For the past twenty years LSUS Provost and Humanities Scholar Dr. Helen Taylor has worked with the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities (LEH) on their Prime Time Family Reading Time program. In light of the pandemic, the program has added a new feature that brings the joy of children’s books to families worldwide—a podcast.

Acting as a facilitator, Dr. Taylor leads discussions with disadvantaged families about children’s books and how they can prompt open-ended discussions. The six-week program includes 90-minute weekly sessions, and the families who participate receive the books that they read together.

“It encourages families to use children’s picture books to talk about ideas,” Dr. Taylor said. “The program helps develop critical thinking skills and promotes family bonding.”

The LEH recently obtained a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities which funded a series of podcasts through WWNO Public Radio in New Orleans based on the methodology of the Prime Time Reading Series.

“The series of podcasts allows the panel of humanities scholars to explore themes in children’s books,” Dr. Taylor said. “We had a lot of fun discussing ideas and showing how families could use open-ended, Socratic questioning to explore children’s books in a fun way.”

“Socratic questioning is a teaching method based on asking questions,” Dr. Taylor explained. “Instead of lecturing, the teacher asks questions, and follows up with further questions based on the answer. So, the student ‘discovers’ the answer in an interactive way instead of being given the information. It’s active learning as opposed to passive learning.”

Various longitudinal studies commissioned by the LEH have shown that children who attend the Prime Time program have improved scores in math, reading, and science. The podcast creates accessibility to be enjoyed by families all over the country. Though the program is designed to benefit children, the methodology was created with parents in mind.

“The podcasts offer parents a way of talking about books so that children become lifelong learners,” Dr. Taylor said. “It shows how the simple tool of the question can help children dig deeper into stories and models a curiosity about ideas which help children in different kinds of learning situations.”