With a month left of summer, teach your kids ‘Smart Screen Time’


With just a month left before classes start for Austin-area school districts, and as temperatures rise in Central Texas, it’s important to make sure the time your kids spend in front of their screens is educational and constructive.

ben&cookieBen Kramer, vice president of education for KLRU, started the Smart Screen Time initiative two years ago to develop a set of guidelines for digital media use for children, parents, educators and caretakers. We sat down with Ben to talk about the program and what parents can do with only one month of summer left for many kids.

Download a printable version of the Smart Screen Time guide (pdf): Smart Screen Time™ | La Pantalla Inteligente™ To watch Smart Screen Time videos in Spanish and English, click here.


Where did the idea for Smart Screen Time come along and what were the original goals of the project?

The idea first came along because we were starting to get questions about how much screen time is safe for kids, and it turned out to be a much more complicated answer than just a set time limit. In the meantime, what was happening is that in our own outside world, the use of screens was exploding, particularly with kids. Because as tablet computers became more and more prevalent, younger and younger kids could manipulate them in ways that they couldn’t do with keyboards or even with smartphones. The tablets really did make a huge difference for these littlest kids.

So, we embarked on some kind of messaging campaign – we are perhaps the only media company in families’ lives that will actually tell them to turn us off. We know that our educational goals for our programs and our apps and all the work that we do isn’t really complete until the kids can actually do things with what they’ve picked up from the programs or games, like read or solve problems. That was the genesis of it, and what we’ve found is that it’s just really resonated with all walks of life. Everyone you talk to has at least some concern about the amount of screen time that kids are getting in their lives, and what it might mean for their development. So, we wanted to come at it in a way of saying, “We’re a media company, so we’re in the midst of it, we produce, we make stuff, but here’s when you know when it’s too much.” We want to shift the question from a simple quantity question to a more quality question, and that’s how Smart Screen Time came up.

We say that kids know instinctively when screen time is smart and when it’s silly. When it’s provoking their thinking, or when it’s just pure entertainment. And we all have time in our lives where we just want pure entertainment. We all have our trash TV moments, we all have our silly movie moments, we all have our stupid game moments, we have all that, so it would be foolhardy to go to kids and say, “No, we only want your screen time to be smart.” That’s not the lives that we as adults lead. So instead, we think of much more realistic and beneficial conversation among families is, “Well, what’s our family balance between smart and silly?”

Many similar campaigns simply tell parents how much to limit their children’s social media use. Why encourage the parents to use screens along with their children?

It’s the same sort of carryover that you would have if a parent is doing a hands-on activity with a kid, or if they’re reading a book with a kid. The three-way interaction of parent and kid and learning event, be it a book or a tablet or a program, is amplified when the discussion occurs. It really helps solidify learning. So the tendency is for kids to just wander off and do their own thing with the screen, and without this injection of saying talking actually solidifies the learning, and it doesn’t have to be talking right there in the moment, it can be after the fact, we lose this opportunity because it’s too easy for kids to go off and have their screen lives, so we want to bring adults back into this triad.

With only one month left of summer, what can parents do now to help their kids be successful when it comes to using screens efficiently?

The last month is critical, because first of all, the temperature has gone way up, so these kids are going to be spending more time indoors. Secondly, kids are going to be more bored during the summer. Thirdly, the more schools turn to tablets and chrome books and whatever for the main delivery of their resources, our messaging really doesn’t change as we get to the end of summer and into the fall again. The key is to have an honest and open dialogue with your kids and to reach some decisions that all of you can be comfortable with, not just adult dictating to kid, but what screen practices are you going to uphold in your home that apply to everyone? Including the balance of smart and silly, including the determination when somebody in the home becomes a screen zombie, that some decision has to happen at that moment, and that decision is either get active and do something else or go to bed, that’s it. There’s no wiggle room. These problems are not going to go away at the end of summer.

What other resources do you have for parents who want to help their children use screens in a smarter way?

We’ve tried to build KLRU Kids as a safe browsing experience for kids to find stuff they’re interested in. On that, we have a set of screenshots of all the apps we put on our machines, our iPads, so that folks can get a glimpse of what we recommend online through the website itself but then within the website there’s the recommended apps button which will give the list of things we recommend for tablets.

New Thomas & Friends May 11-15

All-new episodes of Thomas & Friends being on May 11 with a one-hour special presentation showing how Thomas got to be the Number 1 engine.

Thomas & Friends: The Adventure Begins May 11 at 12:30 pm
All aboard for a special trip back to Thomas’ very first adventure!  A little tank engine discovers a big new world when he arrives on the Island of Sodor. Escapades abound as Thomas explores his new home and meets some Really Useful new friends. Finding the true blue meaning of hard work and friendship, Thomas transforms into the Number 1 engine!

Then, it’s all new regular episodes Tuesday through Friday!

Fast and Reliable May 12 at 12:30 pm
Old Reliable Edward – Gordon and the big engines tease Edward for being old.  Not So Slow Coaches – Annie and Clarabel are always complaining to Thomas about going too fast.

Special Friends May 13 at 12:30 pm
Toad’s Adventure – Oliver is always telling his Toad about his adventures. Duck and the Slip Coaches – Sir Topham Hatt is concerned about getting all the summer visitors to their destinations on time.

Please Be Patient May 14 at 12:30 pm
Thomas the Quarry Engine – When Thomas and Diesel are sent to collect trucks from the Ffarquhar Quarry, they argue about who should be the back engine. Duck in The Water – When Duck gets stuck on some flooded tracks, James is sent to fetch Rocky to rescue him.

Signals & Alarms May 15 at 12:30 pm
Signals Crossed – Toby is always nervous when he has to go through Knapford Junction with the big gantry signal over the track. Thomas and the Emergency Cable – Thomas is on his branch line when a passenger pulls the emergency cable and he has to stop quickly.

KLRU Kids Fall Schedule 2014


KLRU’s fall 2014 lineup for kids includes the following highlights: KidsShowBlocks

  • WordGirl appears M-F at 6:30 a.m. for a great dose of vocabulary and fun before school!
  • The return of Clifford for a full hour on Sunday morning (8-9am), and Maya & Miguel on Saturday and Sunday (7:30am)
  • Sesame Street‘s 45th season with a full hour M-F (7-8am) and half-hour episodes at 7am on Saturday and Sunday, and 1-1:30 pm M-F

Get the full schedule of kids’ programming now

And as always, go to klrukids.org for hundreds of episodes, games, activities, and links to other powerful learning resources!


Space Racers: Now with online videos and games

Each Friday at noon, KLRU kids can hop on a spaceship to Stardust Space Academy on the new NASA-developed kids series Space Racers. With  personified spaceship characters, preschoolers will have fun learning about scientific investigation and observations, technology, the solar system and more! In addition, Space Racers now has a wonderful website spaceracers.org that includes episodes, games, and printables! KLRU is proud to carry this fantastic new show for those who think and dream of the universe!


KLRU and PBS Kids at the Texas Book Festival!

KLRU featured event

KLRU Educational Services will be on hand for two events connected to the Texas Book Festival. The first, a joint presentation by the Texas Book Festival, KLRU, and the AISD Department of Communications and Community Engagement is a book reading and signing by the bilingual children’s author Yuyi Morales, who was profiled by PBS and regularly has a spot airing during the PBS Kids block (which you can see here). The book signing will take place at Mathews Elementary, 906 West Lynn, on Friday, October 25, from 4-5 pm.

The second event will be our three-hour appearance at the Texas Book Festival itself, on Sunday, October 27, from 12 noon – 3 pm. We will be at the Children’s Activity Tent (on Colorado St. between 12th & 13th) with our iPads loaded with learning apps and with none other than Clifford the Big Red Dog.

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KLRU’s new Kids lineup begins October 7!

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Download a pdf of the Fall 2013 schedule

KLRU wishes to announce the following changes to the 6:30 am – 5:30 pm (M-F) program lineup:

1. The new series Peg+Cat, an adorable show on early mathematical thinking, will run M-F from 9-9:30 am.

2. In response to popular demand, Sesame Street will now air twice daily, once from 7-8 am, and once from 2-3 pm.

3. Thomas & Friends will now air daily M-F from 11:30 am – noon with lots of new episodes.

4. Signing Time moves to noon – 12:30 pm.

5. From 12:30 – 1 pm, we have different programs each day: Monday is WordWorld, Tuesday is Bob the Builder, Wednesday is Angelina Ballerina, Thursday is Peep and the Big Wide World, and Friday is a new show, Bali.

Now, what gets lost in these changes? Because we have no new episodes for Maya & Miguel or for Barney, and because of a slowdown of production for Electric Company, we have currently dropped them from the daily lineup. We especially feel the loss of Electric Company because it’s popular for older kids, so we are hoping that we can build up a bank of new episodes for airing later in the school year. In the meantime, all of these shows can be accessed online.

If you have questions or comments on the new lineup, please contact Benjamin Kramer, Director of Educational Services. We hope you enjoy these changes!

Smart Screen Time / La Pantalla Inteligente™

Download a printable version of this guide (pdf): Smart Screen Time™ | La Pantalla Inteligente

Read in English | Español

With the proliferation of screen-based activities available for and embraced by youth, KLRU Educational Services has developed a set of guidelines for digital media use called “Smart Screen Time / La Pantalla Inteligente™.” In addition to offering quality educational media, KLRU Educational Services staff believe that explicit guidelines for how to use these media has never been more needed – for parents, caretakers, educators, and the children themselves. The guidelines have been incorporated into all of KLRU Educational Services’ messaging and are now appearing on-air and online in a series of explanatory video clips. The guidelines are as follows, with the video clips to follow.

    1. Knowing “smart time” vs. “silly time” - Kids instinctively know when they are viewing or playing media that is cognitively stimulating, and media that is pure entertainment. We believe that there is a role for both in kids’ lives. Adults who provide access to digital media ought to have conversations about the appropriate balance of smart and silly with the children in their care, and help children monitor their own media habits.

    2. When the brain slows down, turn the screen off! - All viewers of digital media have experienced moments when they are neither asleep nor alert, but in some in-between “zombie” zone. For adults, this may be a reasonable break from a long day’s work. For kids, it’s a different matter because this time is neither truly restful, nor is it meaningfully engaging. In short, it’s lost time during a period of rapid brain growth and development. For that reason, it’s important for adults in kids’ lives to turn the screen off and send them to another activity (including sleep!). Kids can become self-monitors of their own zombie states,  and can learn alternatives to drooling in front of a screen.

    3. Talk throughout the day, including during screen time - Studies have shown that dialogue can enhance the learning outcomes of using educational digital media. Look no further than our own characters to see role models for our kids – our characters use sophisticated vocabulary, ask good questions, and seek solution pathways for desired information. In short, they are all “smart” chatterboxes! Adults can ask kids for narrative summaries of show episodes, or to describe strategies they are using to advance in games.

    4. Watch and play on screens together - This is corollary of guideline #3. Whereas dialogue about kids’ viewing or playing is great, an even stronger learning experience occurs when adults and kids engage together with educational media. KLRU Educational Services selects PBS evening programs each month for “Family Choice” viewing, when we encourage generations to sit, watch, and discuss together. This idea can be extended to our programming throughout the day, and to game-playing online and on mobile media. One caution: current research suggests that all screen time stop 90 minutes before a child’s bedtime. It appears that the blue/light white from LCD screens can signal the brain to wake up, making bedtime a more difficult proposition.

    5. Read both at home and at school – every day! As proud as we are of the educational quality of our media, KLRU Educational Services recognizes that reading remains the most efficient, effective method of acquiring new information, building vocabulary, and experiencing new worlds of learning. In fact, a good number of our programs and games explicitly steer children to reading experiences. Most children still need adults to bridge the gap from screen to text, and to help them locate appropriate reading materials. This cannot solely occur in school – children who practice literacy as a desired activity during out-of-school time have markedly better learning outcomes that endure throughout their lives (International Reading Association, 1998). We know our job is done when kids instinctively and enthusiastically turn from our media to books as a logical next step in their learning lives.

Read in English | Español

La Pantalla Inteligente™

Con la abundancia de pantallas utilizadas por nuestros jóvenes, KLRU Educational Services ha desarrollado un conjunto de reglas sobre el medio digital llamado “La Pantalla Inteligente.” Además de ofrecer un medio educacional de gran calidad, el personal de KLRU Educational Services cree se necesitan estas reglas para padres, cuidadores, educadores, y los mismos niños sobre el uso de estos medios.

1. Tiempo listo versus Tiempo bobo – Desde una edad muy joven, los niños saben cuando están mirando un programa o jugando un juego que les ayuda a aprender o que es puro entretenimiento. Nosostros creemos que hay un rol para los dos en la vida de los jóvenes. Los adultos que les proveen aceso a media digital a los niños deberían charlar con ellos sobre un balanceo apropriado de “listo” y “bobo,” y ayudar a los niños a reconocer sus propios hábitos y ajustarlos si es necesario.

2. ¡Cuando se apaga el cerebro, se apaga la pantalla! – Para los adultos al mirar la tele puede ser un momento razonable para un descanso después de un largo día de trabajo. Pero para los niños puede ser una pérdida de tiempo. Es por eso que es importante que los adultos sugieran y animen a los niños a realizar otras actividades, incluyendo dormir, en lugar de babear frente a una pantalla por largos periodos.

3. Hablemos durante el día, incluyendo los tiempos de pantalla – Estudios han demostrado que el diálogo mejora los resultados de los medios digitales educacionales. Los personajes que estrellan en nuestros programas son modelos de compartimiento para nuestros niños. Estos personajes usan vocabulario sofisticado, hacen buenas preguntas, y buscan diferentes soluciones. ¡En resumen, todas son <<cotorros inteligentes>>! Los adultos pueden preguntar a los niños por breves resúmenes de los episodios que han visto, o que describan las estrategias que están utilizando para avanzar en un juego.

4. Miremos y juguemos juntos la pantalla – Aunque el diálogo sobre lo que los niños miran y juegan es bueno, la experiencia educacional puede ser aún más fuerte si los adultos y niños se vieran involucrados en medios educacionales. KLRU Educational Services selecciona programas nocturnos de PBS cada mes para momentos familiares donde los animamos a sentarse, mirar, y discutir juntos. Esta idea se extiende para toda nuestra programación durante el día, incluyendo juegos en línea y medios móvil.

5. Lee en casa y la escuela – ¡Todos los días! Aunque estamos orgullosos de la calidad educacional de nuestros medios, KLRU Educational Services reconoce que leer sigue siendo el método más efectivo de adquirir nueva información y vocabulario. De hecho un buen número de programas y juegos dirigen los niños explícitamente a leer. La mayoría de los niños aún necesitan que los adultos les ayuden a localizar materiales apropiados para leer. Esto no puede suceder solo en la escuela ya que los niños que practican el alfabetismo como una actividad deseada fuera de la escuela tienen mejores resultados de aprendizaje (International Reading Association, 1998). Cuando los niños pueden cambiar de los medios digitales a un libro como un paso lógico en sus vidas de aprendizaje, nuestro trabajo esta completo.

martha speaksKumon

The Cat in the Hat “Fabulous Animals Week”

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From April 15-19, The Cat in the Hat shows kids some amazing animals, including three premiere episodes April 15-17.

Babies / Fast – Monday, April 15 at 8:30 am & 2 pm
Babies – Sally is looking after some baby hamsters, but how can she and Nick hold them right? Well, different animals hold their babies different ways.
Fast – It’s a race to the treehouse, but Nick and Sally wish they could go as fast as an airplane! How about a peregrine? asks The Cat. What’s that? The fastest creature in the world!

Little Lemmings / Keep The Beat — Tuesday, April 16 at 8:30 am & 2 pm
Little Lemmings – It’s cold outside, but Nick and Sally want to keep playing. Is there a way to stay warm out in the cold? Cat’s friend Lars the Lemming will know! He lives in the Wundra-Bundra-Tundra. It’s cold out, but with Lars’ fur coat, he doesn’t even notice!
Keep the Beat – Nick and Sally have been running around the backyard and now their chests are thumpity thumping! The Cat explains that that is their hearts boom boom booming! But why? wonders Sally.

Gorillas In The Nest / Tale Of A Dragon — Wednesday, April 17 at 8:30 am & 2 pm
Gorillas in the Nest – Sally and Nick have made a sleepover tent on the floor. But it’s not very comfortable. The Cat’s friend Gordon the Gorilla knows how to make a comfortable bed.
Tale of a Dragon – Dragons don’t really exist, but Cat knows some lizard friends who are oh-so like dragons! They can show Nick and Sally how to pretend to be dragons.