Thursday, June 30, 2011

Sid the Science Kid

My first post of a show not in my header... come on, you know you're impressed!

Today we're looking at Sid the Science Kid. This show is a Jim Henson production. Yes, the very same Jim Henson who came up with the Muppets on Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, etc. However, this is a very different animal than your run-of-the-mill Muppet show. Sid the Science Kid is 100% CGI, or Computer Generated Images. (And now you know what CGI means if you didn't already!) The other thing this show is... motion capture. This is initially what creeped me out about the show, and why I didn't start watching it until recently. MoCap rubs me the wrong way sometimes. But, after watching it for some weeks now, my son has fallen in love. It still took me watching the "making of" video before I could stand to watch it.

See, now you feel better about it too. Science is fun. Or you may be more freaked out than before seeing Sid as a skeletal machine around a tiny woman, I don't know.

The story follows Sid, "the kid who wanted to know everything about everything", as he goes through his day. We start out usually in Sid's home with his parents and younger brother. Sid stumbles upon a scientific problem and asks his parents about it. They start his lessons by giving basic information, like a parent usually does, but then it's time for Sid to go to school and con his teacher Susie into making her lesson plans all about what he wants. I will interject here that one of the things that still bugs me is that apparently Susie never has her own lessons planned and lets the kids do whatever they want. As a former teacher myself, I know child-led learning is important, but so is having lesson plans. I guess it works for her though.

Sid rides to school with his mom, and finds his friends Gerald (pink skin), Gabriella (curly red hair), and Mae (glasses). He then introduces his idea of the day to them, and they follow along in wanting to learn all about it. Susie calls everyone in for "rug time" with a song, and they share what they want to learn about. Susie then leads them in a scientific experiment, encouraging the kids to observe, compare, contrast, and write in their science journals. The show usually interjects film of real kids performing the same experiments and writing in their journals here. That's a feature I really like, because it shows your child that they can do these very same things at home on their own. After this, the kids invite her to sing a song for them about their daily topic, she invites them to play with their new ideas outside, and then Sid's grandma picks him up from school. Sid's grandma usually shares a story on their ride home of some time in her past that she had experience with the topic which Sid is learning about. They get home, play with his family for a little while, and then Sid gets ready for bed and reminisces about his day and what he has learned.

This show is aimed at kids in high levels of preschool all the way through elementary school. The appeal is obviously there for younger kids too, as my two year old enjoys the singing, dancing, and fun voices of the characters. Kids older than elementary may find this show a little on the slow side though.

The program airs on PBS channels, which is available with any basic over-the-air television. Check your local listings for times and channels. There are also plenty of DVDs available for travel and non-air time watching.

The educational value of this show is pretty obvious. It teaches your child about the scientific method, and about how our world works. Your child will also likely walk away with some big "science" words like "estimation", "hypothesis", "experiment", and so on.

What your child learns:
  • Science: How to follow the scientific method, testing, experimenting, journaling their experiences, making guesses, how the world works, nature, astronomy, inventions, testing, compare/contrast, asking questions, and science terminology.
  • Social and Emotional Development: Family bonds, being a good friend, listening to a teacher, caring for the world around them, feelings and empathy.
 As a parent, really the only thing that draws me to this show is knowing the science behind it (see video above). Other than that, I do enjoy that they show real children doing the things the animated characters are, so that it makes the program easy to relate to. It also gives me great ideas for things to do with my future homeschooling. As a child watching, the bright colors, happy animation, and fun personalities of the characters are attractive, and for the most part, younger kids won't be able to detect that they're actually learning something by watching. It's worth a watch or two. As long as it doesn't make your skin crawl.

Monday, June 27, 2011


Caillou (pronounced "kai-you" for you newbies... don't feel bad, I called him "kally-oh" at first) is one of those shows that you either love it, or you hate it. I will openly admit, initially I was in the "hate it" camp. However, what I like and what my two year old likes are sometimes two different things. And so, I watch Caillou. He's not as bad as I once thought.

Caillou is a four year old boy who experiences things in life. Caillou has a family consisting of a mom and dad (whose names are not expressly mentioned, however upon digging I found out they are technically named Doris and Boris... I don't blame them for not sharing) and a two year old little sister named Rosie. We also meet Caillou's grandma and grandpa, who I have deduced to be his dad's parents. He also has a pet cat named Gilbert. Depending on which season you watch, you may or may not encounter puppet characters based on his pet and favorite toys (Gilbert and toys Rexxie and Teddy). Caillou attends "play school" aka preschool, and has several friends, including Clementine, twins Jason and Jeffrey, and Leo. He also plays with his older neighbor Sarah on occasion.

For the most part, the show's design follows the original books' layouts in terms of look. Borders of the screen are blurred in a way to mimic illustrations in the books, and the colors are almost a watercolor effect. The show is narrated by an older woman, as if she were reading a story. In the newer versions, the stories themselves are broken up by songs about siblings, friends, and helping... that sort of thing. However, in older versions there are generally two or three stories that are interconnected by topic.

The show itself isn't deeply educational. Caillou learns things about his world in much the same way your child does. He goes places with his parents, he learns things in school, and he just lives life. Most of the lessons your child will take away are those dealing with friendships and the way the world works. He also encounters different people doing different jobs around the city: police officers, postal workers, firefighters, construction workers, etc. Caillou often imagines himself in these roles as well.

One thing I hear a LOT of my parent friends complain about when it comes to Caillou is his voice. During the newer seasons, the voice actor changed, and with that change came a change in the character of Caillou himself. The newer voice actor makes Caillou a lot more whiny of a child than in older years. Along with this, his parents seem to dote on his whines a lot more than they used to, which as a parent watching, can really make you want to reach through the screen and remind them that they are indeed the parents and therefore the parties in charge. They really don't need to cave into what their four year old is demanding of them.

Another often-heard complaint I hear about Caillou is that he is bald. I did some digging on my own (back when I was dying to know what his parents' names were), and found out that the reason behind Caillou's lack of follicles is because that the series is based on a series of books in which Caillou is actually younger than his television counterpart. Younger children tend to have less hair, and therefore, in keeping with the book style, TV Caillou has no hair either. While it's a valid explanation, I still think they could have given him at least a tiny hint of hair, like Charlie Brown, who at least has those strange bangs.

The show does a great job of showing tight family bonds, something I'll admit I don't see a lot of in kids television. The family genuinely likes spending time with one another, and Caillou loves playing with his little sister. Is it realistic? Not a chance. But, as we often tell our children, it's fun to pretend.

Caillou is shown on both PBS and Sprout channels. PBS is available on basic television, while Sprout is only available through cable or satellite providers. Check your local listings for times and channels. I know for a fact that currently Sprout shows an hour of Caillou daily at noon (including weekends) EST, followed by Sesame Street. There are also lots of Caillou DVDs, many of which are available on Netflix instant play. 

What your child learns:
  • Social and Emotional Development: Empathy, caring for friends, neighbors, and family, learning about emotions, valuing family.
  • Learning about Society: Different jobs, places to go, how to stay safe in public, school life.
  • Fostering Imagination: Pretend play, dress up, picturing the future, etc.
There isn't much else I can say about Caillou except that my son is utterly and inexplicably drawn to this program. Recently, putting Caillou on my Netflix instant was the only way to derail a massive "Daddy left without me" tantrum. I'm not sure if it's the soft watercolors, the soothing grandma-esque narrator, or what, but it worked. As a parent, it's not my favorite show, but I'm getting to the point of tolerance after a year and a half of watching it. You may not be so lucky, so consider yourself warned. Your child may just fall in love with it to spite you. Good luck.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Imagination Movers

Ah, the Imagination Movers. Four of the coolest guys in children's television, hands down (sorry Wiggles). We had the privilege of seeing them in concert and having floor seats. They definitely understand that just because it's a kids TV show, that doesn't mean you can't be fun for the grown-ups watching too. In concert, they played snippets of songs by Aerosmith and Kiss. Enough said. If you want to see what a concert of theirs is like, I'm linking to my personal photo album for your enjoyment (yes, they even let you bring in cameras!). Now, on to the show itself.

Imagination Movers is a live-action program about four guys, Dave, Rich, Smitty, and Scott, who have a business in which they solve problems for others. They also have a neighbor Nina, who originally worked down the hall for her Uncle Knit Knots (who was later phased out of the program) but now works as a photographer for the local newspaper. There is also a puppet, Warehouse Mouse, who is only understood by Smitty, and sometimes helps solve problems... and also causes a few of his own. Along the way, the Movers sing songs about various subjects, including how to "Brainstorm"... "Reach high, think big, work hard, have fun!" Their music is more of an Alternative Rock style than your plain old kids music, so more fun for the adults to listen to. I have four of their CDs, and not just for my son.

Each of the four Movers has their own special tool to help them solve problems. Rich, the drummer, has magical "scribble" drumsticks, with which he can draw his ideas or make notes in mid-air. Scott, who plays keyboards and mandolin, has "Wobble Goggles", which he uses to see through walls, doors, and other various objects to help him get a better focus on the problem at hand. Dave, the bassist, has a magical hat that holds endless items and his own inventions to help with problem solving. Smitty, the guitarist in the cowboy hat, has a magical journal that acts as a sort of Wiki for any topic they might need more information about during their quest to solve a problem. Nina isn't usually armed with any particular tool (although sometimes she comes equipped with her camera), but she helps solve problems using just her own common sense. In fact, for all the work she does, it's a wonder she's not "Mover Nina" by now. They really ought to have her on payroll at this point.

There are also a slew of guest stars on this program, who portray characters in need of the Movers' assistance. My favorite was "Baker Ben", played by TLC's Ace of Cakes himself, Duff Goldman, who needed help remembering the recipe for his "best muffins ever". Duff even got to rock out with the Movers on a couple songs. Tony Fatone was also seen last season as a baseball player who had a game at the same time as his own son's birthday party.

Their music, as I've mentioned, is more in the style of Alternative Rock. However, they do have songs in other styles, spanning from rap, Irish folk music, country, and ballad. The topics of the songs include days of the week, animals on the farm, how to not be afraid of the dark, mixing colors, loving your mommy, and being a good friend. The lyrics are fun, upbeat, and catchy. In fact, I'd guarantee that you will be humming them long after the show is over.

Imagination Movers is exclusively on the Disney Channel, usually during the Disney Junior lineup. Disney is a channel that is only available through cable or satellite providers, so please check local listings. As far as I'm aware, they don't have many DVD's (I'm only finding two on Amazon), but they have six CDs dating as far back as the days before they were discovered by Disney.

Part of the appeal of Imagination Movers, for me, is their past. The foursome is from New Orleans, Louisiana. Dave Poche, Rich Collins, Scott Durbin, and Scott "Smitty" Smith all have cool pasts that they share openly with their fans. They are all survivors of Hurricane Katrina. In fact, Smitty was a firefighter who helped rescue people during the floods. Scott is a former elementary teacher. Dave was an architect, who has designs all over the Louisiana skyline, including ones for the rebuilding effort. Rich was previously a journalist. The group originally came together to write songs for their own children (Smitty is the only non-parent of the group), and to "brainstorm" a new kind of kids program for local television. They were so popular locally, that they popped up on Disney's radar. However, even now that they are a Disney product, they still made a point to film exclusively in their hometown of New Orleans. They were even given the honor of singing the National Anthem at several of the Saints football games.

They definitely take the time to thank their fans, and acknowledge that they wouldn't be where they are without them. Their Facebook page is always packed full of behind the scenes pictures and videos for the fans. During the concert, each of them took the time to come out to the audience and give kids high fives and head pats (my son got both from Scott!). They also have a website with information on upcoming tours, merchandise, band info, pictures, a fan club, and more. I think it's neat that they behave more like a band than kids television stars, as it gives kids their own rock idols without parents having to worry about what messages they take away from the music they're listening to.

What your child learns:
  • Problem solving: How to think a problem through, coming up with solutions, and implementing ideas.
  • Music education: Singing along, different musical styles, dancing.
  • Social and Emotional Development: Being a good friend and neighbor, caring for animals and the environment, feelings and emotions.
  • Health: Eating healthy foods, exercising, going outside to play, using your body.
This show has a much more broad demographic than other kids shows. With the musical overlay, it appeals to even young infants. In fact, for a few months of initial teething, Imagination Movers was the only thing that would calm my son down as a fussy baby. The problem solving aspect can range from early preschool years all the way into the elementary years. The music itself is perfect for any age (as even I rock out to it on occasion). 

While education isn't the main focus of the program, there are lessons hidden in the fun antics of the Movers and their music. I think this delivery makes learning more fun for kids, because as the Movers remind us, having fun is part of learning, and you learn more when you're having a blast doing it. As a parent, the Movers know from personal experience just how annoying some kids music is, and they work hard to make their music fun and enjoyable for us too. I adore them (and have a little bit of a mom-crush on Scott and Smitty, haha) and my son loves dancing to their songs. What more could a parent ask for? Rock on!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Handy Manny

Handy Manny is another show that will teach your child Spanish. The format is slightly different than Dora, in that Manny uses his Spanish in conversation, and then repeats exactly what what was said in English. Manny is also far less loud, demanding, and annoying than Dora too, so far more tolerable for parents.

We actually started watching Handy Manny while I was still in the hospital after having my son. At 36 hours old, my son wasn't super interested. But, having limited channels to choose from in the hospital, Disney seemed the most entertaining, and so Manny became a part of our family. As my son got older, Manny became a staple character. We have several of the toys already, and he squeals "It's Manny!" with joy when it comes on our TV. However, viewings of Handy Manny have become fewer and further between because of the reformatting of Playhouse Disney into Disney Junior. Disney Junior will soon be its own channel (slated for a 2012 introduction), so hopefully having a 24 hour lineup, Manny will reappear in our house more often.

Handy Manny is about a handy man, named Manny (obviously) who lives in a town called Sheetrock Hills (which I can only guess is somewhere on the West coast, since he can drive to the ocean and the desert). He is voiced by Wilmer Valderrama, aka Fez from That 70's Show, which is one of the things that drew me to him in the first place. Manny has a box of talking tools: Pat the hammer, Dusty the saw, Squeeze the pliers, Rusty the monkey wrench, Turner the flat head screwdriver, Phillipe the Philip's head screwdriver, Stretch the tape measure, and more recently Flicker the flashlight. Manny makes a point that while each tool has a special job to do, they must work together in order to get the job done "todos juntos". He is usually called up to fix something for someone in town, and the tools end up learning a lesson about themselves or working together while doing the repair.

Manny also has several neighbors whom he fixes things for and interacts with. Mr. Leonard Lopart has a candy shop next to Manny's repair shop on the town's main street. Some parents thing Mr. Lopart is a "little light in the loafers", as he is not married, dotes on his cat Fluffy like a child, and has a strange connection to his mother. I just think he's an overgrown momma's boy. Mr. Lopart refuses Manny's help most of the time, even when he's obviously in need of assistance from someone with opposable thumbs (i.e., not Fluffy).

Then there's Kelly, the owner of the local hardware store that, while in a tiny storefront, seemingly has everything you could possibly want from even a Walmart. Her endless stock even impresses the tools (and upsets Turner, as well it should!). As a parent, I'm hoping for the day Manny and Kelly get to go on a date. Neither is married and they obviously have a lot in common. Besides, they could have the biggest conglomerate in Sheetrock Hills in their wedlock. However, I don't think the makers of the show are on the same wavelength as us parents. Sigh.

We also see Manny's grandfather "Abuelito" a lot of the time. Abuelito has stories of Manny's childhood, as well as that of his sister Lola (who we also see a lot of, Manny is quite the awesome uncle to her two children). We don't know why Manny doesn't have a mother or father, as they are never mentioned even in discussions of Manny's upbringing. We see a photo of Manny's mother once, but that's it. He never talks about her.

Other characters include the town's Mayor Rosa (yes, a WOMAN in charge, people!), Jackie the city worker, Mr. Kumar the china shop owner, Sheldon the shoe salesman, Carmella the town artist, and countless others.

This show is animated and is shown on the Disney Channel during their Disney Junior segment in the mornings. Disney is a channel that is only available through cable or satellite providers, please check your local listings for times and channels. However, there are several full-length Manny features available on DVD and BluRay, so even if you don't get him on TV, you can still easily enjoy Manny at your family's leisure.

While the show is intended for younger audiences, I think it will have broader appeal up into the early elementary school years because Manny isn't a child himself, and the situations he gets into aren't childish either. Also, I don't think you'll have to worry if you only have daughters, because there are plenty of female characters in prominent roles to provide good models for girls as well.

What your child learns:

  • Cultural Education: Spanish language, Hispanic holidays and festivals, festivals and holidays celebrated by other cultures, Hispanic culture.
  • Problem solving: How to work together to complete a task, which tool to use for what job.
  • Social and Emotional Development: Caring for friends and neighbors, empathy, feelings, caring for the planet by saving energy and caring for nature.
  • Mathematics: Measuring and counting, quantity differences.
  • Tool education: What each tool is called and what it does, when to use a tool, and how to take care of them. This is also more extended in the Disney shorts "Handy Manny's School for Tools", in which more tools are introduced but are not present in the main program. 
While this isn't the most supremely educational program out there, I do like the simple lessons it teaches as far as caring about the world and people around you, as well as the delivery of the Spanish language throughout the show. There is very little "the Spanish word for... is..." and more conversational Spanish while repeating the same in English. I think that makes it easier for younger audiences who are still working on their primary language. Manny is calm and level-headed, so I think that sets a good example for children to not be as excitable during times when they must use their brains to solve a problem. Such a lesson was even the focus of an episode where Manny is stuck in an elevator without his tools, and he reminds them that in an emergency, being calm is the first and most important step.

As a parent watching, you're not going to be annoyed out of your wits (except perhaps by the whining of Rusty the wrench, who is voiced by the guy who played Ray Romano's whiny cousin on Everybody Loves Raymond, as well as countless other whiny roles across television that you'd recognize him from). For the most part, the characters speak at normal levels and are even-keeled.

Overall, I enjoy Manny, as well as his growing list of special full-length episodes. My son likes playing with the talking tool box and his Manny doll (yes, my son has a doll), and when we manage to catch the program, he watches intently. It's a win in our house. Now if only it wasn't on at ungodly hours of the morning so we could watch it...

Friday, June 24, 2011

Dora the Explorer

Dora the Explorer... where do I start on this one? Well, first I will tell you that before I had a child and just had nieces and nephews, I swore up and down that my child would not watch this show. Dora was (is) annoying. However, that went out the window rather quickly, and not by choice. My son FORCED me to watch this show. He loves playing along with Dora's endless questions. I still think she's shrill.

Let's start with the basics of the program. Dora the Explorer is about a 5 year old Spanish-speaking girl named Dora who likes to explore the world around her. She has many animal friends. Boots the monkey (seen perched on her shoulder) tags along with her everywhere. There is also Benny the cow, Tico the squirrel (who only speaks Spanish), Isa the iguana, The Big Red Chicken, and a most-of-the-time foe, a fox named Swiper. I'll talk more about him in a moment. Other characters in the show are an anthropomorphic backpack and map, each with their own theme song when they are mentioned, and in newer episodes, smiling stars who have different talents and can be caught and added to Backpack's star pocket.

As far as family appearances, we only see Dora's on rare occasions. Dora's parents have only made a couple brief appearances, but her twin baby siblings have made a few (including an episode where they are born, interestingly enough at home!) and even have had a couple of their own dedicated episodes. We have also seen Dora's grandmother at least once, when she bestows the star pocket unto Dora and her backpack. We have also met a few cousins, including Diego who later gets his own spin-off. This is one of my little peeves with the show, because Dora goes on her adventures with no supervision. I know, I should chill because it's just a kids show, but it bugs me. There. I said it.

Dora is an animated series on Nickelodeon and Nick Jr. in several different and ever-changing time slots. Both channels are only available through cable or satellite providers, please check local listings for times and channels.

The format of the show is basically Dora encounters some sort of problem or obstacle, and must follow her map to get to a destination where the problem will be solved, while solving puzzles and completing tasks along the way.  Dora encourages children to play along with her, asking questions and pausing to give children time to answer for themselves. She usually has to read her map to figure out where to go (and to give the map a chance to sing its song "I'm the map, I'm the map, I'm the map..."), and she has to find an object in her backpack (and its song is "Backpack, backpack..."). The newer episodes she must also catch stars to put in the star pocket, one of which usually has a special skill that helps her out later in the episode. Also there is usually a chance to foil Swiper the fox from "swiping" something important on their journey by chanting "Swiper no swiping!" three times. 

Ah, Swiper. He deserves his own paragraph. Most of the time, he's just a plain old jerk. When he succeeds at swiping something, he doesn't keep it. He throws it away somewhere inconvenient for Dora and her pals to get to and laughs maniacally as he dashes off into the background. However, occasionally he has a heart and Dora helps him on her adventures. Usually these are the episodes where Swiper is the star and is charged with learning some heartfelt lesson. I think Swiper gets the short end of the stick. I mean, obviously he has a kleptomania problem, and the only help he gets is stern reminders not to do something he apparently enjoys? How fair is that? Swiper, I'm in your court buddy! You take whatever you need to take! Just don't be a jerk and throw it somewhere only the Spanish speaking squirrel can get to, okay?

This show is geared towards preschool aged children, but the bright colored animation appeals to a wider audience, both younger and older. I don't see it being much of a hit for kids older than kindergarten age though (whereas the spinoff show "Go Diego, Go!" might because Diego is older and the lessons are slightly more focused, but more on that in another post).

So, what does your kid learn?
  • Cultural Education: Spanish language and culture, including holidays and festivals.
  • Mathematics: Counting, patterns, colors, shapes, sorting, memory skills.
  • Problem solving: Making choices, answering questions, critical thinking, map reading.
  • Social and Emotional Development: Caring for friends, learning about feelings, taking care of our world, being a good neighbor.
As a parent watching, it's an easy show to get your child to interact with. Dora pauses to allow for the child to shout out their answer, and she (loudly) encourages your child to play along and even help by doing something themselves (flap your arms to help the chicken fly!). And yes, in case you missed that, I pointed out that Dora is LOUD. She seems to yell everything. I know it's just to keep a child's attention, but as a bystander, you're going to be reaching for the volume down button when this show comes on. My husband and I joke that she's an awfully demanding little child for being allowed to travel long distances unsupervised. That's my biggest peeve with the show, the volume. Other than that, I see the benefits of the program when my two year old shouts answers to Dora's questions. It's definitely one of the more interactive programs out there. It's still not my favorite, but I'm not the key demographic on this one.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sesame Street

My first evaluation is going to be of the old standby: Sesame Street.

We all know who lives on Sesame Street. The program has been around for more than forty years. 4-0. That's a long time. Kids who grew up on Sesame Street are now parents, and maybe even very young grandparents by this point. That's a great run for any program, let alone a children's show. I personally remember learning to read the words "Cat Food" from an episode of Sesame Street, as well as the "Longest Word" song for my alphabet. So for me, it's neat that my son gets to share in some of the same characters I loved while growing up.

Sesame Street is aimed at preschoolers. There are lessons on letters, numbers, counting, and caring for your friends and neighbors. Characters are both human actors, puppets (Muppets!), and animated.

The latest format of Sesame Street has segments that are more akin to short episodes of other shows. Such segments include "Murray Has a Little Lamb" (where Murray monster and his little lamb Ovejita (pronounced Oh-va-hee-ta) go to various specialty schools to learn about art, music, sports, etc.), "Abby's Flying Fairy School" (an animated segment, that has jokes such as "Zsa Zsa Gabor" being a magic spell word), "Super Grover 2.0" (it's Super Grover we all know and love, with a fancy new outfit and car, as well as the tagline that I find hilarious "Super Grover 2.0: He shows up!"), and "Elmo's World" (real Elmo in an animated crayon drawing of his imagination, which generally focuses on one subject), among other less frequent ones like "Bert and Ernie's Great Adventures" (which is claymation). These episode segments are intertwined with segments highlighting the Letter of the Day and the Number of the Day, as well as a portion focusing on some characters actually on the street.

Running time is about 48 minutes on average. While that seems long, the various breaks in the show help to keep a child's attention for the good majority of the show.

PBS stations generally show the newest episodes around lunchtime (12pm EST). Sprout also has instituted an hour of Sesame Street 7 days a week at 1pm EST, however Sprout is not a channel that is in all lineups, and does require a cable or satellite subscription. Check your local listings to find out exact times and channels.

One good thing about the Sprout version of the show is that Sprout has the older episodes. Some from as far back as the late 90's have been shown in the time I've had the channel. The cool thing about that is that the older episodes have little cartoons from even OLDER episodes, i.e. the ones I remember as a kid. The pinball counting to 12, the fireworks that spell out the alphabet, "It's Hip to be a Square", and Cookie Monster's rap about "Healthy Food"...all classics in my book. Even the old "Me Lost Me Cookie at the Disco" shows up from time to time... which may lead to some interesting conversations about what a Disco was.

Some of the old human actors still remain on the program and there are new faces as well. The characters Bob, Gordon, Maria, Geena, and Luis are all still "on the street", with occasional appearances by Gordon's wife and the deaf Linda. Gordon's son and Maria's daughter are both almost grown up (am I the ONLY one who remembers when Maria was expecting? I feel old!). Geena is now a veterinarian for all the animals on the street. New faces include Chris, who works at Hooper's store, Alan, who runs the local sandwich counter next to Hooper's, and Leela, who runs the local laundromat. My favorite human character is actually one of the newcomers, Chris. He's hilarious, and his acting is so fluid.

The Muppets have remained pretty much the same. Big Bird, Telly, the Count, Cookie Monster, Grover, Bert, Ernie, Elmo, Oscar, etc. All still there. My son tends to gravitate towards Elmo, as well as newcomer Murray of "Murray Has a Little Lamb", and who also acts as a host of sorts between show segments. The newer Muppets to the gang are Baby Bear, Rosita, Zoe, and Abby Cadabby, a fairy (although Baby Bear, Rosita, and Zoe have all been around a while now). The great thing about Sesame Street is that there is a character for everyone to love, and most likely your child will find one (or many) that they adore. Unlucky for you, the parent, is that fact that if the character your child loves happens not to be Big Bird, Ernie, Elmo, or Cookie Monster, your chances of finding anything with your child's buddy on it are slim to nil.

As a parent watching, it's easy to interact with my son when this show is on. It's easy to ask him questions about what he has seen, ask him what letter is on the screen, or count to the number of the day. Sesame Street has lately taken up having guests on the show. Some guests play characters... an example of which has to be one of my favorites, Neil Patrick Harris as The Shoe Fairy. Others just go over "The Word on the Street" (a segment that helps build vocabulary), and that list is already almost as impressive as Saturday Night Live's hosts... LL Cool J, Amy Poehler, Jennifer Garner, and Ty Burrell (TV dad Phil from Modern Family), just to name a few. Your kid may not care about these famous figures, so I'm guessing the guest stars are purely for Mom and Dad's enjoyment here. (Confession: I DVR'ed the NPH episode, and still watch it with joy several times a month.)

Now, the good stuff: what is your child actually LEARNING from this show?
  • Mathematics: Numbers, counting, shapes and colors, categorizing, and simple math functions such as addition, subtraction, and fractions.
  • Reading: Letters, the alphabet, spelling, and phonics.
  • Problem Solving: What should the characters do in a situation, seek and find, using clues to solve a mystery, answering questions, etc.
  • Social and Emotional Development: Caring for friend and cultivating friendships, learning about feelings and empathy, helping out, etc.
  • Cultural Education: Spanish words and numbers, learning about different heritages, races, backgrounds, and various holidays.
  • Music: Instruments and their sounds, songs, musical styles, and dance.
Overall, Sesame Street is a pretty all-encompassing standard in children's television programming. There's a little something for everyone, as well as a broad spectrum of educational redeeming value. As a parent, you'll probably find some parts annoying, and other parts highly entertaining. Your child will likely enjoy at least some of this show, no matter what age or stage of development they fall into. You also won't have to worry that your child will fall in love with it and have the show be canceled on them, so bonus points for longevity.

For fun behind the scenes looks at Sesame, check out the Sesame Street blog. (I wouldn't show that to the kiddos though, it might ruin their childhoods forever seeing that their favorite character is actually two grown dudes.)

Welcome to Confessions of a TV Mom

At age two, my son has done lots of things many might not think are "appropriate" for a toddler. He has attended two live concerts: Ben Folds and The Imagination Movers. He has gone camping in a tent. He has eaten peanut butter and honey. He has pets. He's had soda pop (although, to be fair, that was not my doing initially). He has been to the movies (and seen things rated PG13). He eats pizza and candy and chocolate, and loves every bite.

My worst parenting transgression of all? Television. He has watched almost every program that is out there for preschoolers. Nick Jr., PBS, Sprout, Hub, Playhouse Disney (now Disney Junior)... you name it, he's seen it. And just like any other human, he has preferences. Preferences that change almost monthly, but preferences nonetheless.

This blog is going to be a different kind of "mommy blog". I'm not here to judge parents for their choices, and I hope you feel the same way. Everyone does what is best for their own family. Period. However, for those parents that are looking for guidance on children's programming from the point of view of one of their own, I intend to provide that insight. I've seen a LOT of kids programming in the last two years. Some of it I didn't even know existed until we left the television on a certain channel longer than we usually did. Some shows are better than others, some more educational than others, and some achieve their lessons in more entertaining ways than others. I'm here to break it down for you. I will tell you how I enjoy the shows as a hapless bystander. I will tell you how my son enjoys the shows as a member of the demographic.

I will also admit that there are some shows out there that I like better than my son does. Sad though that is. There are some he adores that I would rather dig my eyes out with a rusty spoon rather than watch with him.

As I build the library of various kids shows out there, I will do my best to organize them by channel provider (as it stands here in the US, from where I am writing) and recommended age level. Some shows are shown on multiple channels and different time slots, and I will do my best to indicate that wherever necessary.

I'm also not a doctor, psychiatrist, or early childhood expert of any kind. I can't tell you which shows will make your kid smarter, nicer, or a more productive member of society. I also can't tell you which shows will make your kids fatter, lazier, dumber, or more obnoxious. So, take what I say with those grains of salt in your pocket, and we'll all be happier for it.

Thanks for reading and I hope feel that my posts are both entertaining and informative.