WordWorld is an Emmy-award-winning animated TV series that helps 3- to 5-year-olds develop early literacy skills. A new study, funded by the Department of Education, found that watching it for just 15 minutes a day improved a child's vocabulary and readiness to read. The show is now seen in nearly two dozen countries.
Don Moody is the creator of WordWorld.
"WordWorld is basically a world where objects are made up of the letters that spell what they are," he says.
WordWorld is a colorful animated world where letters become words and come to life.
"[Take] dog - spelled d-o-g. When you push the letters 'd, o, g' together, they magically morph into a dog, who is a fun-loving puppy with a clever personality," he explains.
Moody says the idea for the show was born a couple of years ago, as he worked on a computer-based learn-to-read program that relied on letters and text on the screen.
"While trying to do that, I realized it doesn't work," he says. "Children want to see animated characters. They really don't want to see the text on the screen. So one day, I was working with the word 'shark' on the screen, and I thought, 'Wouldn't it be great if the letters 's-h-a-r-k' turn into a shark and just scare the children?' And that dramatic moment would help them remember the word 'shark' forever and how to spell it."
The stories and jokes are all told by a group of three-dimensional animated characters, called WordFriends. They include Dog, Duck, Sheep, Frog and Pig. Each of the characters has a distinctive personality that young viewers can relate to.
"Pig is the chef in WordWorld," he says. "He's always cooking something. So, if we're trying to teach letters, he might be cooking alphabet soup. If we're trying to teach compound letters, he might be cooking meatballs and pancakes and popcorn."
Duck is the star of the show.
"The children at home associate themselves with Duck," he says. "And Duck goes on adventures. He learns. So, if Duck goes out, and he's on an adventure and he needs to cross the river, he might find the letters to spell the word bridge, 'b-r-i-d-g-e,' put them together and boink! They morph into a bridge over the river, and then he can get across the river."
WordWorld is now reaching 9 million viewers a month. It airs in 22 countries and in three languages: English, Cantonese and French.
Moody says the feedback the show has been drawing is overwhelmingly positive, and he thinks he knows why.
"You really need to entertain a child and let the byproduct of your entertainment be the literacy," he says. "I think if you can make them laugh, if you can take them on a story with you and bring the literacy in through a plot line or even in a joke line, I think that's the way to keep a child's attention."
While WordWorld exists on television, Moody says computers can be an equally important tool for teaching children to read.
"It used to be that you wouldn't think of a preschooler on a computer, but now you're seeing 3-year-olds on computers," he says. "So, I think that's a platform that we can do a lot of teaching on. I certainly hope that other people are out there thinking that they should make reading shows, too, because I think the more shows reach the more children in the more countries in the world, the more literate our societies will be, and, eventually, I think the more peaceful our planet will be.
"So I hope, if anybody needs any help, they can call me. I'll help anybody that wants to make a reading show, because I think that's the best thing you can do for children."
Moody says reading is one of the most important skills children need to develop early on. It's the foundation for learning math, science, social studies and other subjects. He encourages parents to prepare their youngsters for school by reading to them and helping them explore for themselves the magic world of words.