia company founded to continue the tradition of Reading Rainbow using modern technology. “Reading will never go out of style, but the tools used for learning are changing,” Burton said in a statement. Burton and producer Mark Wolfe signed deals with several children’s book publishers including Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Holiday House and Charlesbridge Publishing.

I caught up on some old Reading Rainbow episodes on YouTube. I was fond of one comment I saw: “Oh man, I’ve learned about 60% of all important things in life simply by watching a single season of Reading Rainbow.” With this new app from RRKidz, Reading Rainbow hopes to continue educating young readers with the intuitive and fluid interface of tablet computers. But don’t take my word for it … Check out the app here!