Monday, April 18, 2011

Frightful Fritz and The Good Herbert

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.


Hart Johnson said...

My kids are a little older (almost 16 and 12) and I don't remember ever being hit over the head wth SPECIFIC objectives, but I would agree that they often try to hard, and the ones where they DO can become preachy and annoying. Then a lot of the mindless drivel was ALSO annoying (think SpongeBob). When I was home (hubby was primary parent) we watched a LOT of movies. Some of the movies had lessons (A Little Princess, for instance was full of lessons) but because they took the time for the story development, it never came across the screen like an anvil.

I think those shows that try too hard can turn kids off from the topic if we try to force them.

Alison DeLuca said...

Exactly. Lessons do develop naturally in good children's lit, and A Little Princess is a great example. In fact, all of Burnett's books were great reads - if only she had written more!

Fiction for the Soul Books said...

My daughter is now eight. When she was younger she did enjoy Dora, and Ceebeebies, but her most favourite was Scooby Doo (to the point of pulling my hair out of my head). Now she enjoys a story with a moral and she is always quick to tell me what the moral was, however she also likes to watch just for the sake of watching. (the latest Johnny Bravo). She avoids watching anything with puppets.

Johanna Garth said...

Ali, my kids refer to commercials as programs. As in, "I saw an interesting program on that cereal the other day. Did you realize it's magically delicious?" Aaaah!!! Lack of commercial television viewing has left them wide-open for commercial brainwashing.

Alison DeLuca said...

Genna used to LOVE the Zoo Pals "show."

Krista McLaughlin said...

I'm studying Child, Adult and Family Services currently and I agree that we shouldn't be forcing such "educational" shows or toys on children. Kids learn through those things, but they also learn by their parents talking to them, having make-believe play, getting a chance to play with other children and explore.

Some of the books I read growing up didn't really have an educational theme smacking me on the head. I loved reading The Babysitters Club and Nancy Drew. But at the same time, I remembering reading "The Giver" and learning so much about our world, but it wasn't a boring educational book. It was captivating! It's important that kids read some of those books, but we should just let them read what they want and give them choices to read good quality literature. :)

Anonymous said...

My daughter loves watching Nickelodeon's NOGGIN channel because Dora The Explorer. She is a huge fan and I really enjoy Dora being a role model for my daughter. I like the fact that we get TV everywhere with DISH Network's Sling box. As a DISH employee I can tell you that DISH is the only TV provider that offers all your channels you get at home, on-the-go. Go to for more info.

Alison DeLuca said...

I'm saving this post as my first spam ever! Anyone for baked beans?!