Thursday, September 29, 2011

Children's Television

Experts say that babies shouldn't watch television; that we don't understand TV until we are two. However, all the parents I interact with allow their children to watch TV well before that age. I personally feel like if you interact with your child during the watching, it isn't all that different from reading together or going to a story time or music class. Does that mean I sing along with the TV every time we put it on? No. But, I also think that a little vegging is okay, and a little TV distraction is helpful when you need to pee, make lunch, brush your teeth, etc.

When Natalie first came home from the hospital, I spent almost all of my time in her room. Between nursing, sleeping, and interacting with her when she was wake, there wasn't much reason to leave her room. But after a month or so, we ventured out to the living room for her to use her play gym, and that is when I started to watch TV again. Part of the reason was that the winter days were so lonely and quite being with just Natalie and the noise of the TV helped. When she was awake, I put on mostly kids shows, and I watched GSN and America's Next Top Model reruns when she napped. As she was awake longer and more aware of the TV, I left on kids shows more and more. When she started really crawling, I started to limit the amount of time we had the TV on in favor of exploring and playing, but we still wind up with the TV on for more hours a day than is recommended. I sometimes feel horrible about this; for example, when Natalie is standing about six inches from the screen and is totally oblivious to us calling her name. But, even on really bad days when the TV is on for 6 hours, Natalie is not watching it the whole time and spends just as long with the TV off.

The Channels:
  • PBS - This channel has shows for young children on in the mornings all week. PBS is the home of Sesame Street, but they also have other great shows such as Thomas and his Friends, Word World, Between the Lions, Calliou, Martha Speaks, Super Why, Sid the Science Kid, Curious George, and Barney. One of the best things about PBS is there are no real commercials. Before and after each show a couple minutes are spent talking about the sponsors, but even a flashy sponsor like Chucky Cheese, who you might not want your kids to know about, are low key.
  • Sprout - Sprout is PBS on cable / satellite. They play many of the regular PBS shows (Sesame Street, Thomas, Barney, Calliou) as well as many other shows some of which are international. Some additional shows on Sprout are Zoboomafoo, Brenstein Bears, and The Wiggles. They have limited commercials, but the commercials are real commercials. You'll see some aimed at adults (like Montel Williams advertising lending services and Your Baby Can Read) as well as ads for toys. There aren't any ads for junk food, though. Perhaps the best thing about Sprout is the four blocks of programing that make up the day: Wiggly Waffle, Sunny Side Up Show, Sharing Show, and Good Night Show. These all have hosts in some form and small segments in between the shows. The Good Morning Show is by far the best because it is LIVE seven days a week and they celebrate birthdays. We also like the Good Night Show. It is a nice way to add a little pre-bedtime routine. The segments on the show are short; about five minutes with the host, then ten to fifteen minutes of a show. It is great for saying, "Bed time is when Thomas is over" or "We'll take your bath when the sprout stretch is through."
  • Nick Jr. - We used to watch almost all Nick Jr (expect for Sesame Street). There are no commercials. Maybe every hour or so you will see a 15 second segment about hand washing or safety that at the end says "brought to you by" so-and-so, but that is it. Because of the lack of commercials, the shows run short. In between shows Moose and Zee are the hosts. There are puzzles (like the memory card game), music videos, short stories, short segments of other shows (like Pokoyo), and segments where Moose and Zee talk about shapes, letters, numbers, animals, manners, holidays, seasons, or directions. Nick Jr plays many of the shows found on Nickelodeon (Dora the Explorer, Yo Gabba Gabba, Max and Ruby, Team Umi Zoomi) as well as some older shows that used to be on Nickelodeon, but are no longer being made (Franklin, Little Bill, Little Bear).
  • Nickelodeon - Like PBS, Nickelodeon only has shows for young child part of the day, mostly in the morning. The rest of the day is cartoons for older kids and live action shows for tweens. Nickelodeon also has the commercials aimed at kids for toys, food, and clothes.
  • Hub - Hub is a new channel. The morning line up is for small children. Natalie and I watched once and it was strange, kind of like Teletubbies. We haven't gone back. But, they do have Fraggle Rock, which we've watched a few times since I love anything related to Jim Henson. The later in the day, the older the viewers, including a pretty great evening line up for adults. This channel has family movies, too. We saw The Muppets Take Manhattan a couple weeks ago. This channel has commercials just like any station.
  • Disney - We barely ever watch Disney because we are used to shows on other channels. Its out there, but I don't have much to report on it having only watched a few times, mostly Handy Manny.  Most of my other mom friends do watch this channel and Micky Mouse Club House is the most popular. 
  • Cartoon Network and Boomerang - People usually think that the cartoon channel is for little kids. We have never watched anything on CN with Natalie. The only shows we've watched with her on Boomerang are Smurfs and Snorks. These channels are for older kids (and adults who love cartoons). 
  • Baby Development - In January of 2012 we got a new baby channel through Direct TV.  It has some great programs for babies (if you choose to let your baby watch TV).  I like the night time programing the best.  It is a lot of soft music, combinations of colorful and black and white images, and animals and scenery.  There are also shots of a person drawing with marker and pastels and with sand.  Both very cool to watch as an adult.  The day time program is more like what you would find on Sprout.  

Our Absolute Favorite Shows:
  • Sesame Street - I LOVE Sesame Street. The writing is very funny and the topics covered in the episodes are quite cohesive. For parents who haven't watched since they were kids, the formatting is quite different now. Only the first 15 minutes or so are a live action skit. Then, the orange monster Murray is the host who leads you through the letter of the day, the number of the day, and the various smaller segments like Murray has a Little Lamb (my favorite), Bert and Ernie's Great Adventures (claymation sadly), Abby's Flying Fairy School, and others. There are hilarious parodies of TV shows for the parents. And the last 20 minutes is Elmo's World. While Elmo is not my favorite muppet, I do love this segment. Elmo focuses on one topic a day that he wants to know more about, and he then uses interviews, internet, videos, books, friends, and TV to find out more. It really is a great segment for teaching about the art of learning and curiosity. I also love Elmo's use of puns and idioms relating to the topic.  I feel like the more I watch, the less the focus on reading and numbers.  But, instead, the focus has moved to science concepts (like experimenting, amphibians, simple machines, and rainbows). 
  • Play with Me Sesame - Play with Me Sesame is schedule (at least in our area) to air right after Sesame Street, but over on Sprout. In this show, Bert, Ernie, Prairie Dawn, Cookie Monster, and Grover lead you through various games, videos, and songs. As the name suggests, its designed to be interactive and is a great show for getting kids singing, moving, and playing along with the TV.  There isn't much about letters and numbers, but you will see a lot about music, opposites, and social skills. 
  • Yo Gabba Gabba - While Parenting Magazine praised Yo Gabba Gabba, they also claimed it wasn't very educational. I disagree to some extent. You won't learn much about reading, math, or science from this show, but you will learn about dancing, music, and social interactions. I'll admit, when I first turned in on after hearing about it on the Free Beer and Hot Wings show, I was skeptical. The intro music starts out weird and DJ Lance's smile is so big its creepy. But the Yo Gabba Gabba friends are likable, the music is fun, and the lessons are real for toddlers (though humorous for adults). Lessons include "Don't bite your friends," "Try it, you'll like it," "You can't always get what you want," and "You gotta wait in line;" these are all song titles, too. There have also been many fun celebrity guest appearances (my favorite being the Jack Black episode), some of whom are musicians, that make it more fun for adults.  And, Natalie has learned from this show.  Mostly notably, she learned about birthdays, washing her hands, and actually will say "okay, I try it ... I like it." 
  • Ni Hao Kai-Lan - I avoided Kai-Lan at first. I thought for sure that she would be wooden and annoying like Dora. I also thought the main purpose of the show was teaching Chinese. But, that is not the case at all. Ni Hao Kai-Lan is really about feelings and social interaction. There are a few Chinese words each episode as well as some Chinese culture, but the show isn't weighed down buy it. The characters are mostly animals, but they are very much like toddlers and preschoolers. Sometimes when Kai-Lan asks, "Why do you think Rintoo did that" and he just said why, it can get annoying, but 3 and 4 year olds need that to help process their feelings and others.  Natalie actually talks back to Kai-lan saying yes and no, and she repeats a lot of the Chinese words.  
  • Super Why - Super Why is a new like in our house (winter 2011).   Its a great educational show because it features reading skills like spelling, letter recognition, rhyming, and reading.  It also showcases many popular fairy tales.  The characters are fun, too.  Natalie loves Super Why because he is a super hero and Princess Presto because she is a princess.  Nice predictable format to the show, too. 
Other Great Shows:
  • Team Umi Zoomi - There don't seem to be many math shows out there, so Team Umi Zoom has a great niche.  Each episode the characters need to solve a problem using basic math skills like counting, adding / subtracting, measuring, patterns, and shapes.  The characters are likable, the adventures fun, and sometimes there is some music.  Also, Joe from Blues Clues is one of the voices!  Not surprising when the show offers lots of opportunities for the viewer to answer questions and "help."
  • Dinosaur Train - Why didn't someone think of this sooner? Put dinosaurs and trains together and you get the ultimate show for little boys. But, what is awesome is that this show does not come off as just a boy's show. The show focuses on learning about the different features of dinosaurs and scientific process (hypothesises are big on this show), but there is usually a life lesson as well. These lessons range from listening to your body when you need to poop to dealing with a new sibling. An over arching theme of the show is adoption or blended families, since one of the main characters is adopted. 
  • Wonder Pets - This show is just cute.  The animals are cute.  Most of the songs are cute.  Sometimes there are fun and funny parodies (like the Beatles, Fiddler on the Roof, and ET).  The format of the show is very predictable, making it very toddler friendly.  Each episode starts the same and has a couple of the same songs.  The solution the the problem is almost always presented earlier in the show.  While this show mostly teaches problem solving, team work, and social skills, it also showcases a large variety of animals and music genres. 
  • Blues Clues - I have a hard time saying what it is that I love about this show.  I think a lot of it is the personalities of the two hosts, first Steve, and then later Joe.  I also like the idea of finding the clues to solve a question.  A big part of this show is participation both in finding the clues to answer the big question, but also in all the small segments.  The end result is praise from Joe and Steve about being smart.  I really like that positive focus on the viewer. 
  • Between the Lions - This show the new Reading Rainbow, but with more of a focus on how to read. Each episode shares two or more books, and usually they are books you can get out of the library in your own town. The show is split in half, usually with one book for each half and one letter / sound for each half. The characters on Between the Lions are mostly muppet type puppets. There is plenty of humor for adults. I am particularly found of the music videos about letter sounds. Chicken Jane cracks me every time, too. This show is really for kids learning to read, not learning the alphabet, but we watch it if we are home because I like it.
  • Zoboomafoo - This show on Sprout is my favorite animal show.  Its live action, and each episode shows the hosts interacting with several animals.   Some of them are very wild (like bears or lion cubs), and others more tame (like horses or dogs).  Its also got a fun spirit. 

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