Tag Archives: PBS Kids

Elinor Wonders Why—teaching biomimicry to children aged 3 to 6 years old

This new US Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) series for children was first announced a year in advance in a May 29, 2019 PBS news release,

Today [May 29, 2019], PBS KIDS announced the animated series ELINOR WONDERS WHY, set to premiere Labor Day [September 7] 2020. ELINOR WONDERS WHY aims to encourage children to follow their curiosity, ask questions when they don’t understand and find answers using science inquiry skills. The main character Elinor, the most observant and curious bunny rabbit in Animal Town, will introduce kids ages 3-5 to science, nature and community through adventures with her friends. This new multiplatform series, created by Jorge Cham and Daniel Whiteson and produced in partnership with Pipeline Studios, will debut nationwide on PBS stations, the PBS KIDS 24/7 channel and PBS KIDS digital platforms. 

The stories in ELINOR WONDERS WHY center around Elinor and her friends Ari, a funny and imaginative bat, and Olive, a perceptive and warm elephant. As kids explore Animal Town, they will meet all kinds of interesting, funny, and quirky characters, each with something to teach us about respecting others, the importance of diversity, caring for the environment, and working together to solve problems. In each episode, Elinor models the foundational practices of science inquiry and engineering design — including her amazing powers of observation and willingness to ask questions and investigate. When she encounters something she doesn’t understand, like why birds have feathers or how tiny ants build massive anthills, she just can’t let it go until she figures it out. And in discovering the answers, Elinor often learns something about nature’s ingenious inventions and how they can connect to ideas in our designed world, and what it takes to live in a community. ELINOR WONDERS WHY encourages children and parents to ask their own questions and experience the joy of discovery and understanding together.

Starr Rhett Rocque’s Sept. 7, 2020 article for Fast Company offers more detail,

Elinor Wonders Why is a STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics]-based cartoon series created by Daniel Whiteson, a physicist and astronomer, and Jorge Cham, a cartoonist and robotics engineer. They’re both parents of small children, so they understand how to encourage curiosity through science and how to break down complex concepts.

Cham and Whiteson have been partners for years, working together on PhD Comics, which is a webcomic, YouTube, and podcast universe dedicated to PhD student humor. Linda Simensky, head of content for PBS Kids, had been a fan of their work, and when the opportunity to create a preschool science show that focuses on biomimicry came up, she figured they’d be great for the job.

“Biomimicry is basically taking things that you learn in nature and in the outdoors and in the natural world, and using them for inventions and for innovation science,” says Simensky. “The classic example that they use in the pilot is how Velcro was designed. Basically, it was inspired by someone getting burdock stuck to his pants, and that’s what inspired Velcro, so that’s the classic example of finding something in nature that solves a problem that you need to solve in real life.”

Elinor Wonders Why centers around Elinor (named after Cham’s daughter), a curious and observant rabbit living in Animal Town who goes on various adventures. In the upcoming premiere, Elinor plays hide-and-go-seek with her friends and finds out how animals hide in nature. …

Rocque went on to interview Cham, Whiteson, and Simensky,

FC: Describe the overall process of “dumbing down” highly sophisticated content for a younger audience. Was it harder than you thought?

JC: There was definitely a learning curve, but fortunately everyone at PBS, our team of science and education specialists have been great collaborators and guides. We don’t really believe in the phrase “dumbing down.” …

DW: Something important for us was to make each episode about a single question that a real kid would have. We looked for topics that any typical kid would think, “Huh, I do wonder why that is?” The kinds of questions they might ask when they look at their own world, like, “Why do birds have feathers?” or “Why do lizards sit in the sun?” It’s also important for us that the kids in the show play an active part in finding the answers, so we pick questions that kids could answer themselves using basic scientific thinking and simple tools, simple experiments, making observations, and comparing and contrasting. This made the questions and answers accessible, and also hopefully provides a model for them to follow at home.

LS: The part of it that’s the hardest is getting everything to work for the same age group. That’s the first thing. So, when you’re doing that, you’re doing several things at a time. You’re coming up with the idea for the show and you have to make sure that you know exactly who your age group is, and in the case of Elinor, it’s kids between the ages of 3 and 6. That’s a typical preschool group, and that includes kids who are in kindergarten, and even within 3 to 6, that’s obviously a pretty big range of kids. …

PBS does have an Elinor Wonders Why website but some of the materials (videos) are restricted to viewers based in the US. As for broadcast times, check your local PBS station, should you have one.