September 1, 2008

What to make of Children’s Television.

The Chicago Tribune ran an article today detailing that, for the most part, the perennial children’s television favorite Mr. Rogers will be mostly off of the air in the United States for the first time in nearly forty years.  Fans, of course, are upset by this, stating that preschoolers need exposure to the simple, uncomplicated show and claiming his lessons are still wholly relevant.  The show airs on my PBS channel at 6am and I’ve had the opportunity to watch a few dozen episodes as I’m getting out of bed.  While I like Mr. Rogers for nostalgia’s sake (I remember watching it on PBS when that and sesame street were the only children’s television options), I agree with PBS’s decision.  The show to me seems outdated and not really relevant to today’s under six set.

Actually, I find it more upsetting that the fantastic show “Between the Lions” is buried at 6:30 on my local PBS station.  It’s a great show geared to pre-readers and early readers and does a fantastic job tackling the introduction of letter sounds, sight words and storytelling, but I suppose I’m digressing a little bit.

Overall, I think it’s time for Mr. Rogers to make the final departure from the airwaves.  Other shows are doing it as well and with a focus on today’s society (I remember  watching a show with Mr. Roger awkwardly using a computer.on a show that aired a few months back.  For the average preschoolers, computers aren’t asides, but real parts of family life and the only people in their lives who use them awkwardly are probably their grandparents, though even most of my peers parents are fairly computer savvy).  Of course, children don’t need to be exposed to computers on a t.v. for a show to be good or relateable, but that’s just a portion of why it’s time to make space for something different.

Littlebit is finally getting to the age where she’s enjoying a little bit of t.v.  We don’t encourage much watching, but I know I’m not the only parent on the planet who turns to t.v. a few times a week, for entertainment or distraction.  Littlebit prefers the Wiggles and Hi-5, but will occasionally watch my favorites; Max and Ruby and Franklin.  The educational values of these shows aren’t that high (particularly MY favorites), but Littlebit dances and jumps and bounces to the songs on the Wiggles and Hi-5 and even if she’s not learning about the letter V and the number 27, she’s at least active, waving her hands and arms in synch with the show.

What shows are doing it well?  That’s more difficult as I’m not sure that there are many that are.  I suppose the wide variety of available shows lends itself to a reduction in quality.  PBS’s 24-hour children’s programming channel Sprout peppers “good” programming with questionable offerings like Noddy, Jakers, Pingu and (lord help us) Boobah.  Sprouts “musical mornings”.  PBS kids, children’s programming on your regular PBS channel, seems a bit more weighted to the educational featuring Word World, Super Why, Cyber Chase (for the older set), a healthy helping of Sesame Street, World Girl and Fetch with Ruff Ruffman. (Nickelodeon’s educational content is even more questionable with Disney channels Playhouse Disney being the worst of all, with Mickey Mouse Clubhouse the really only reasonable  edutainment offering in the morning pre-school line up.

Why is this important?

“The bottom line is that
content is key — high-quality educational programming can have a
positive effect on children under age 6,” said Dr. Dimitri Christakis,
a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in

I’m not that sure that Boobah would be considered high quality educational programming…..and, as an aside, Noggin (Nickelodeon’s preschool channel) offers that shows such as Max and Ruby and Franklin help children develop “inter-personal and intra-personal skills’, is this just a cop out to get enganging cartoons for the young set accepted as educational programming??

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