Kwame Alexander Creates WORDPLAY Digital Writing Series

Friday, August 21, 2020 Children's

How do parents keep education informative and enjoyable during COVID-19? With an increased need for distance learning and homeschooling, parents are feeling anxious and burned out, and the school year hasn’t even started yet. Thankfully, one solution is using the fantastic surge of educational content for kids recently published online. There is Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library read-alouds, for instance, and Random House and Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House Home Adventures. Newbery Medal–winning author Kwame Alexander is adding himself to the list of kid lit authors providing resources for distance learning, co-creating WordPlay with education tech company Age of Learning, Inc.

A ten-episode digital series, Alexander described WordPlay as “a masterclass for kids to learn about writing” aimed at children in Grades 3–7. The episodes go live in early September and will be accessible through Age of Learning’s educational game Adventure Academy. The game—available to families on computers, tablets, and smartphones— expands children’s proficiency in language arts, math, science, and other topics. Once WordPlay becomes available, Adventure Academy has learning activities in-game to accompany each episode.

According to the press release, the series is “designed by a team of learning experts to help students become active, independent storytellers,” and “each episode will depict Alexander overcoming common challenges of the storytelling process with the help of his diverse group of friends.” Those friends include Randy Preston and Toni Blackman, who teach Word of the Day through musical vignettes, as well as guest stars such as Maulik Pancholy and Samantha Berger. Each visiting writer will help Alexander demonstrate different aspects of the process such as creating characters, using metaphors, and establishing a sense of mystery. Another segment involves story enactments from The Pajama Drama Club (named by Alexander’s daughter), showcasing three kids who dramatically and humorously perform book plots.

Promotional image for Kwame Alexander's WordPlay. Used with permission from Age of Learning

At a recent virtual screening, Alexander explained that his main mission with WordPlay was to make writing cool. He described the series “as a culmination of 20 years of work” from touring schools and speaking to children about reading and writing. “How do we get them excited about telling their own stories?” he asked. So, maybe you are wondering—does the show succeed at its goal?

The answer is an enthusiastic yes. Watching the first episode, it made me think of an updated, writing-specific Mister Rogers for older kids. It focuses on writing outlines and Alexander’s energy, charm and engagement envelopes each moment he’s on-screen. This will be especially helpful for kids who are struggling with dry online learning. Experiencing Alexander’s love of language, however, is sure to inspire kids to put pen to paper or fingers to keys. Additionally, the show’s fast-pace and the comic and graffiti style graphics make it feel extra relevant to kids.

Reading about writing can be stuffy, but Alexander suggested at the screening that fun must be emphasized. “It’s about words and it’s about play, so let’s bring them together,” he explained. Adventure Academy’s game format reduces the gap between the two concepts.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to be challenging for parents and their children’s education. Before, parents could choose to homeschool, but now it has become necessary for many school districts to shift to online only learning. Therefore, parents are homeschooling without prep time or teaching experience, and still need support from teachers and educators. Part of what makes WordPlay beneficial is its development by the Curriculum Team from Age of Learning (made up of educators, child development experts and researchers).

Combining Alexander’s enthusiastic hosting style and the skills gleaned from his literacy-lovin’ helpers, this series will edify homeschoolers and distance learners alike.