LeVar Burton and @NGKids Talk Literacy and Technology #NGKInsider

First I have a big announcement to make, in case you missed it on our Facebook page or Twitter stream last week. I am excited to share a new partnership between About a Mom and National Geographic Kids. I am truly honored to be a new National Geographic Kids Insider and look forward to sharing some really awesome National Geographic stuff with you in the coming months. To kick things off I have a LeVar Burton interview to share with you and news about the new Reading Rainbow app. Sadly I missed the call this morning, but some of the other National Geographic Kids Insiders were on hand to ask some great questions. And the lovely Candace from Naturally Educational was nice enough to transcribe the interview for me.


LeVar Burton at National Geographic Headquarters for Reading Rainbow app

LeVar Burton outside of 125 Anniversary exhibit at the National Geographic HQ Museum.


LeVar Burton made a special visit to the National Geographic headquarters this morning, and was nice enough to set aside 30 minutes to chat exclusively with the Insiders. LeVar is a huge advocate for reading and education. You might be familiar with LeVar from Star Trek or his longstanding work as host and executive producer of the PBS children’s program Reading Rainbow. National Geographic has recently partnered with Reading Rainbow to provide ebooks for an “island” on their RRKidz app. The app is free, and you can download one free book.


LeVar Burton talks about literacy and the Reading Rainbow app with National Geographic

LeVar taking a photo of the National Geographic bee hive for the Great Nature Project.


Before heading over to chat with the bloggers, LeVar Burton was taking pictures of the National Geographic Beehive for the Great Nature Project. I can’t wait to see his photos! There will be more on the Great Nature Project coming soon.

Upon his arrival, he was enthusiastic to chat and to have bumped into Oceanographer and Explorer, Sylvia Earle.


LeVar Burton with Oceanographer and Explorer, Sylvia Earle

LeVar Burton with Oceanographer and Explorer, Sylvia Earle


Here are some highlights from the interview:

Robyn Good, Celeb Baby Laundry: You spent over 30 years sparking kids’ interest in reading…how do you inspire your own kids?

LeVar Burton: We did a lot of reading to the kids, and a lot of reading in front of the kids. I think that is an equally important message…that reading is a natural part of every day life, much the same as breathing. I think not enough emphasis is placed on the reading you do in front of your children, in addition to the reading that you do to them.


Kathy Dalton, Adventure Mom: How do we embrace technology instead of competing with it in encouraging children to read?

LeVar Burton: These tablet devices are so engaging. I find that my iPad is the best tool I ever had and its the most fun toy I ever owned. You cannot beat that combination. I carry a library around on my iPad. Not that I’ve stop reading print on paper…it’s just so much more convenient to read electronically. Sooner or later, I believe, we’re going to recognize that it is unsustainable to continue to tear down trees to make books. We’re going to be consuming most of our reading on electronic devices going forward. I don’t care what it is on, I simply want kids to read. I have experienced as a child my world opening up to degrees that astonished me simply by opening up the pages of books. I have tried to communicate my enthusiasm for literature and the written word, certainly through the reading rainbow work, but through most everything I do.


Candace Lindemann, Naturally Educational: What do you believe is the biggest obstacle to near 100% literacy in our country and what steps can we take to address this?

LeVar Burton: Lack of political will to get it done. We are at a remarkable opportunity point with the intersection of technology and education…I believe if we fail to put a tablet in the hands of every child we will have failed in the biggest opportunity presented to mankind in the modern era.


Crystal Rapinchuk, Surviving a Teacher’s Salary: What inspiration has shaped your passion for education?

LeVar Burton: My mother, Irma Jean Christian. She was my first teacher and she taught me how to read. My mother read not just to me, she read in front of me. It is that example, more than anything else, that is really responsible for my relationship with the written word.

Crystal: Did you ever dream that reading rainbow would span so many generations?

LeVar Burton: Reading Rainbow was originally a summer program, designed to address the summer loss phenomenon…a child right when they are cracking the code, if they don’t read over that three month break, their reading comprehension skills suffer. The idea was in the 80s was that was where kids were hanging out in front of the TV. So, let’s go back to the point of purchase and steer them back in the direction of the written word. The fact that we continued to be on the air for 26 years is amazing to me.


Kyran Pittman, Planting Dandelions: Any insights on boys losing interest in reading as they move up through the school system?

LeVar Burton: Boys are notoriously difficult to hook. And, you’re right, the distractions are myriad these days. I think it is really important as a parent to remember to connect your child’s passions to the literature in the world about that particular passion. If you want your kids to read, give them reading material about whatever it is they love. If your kid is so into video games that that occupies a large part of his world and that is his passion, then I would suggest incorporating reading material around that universe of gaming.


Niri Jaganth, Mommy Niri: How can we use books to make children more comfortable with their differences…and to make multiculturalism a part of daily life? How to raise kids in a multicultural society and normalize multiculturalism?

LeVar Burton: Living in a multicultural society is something we are all faced with in this world. The world is getting smaller and the population is getting more brown. I think, in years to come, we will all blend into a nice shade of cafe au lait and that wouldn’t be a bad thing. Because multiculturalism is a prevalent part of our world these days, I know there is an attendant body of literature, addressing all age groups, about what it means to be multicultural and have those unique qualities all come together in a single entity, in a single human being. The best thing you can do to raise a multicultural child is to let them know how special they are and that their uniqueness goes far beyond the color of their skin.

One more thought: There’s a lovely science fiction television show called Star Trek, which really does espouse the values and virtues of a multicultural society that is based on one’s ability to do the job and how everyone is not only welcome but necessary for society to function in a sustainable way. I’m a big fan of Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future because it presented a world that I actually wanted to inhabit. It is crazy to have grown up and become a part of that storytelling ethos.


About the Reading Rainbow App: We are a mobile library of books and videos for kids who are learning how to crack the reading code. We are a subscription model for $5-10 / month, you have unlimited access to our library of over 300 book trips, and growing, and over 75 video field trips, and growing. We give kids an opportunity to find literature that they want to read based on themed islands. You are in the cockpit of your hot air balloon visiting these islands in the sky. We are most proud of is our Nat Geo Kids island, which has books and videos from National Geographic Kids [so] kids can become the next generation of explorers.


Disclosure: As a National Geographic Kids Insider I receive special access and the occasional product sample. I receive no monetary compensation as part of this program and have no obligations to National Geographic Kids as part of this program.

Photos by Christy Solberg/National Geographic

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  1. says

    Is it bad that I can still hear him saying “But you don’t have to take my word for it”. He has always been such a great role model for kids and glad to see he is at it again.

  2. says

    Oh how wonderful! Congrats on your new partnership and whoo hoo.. that means we also get a sneak peek into the doings of National Geographic for kids! Thanks for sharing the interview and inspiring info 😉

  3. says

    I was just scanning over your pictures in this post before I read it and I was like, “Hey, I know him!” I don’t actually know him-know him but because I was a Reading Rainbow addict I feel as though I know him. He’s a terrific guy promoting literacy for over 30 years, wow!

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