Following increased demand from parents and a growing number of kids requiring customized education services, First Media—the producer behind preschool network BabyFirst—is working on new content that will play out on its recently launched app for kids with special needs.
The first project is a mixed-media original designed to help kids who have difficulty thinking/focusing or are on the Autism spectrum develop routines such as brushing their teeth and getting ready to school, says Sharon Rechter, president of First Media. Aimed at kids ages three to eight, the series is in early development, and will blend live-action puppets and 2D animation.
During the pandemic, First Media heard loud and clear from parents of children with special needs about the challenges involved in teaching kids these daily habits, many of which are learned at school, Rechter says.
The show, which doesn’t have a title yet, is expected to launch in the second half of 2022 on both BabyFirst and the new iCan app (pictured) for three- to eight-year-olds with learning disabilities such as autism, ADD and ADHD.
This app soft-launched in April and features videos, games, printable activities and books to help its target audience develop socio-emotional, speech, math and life skills. It was designed by educational experts from UCLA, and an ad-free subscription costs US$5.99 per month.
Since launching BabyFirst in 2006, First Media has heard repeatedly from parents of kids with learning disabilities that the channel’s content—with its slow pace and relaxed tone—is resonating with their children, says Rechter. “We realized we could build that out.”
She points to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) showing that around 7.3 million (14%) of US students ages three to 21 received special educational services in 2019/2020. And importantly, the size of this group has increased by 1.2 million since 2009/2010.
In November, First Media plans to launch a new section on the app dedicated to feelings—a key issue for kids with special needs and their families, says Rechter. The new videos and games will cover topics related to identifying emotions and coping with them. First Media is also looking to hear from producers who are making content for kids with learning disabilities in order to build out its offering on both the app and the BabyFirst network.
“The next steps for us will be creating meaningful content that helps kids grow; giving parents tools for communicating with their children; and working with anyone in the industry doing the same,” Rechter says.