After I had a kid, I started to notice a disturbing trend. Everything for children, it appeared, had to have some sort of educational application. For example, Genna watched Noggin, a channel for kids with no commercials. (Yay for Noggin!)
When we began watching it, I was entranced by the cool, peaceful programming, the little moose who introduced the shows. A few months later, however, the Noggin channel began sticking up a list of Learning Objectives for each show.
Certain shows were easy. Dora the Explorer "Exposes children to foreign language and cultures" as well as "Teaches elements of counting and reading." The problem was, Genna didn't LIKE Dora. She thought the show was too predictable; she preferred 64 Zoo Lane, which featured different animals talking in British and Australian accents having different adventures.
The Learning Objective for 64 Zoo Lane was "Children will learn about inter- and intra-personal relationships." Now, you can just tell they were reaching with that one.
My fear is that we're heading towards a didactic future, where entertainment is like some children's stories from the Victorian Era. I'm talking about the type that featured Frightful Fritz and The Good Herbert. My lord, they were boring.
I'm not certain that a story has to teach a lesson. I think kids just want a story and loads of adventure with it. Furthermore, while they are reading that story, they will learn something about intra-personal relationships, whatever that is, as well as a host of other things. They will learn a lot of vocabulary (studies show that kids who read are exposed to tens of thousands more words than kids who don't) as well as the workings of language.
All of that will just happen naturally.
I'm not knocking educational toys and books and shows; I just don't know that they ALL have to be that way. And I'm afraid that if they are, kids will get turned off to books that hit them over the head with an obvious message.
With that in mind, this week I'm going to discuss several books from my childhood that exposed me to the magic of storytelling and made me want to become a writer. Feel free to suggest some in the comments section.