Like every normal toddler in a western society, my CFd1 watches a lot of television. Like every normal set of parents CFM and I try to pay attention to the shows she is watching. Like every normal member of generation X we are being told at every juncture that too much screen time will rot our child’s brain and enthrall them into the service of the Lord of Darkness. Like every child of the eighties I laugh at that claim.
I have nothing but respect for CFM. She has chosen a great line-up of shows for our 3yo to choose from. I thought I would go through the list and give you my thoughts about a few of the shows. These are all shows that have the CFD seal of approval (not that you need my approval). For each of them I will give a short explanation, then address three elements: What a child is likely to get out of the show, how the show engages or encourages equality and whether I enjoy the show personally as a parent.
Let’s get started!
My Big Big Friend: This is a gem that I found one day and was hesitant to try. I was turned off at first by the art style (the icon of Golias reminded me too much of Spongebob), but CFd1 was insistent, so we gave it a whirl. I’m glad we did. It centers around three children, Yuri, Lilly and Matt who each have an imaginary friend. Yuri has an elephant named Golias, Lilly a Giraffe named Nessa and Matt a kangaroo named Bongo. It’s good fun!
The formula for the show is straight-forward: One of the children is presented with a problem, social or developmental, the child is then swept into a world created by their imagination with his/her Big Big Friend (and usually the others) where they learn lessons to help deal with the problem. The problems range anywhere from having to finish dinner before one can go and play, to having to take a karate class instead of the ballet class one wants, to having to wait for popsicles to freeze before one enjoys them, to the heartbreak of having to move away from one’s friends to a new place. One element that I especially love about this show is that many times the lesson the child learns is simple empathy for others. To show a child how his/her actions affect others and have them understand how it makes them feel? This is huge to me.
As far as equality goes, there may be a couple of issues, but for the most part it seems to score well. Lilly is often portrayed as the bossy girl, which is a little bit of a trope. However I don’t think it is ever explicitly stated that she should let the boys be in charge. If anything, Yuri and Matt go along with her pretty willingly most of the time. Yuri is a kind, sensitive little boy with a sweet demeanor, and Matt is a pretty standard depiction of a boy on TV, haha. I don’t get the impression that gender roles are being pushed onto the viewer, but as with all of my thoughts on equality I am open to correction. The Big Big Friends mostly go along in step with the child which has imagined them.
The show doesn’t bother me at all. I love watching it, to be honest. It is good fun and the lessons are valuable. This is a good standby for when another show is making you want to rip your hair out.
Sarah and Duck: Sarah and Duck is another imagination-heavy show that concentrates on a child (Sarah) in the world her mind has created. Sarah has befriended a quacking little companion and has all sorts of little adventures with him. It is a fanciful show that provides laughs as well as good, quiet fun.
It isn’t really an educational show, though a child can learn from it. It is very low-key and quiet, which will definitely appeal to introverted children and parents alike. Children are likely to come away from S&D with a desire to entertain themselves, exploring and imagining without the aid of a lot of noise or social company. There may be some concern about the fact that Sarah seems to live alone without any parents, but I just chalk it up to her being in her happy imaginary world, and our never seeing her real world. It’s just fanciful and very book-like.
There isn’t much to say about equality here. While the narrator is male and often does wind up directing Sarah from place to place, it is usually in the form of suggestions that Sarah already had in mind. Sarah disagrees with him on occasion and he goes along with it. He is very good-natured and very British.
I love watching this show! Nothing about it annoys me at all. It is great before-bedtime material due to its quiet, calming nature.
Wild Kratts: The brothers Kratt have been in the business of producing children’s educational programming for decades. In this, their latest incarnation, they’ve opted for animated versions of themselves going on crazy adventures in various ecosystems around the world. Shuttled from place to place by their mother-ship, the Tortuga, the two zoology fanboys are accompanied by three tech experts as they learn about various members of the animal kingdom.
This is a show by the Kratt bros., so you can guarantee that it is about animals. The two men use their “creature suits” to gain the powers and characteristics of the animals around them as they learn more. Typically each episode features a villain with the goal to destroy or take advantage of the ecosystem for their own selfish ends, and the Kratt team is tasked to stop them. The message is an environmental one alongside the lessons about various animals.
I was struck by the portrayal of the interactions between the men and women in this show. The Kratt brothers obviously have a deep respect for the technical skills their female co-workers possess. The bros approach everything with excitable child-like wonder and enthusiasm and often times have to be reeled in by the more level-headed women on the team. Surprisingly to me, this was a bit of a turnoff for CFM, though I think I can understand why. From some perspectives it would be easy to pick up from this show that men are irresponsible and childish and women should expect to have to babysit them. The non-Kratt male on the team is a video-game playing teenager who enjoys pizza and napping, although he also shows a kind and compassionate side. It’s a toss-up, really. Watch it and form your own opinion.
I wouldn’t say I’m annoyed by the show, but it’s not one I would sit and watch like the other two I’ve mentioned. I’m really not much into zoology. CFd1 enjoys it and I have no objections to it.