As Nana-in-residence, I am on the cutting edge of TV shows designed for 5-7 year olds. And I have to say, they sure don’t make them like they used to. By which I mean, like the television buffet at which I stuffed my little self, back in the day.
My faves included Romper Room, Captain Kangaroo, Miss Frances’ Ding Dong School, and Soupy Sales. SO easy on the gray matter! Oh sure, if you paid close attention there might be a life lesson hidden in the otherwise bland and unchallenging plots of these shows (share your toys! eat your vegetables!)—that kind of thing. But it was mostly pratfalls and pies in the face (especially for Mister Sales). When I wasn’t viewing human performers, I was hooked on Looney Tunes, which really was an ultra-violent series of cartoons; the hapless characters were always being blown up with TNT and flattened with anvils. The lesson here was…well…I guess… don’t hold a lit stick of dynamite? SCHOOL was where you learned stuff, not your living room, for Heaven’s sake!
That all began to change with the advent of Sesame Street in 1969 (by then I was 13 and had moved along to Peyton Place). Now TV taught you your letters and numbers and that monsters were goofy and not very scary after all. The next generation watched Electric Company and Schoolhouse Rock (I still check out reruns to refresh my understanding of how a bill is passed). And who can forget LeVar Burton’s Reading Rainbow? Even gentle Fred Rogers regularly toured peanut butter factories and the like. Children’s entertainment now came with a heaping helping of learning.
By the time Aiden and Peter appeared on the scene, it seemed like every single show had significant educational value. For a while there the boys watched Super Why (get it? “Why”?) which involved straightening out the mixed up plot lines of fairy tales (I think, I didn’t pay close attention). Now their favorite is an animated series called Octonauts. They love this show with a fervor matched only by Grateful Dead fans, replaying episodes endlessly. But the thing is, the adventures of the Octonauts (a group of intrepid underwater explorers interacting with a huge variety of ocean creatures) are filled with nuggets of knowledge. Little Peter can chat about sea anemones, narwhals and decorator crabs so eloquently, that he could lecture at any college of marine studies (though he’d need a chair to reach the podium).
Add all this televised enrichment to the jam-packed curriculum of even kindergarten, and it’s a wonder their brains don’t explode. But modern kids take it all in stride, expertly riding the tidal wave of knowledge that is our techno-world.
Sometimes I wish the pace would slow down a little, and that schools would bring back naptime. That ain’t gonna happen. So on we go, happily enough I guess.
But wherever she is, I bet Miss Frances is glad she didn’t have to tackle trigonometry in Ding Dong School