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  • An Educator and A Blue Dog Wow Pre-Schoolers

    by Sybil Maimin

    Can a degree in education lead to a glamorous job? You bet! Alice Wilder, Ph.D. in educational psychology from Columbia University's Teachers College, has the challenging and fun position of director of research and development and writer for "Blues Clues," the very successful Nickelodeon preschool TV series. An adult who sometimes "feels like a kid inside," she learned research techniques at Teachers College, took courses in how children see and respond to television, and did her dissertation on "theme comprehension," or how youngsters recognize the major points of a story.

    At "Blues Clues," she combines her academic background and skills with a natural impulse to create a practical, interactive experience for pre-schoolers. At Blue (for the uninitiated, Blue is an adorable, floppy-eared, cartoon character, blue dog), she is in charge of researching each of the scripts, essentially by conducting focus groups of two- to five-year-olds. In three separate steps, a concept in story form, based on a curriculum she co-authored, is presented to several children. As she sits on the floor with them and asks questions and observes responses, Dr. Wilder analyzes the impact of the story and how it fits the show's stated mission to "empower, challenge, and build self-esteem of preschoolers while making them laugh." For her work, she goes to Head Start programs, public schools, and private day care centers; about 100 children see a segment before it is aired during a nine-month development process. The learning is designed to be relevant to children's lives; Blues celebrates the ordinary by making it extraordinary. Dr. Wilder also writes ancillary books, educational workbooks and magazine columns, and, together with the "Blues Clues" writing team, was recently nominated for a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Children's Series.

    With 10 to 12 million weekly viewers nationally and internationally, the show has an enormous impact and its developers a tremendous responsibility. With her strong academic background in education and psychology and equally strong creative bent, Alice Wilder is showing that an interest in children and education can take you far.

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