Arthur: The World's Favorite Aardvark
Based on the children's books by Marc Brown, Arthur is an animated series for 4- to 8-year-olds that premiered in 1996. The series details the sometimes comic, sometimes emotional adventures of Arthur and his family and friends through engaging stories that explore issues faced by real kids. The series' goals are to help foster an interest in reading and writing, and to encourage the development of positive social skills.
Arthur was one of the first ongoing animated programs based on a book series when it premiered. Since then, it has been among the most popular children's programs on television and has garnered a wide range of awards, including the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award and three Daytime Emmy's for Outstanding Children's Animated Program. In fact, in 2002, TV Guide ranked Arthur among the "50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of All Time."
The Arthur series is supported by a wide range of educational materials, which are accessible from the Web site. And of course, the Arthur book series is a wonderful addition to any class library, allowing you to take advantage of the popularity of the programs to encourage your students to read.
Using Arthur Programs in the Classroom
Arthur's immense popularity is a boon for teachers. Librarians across the country have reported how difficult it is to keep Arthur books on library shelves, and young readers who learn to love books through Arthur may then be eager to explore other titles. In the classroom, teachers can use specific programs from the series to either discuss issues relevant to their students' experience or use as a motivator for other literacy-based activities.
With over 100 programs, Arthur has touched on virtually every childhood issue you can imagine. You can read descriptions of all the episodes and check when they are airing locally on the Web site. Educators have one-year taping rights, so you can feel free to tape programs and use them in your classroom. Many Arthur episodes are also available on video if you'd like to add them to your school library. Because each half-hour episode has two stories, plus a live-action interstitial, you can easily show an 11-minute Arthur story to your students. The range of possible topics is extraordinarily wide. Below are some examples but you should peruse the episode list to find the programs that would be most useful in your classroom.
Reading and WritingThe producers of Arthur have made a consistent effort to show the characters reading and writing throughout the series. In addition, there are many episodes that focus on different aspects of reading, writing, and communication. For example, Arthur can't decide what to write about in "Arthur Writes a Story." In "I'm a Poet," Arthur and his friends write poems to be judged by famous poet Jack Prelutsky (who guest stars). In "D.W.s Library Card," D.W. gets her own library card and rejoices in the world of books it opens up. In "Fernkenstein's Monster," Fern tells a story so scary that Arthur and the gang become afraid of her, so she sets out to prove her skills as a writer and create a different story that's fun instead of frightening. And in "Prunella's Special Edition," Prunella orders an early copy of the new Henry Skreever book, only to discover when it arrives that it is in Braille. Luckily, she meets Marina, who is blind and can read Braille, and who offers to read the book to Prunella.
The Arthur Web site offers a number of teachers' guides to help you use Arthur to motivate your students to read and write. Learn to Read with Arthur focuses on reading, Story Writing with Arthur on writing stories, and Arthur's Guide to Media Literacy on yet another important aspect of literacy. In addition, Arthur's Communication Adventure helps students think about the varied ways children communicate, including those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing or who are blind or visually impaired.
Staying HealthyIf lice have recently appeared in your school, help your students understand what they are and how to avoid them by showing "The Lousy Week." A related lesson plan and family take-home materials (in English, Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, and Vietnamese) are available in the Hooray for Health teacher's guide, which includes units on lice, asthma, dental care, and dealing with feelings. Other health-related programs include "Buster's Breathless," focusing on asthma; "D.W. the Picky Eater," "The Good Sport," and "Arthur Takes It Off," targeting nutrition and exercise; "Arthur's Tooth," about dental care; "Jenna's Bedtime Blues," about bed-wetting; "Arthur's Eyes," about glasses; and "Binky Goes Nuts," about peanut allergies. You can use any of these episodes with your class or in small groups to talk about health-related issues.
Dealing with FeelingsMany Arthur episodes deal with the emotional side of growing up. These stories focus on the day-to-day challenges of getting along with friends and family, providing opportunities to talk about conflict resolution with your students. For example, in "Sue Ellen and the Brainosaurus," Sue Ellen and the Brain are paired up for a class project, and Sue Ellen expects them to work as a team. However, the Brain is worried about anything threatening his perfect A. How can they work together? In "Arthur and the True Francine," Muffy cheats on a test and lets Francine take the blame. After watching these programs, students can use dramatic play and discussions to think about different things they could do or say in similar situations. Students often find it easier to problem solve when the focus is on the Arthur characters rather than on their own actions. You can find other activity ideas and related readings about emotional issues in Hooray for Health.
In addition, several parent guides supporting children's emotional and social health are available on the Web (in English and Spanish), "The Ups & Downs of Friendship," "Feeling Good about School," and "Sisters and Brothers: Working Things Out." Another Resource, "Helping Our Children Feel Safe" was developed to accompany the "April 9th" episode, in which Arthur and his friends have a range of unexpected emotional responses to a fire at their school. All of these booklets feature read-aloud stories based on Arthur episodes, as well as background information, strategies, and recommended readings.
Using the Arthur Web Site in the Classroom
Like the show, the Arthur Web site targets 4- to 8-year-olds with activities that support the educational goals of the program: literacy and the modeling of positive social and problem-solving skills. The site's structure is designed to allow young users to navigate easily and independently. While many features are designed to promote independent play, with a wide range of online and printable games and activities, the site also features a wealth of information for educators, parents, and caregivers.
In addition to the teachers' guides mentioned earlier, the site includes over 100 episode-specific activities for preschool and early elementary children that build school readiness skills with an emphasis on early and emergent literacy. You can access them through the link above if you are looking for activities in a specific category - e.g., art, creative thinking and problem solving, dramatic play and creative movement, language and literacy, math, music, etc. - or you can look for activity connections to the programs you are using in the episode list.
The Web site also has a number of online games that you can use to support your students' literacy development. For example, Fern's Poetry Club allows kids to explore what poetry is, write some of their own, and read poems written by other kids. The Effective Detective challenges kids to pay attention to descriptive words. In Story Scramble, kids need to put a story in the right order, helping them understand the importance of the beginning, middle, and end. And your whole class can use the Playmaker to put on a play based on "D.W. Gets Her Library Card." Also, if your students have favorite Arthur characters, they can check out their favorite books to encourage them to try new authors.
In addition, you may want to use other games and features to support different aspects of your curriculum or your students' social development. For example, in About Face, kids have to figure out which facial expression reflects how a character is feeling, and in You've Got to Be Kidding, users try to solve real-life problems by choosing the best advice. You can also use the international card game called Connect the World to introduce students to the idea of global awareness, an area you can delve into more deeply using the Arthur's World Neighborhood teacher's guide. And finally, music has played a strong role in the Arthur series since its inception, with guest appearances from musicians as diverse as Yo Yo Ma, Art Garfunkel, Rodney Gilfrey, and Taj Mahal. The Web site includes a number of music-related games, and a new teacher's guide, Arthur's Music Jamboree, features a range of music activities for preschool children.
After more than 25 years as a book series and almost 10 years on television, Arthur is an enormously rich resource for teachers. With a wealth of episode themes, interactive games, and a whole library of teachers' guides for preschool through grade 2, the series and Web site offer teachers lots of fresh ideas to excite students and engage them in fun, educational activities.
Published: February 2005