It’s hard to beat classic episodes of Sesame Street for timeless, near-universal educational appeal, but engineer and Adafruit Industries founder Limor Fried still saw an unmet need in the educational-video space. "We looked around and didn’t see an 'Elmo for engineering’ or a kid’s show that celebrated science and engineering," she tells Co.Design. "Every kid seems to have a cell phone or a tablet, but they know more about SpongeBob than how a LED works on the device or TV they’re watching, and we wanted to change that." So she and her team at Adafruit created Circuit Playground, a Youtube series that combines chirpy puppets with hackery know-how. Here’s the first episode, "A is for Ampere":
"If I had to describe what we’re going for," Fried says, "I would say we’d like to be 'Sesame Street meets Mr. Rogers meets Connections meets Peewee’s Playhouse meets Bill Nye.'" That’s pretty ambitious for a low-budget in-house production, but like those hit series, Circuit Playground does emphasize physical demonstrations and puppetry—a rather refreshing approach in a web-video landscape otherwise filled with flat motion graphics. As a design strategy for the show, it makes sense: How are you going to ever convince kids to get up the gumption to take apart a clock radio if your show takes place in an entirely virtual, antiseptic world where there’s no dirt, no breakage, no heft to anything?
Fried also tapped the educators on staff at Adafruit to help craft the show’s content and voice. It paid off: "After we released the first episode, we were immediately contacted by a few television networks," she says. The next episode is called, naturally, "B is for Battery." Fried says that the show is meant to be enjoyed by kids with or without their parents—"We know if we do a good job parents and kids will watch it together and their imaginations will spark"—but there’s nothing wrong with checking out an episode yourself. Let’s face it: Do you know how a battery works? Maybe you should.