Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Another old stand-by, Barney the big purple dinosaur. Barney is one of those shows you either love or hate. (And by hate, I mean WOW do people hate this show. I had no idea a show for children could be so vehemently disliked in my LIFE. Barney is apparently quite polarizing!) Believe it or not, next year Barney's show turns 20 years old, although the Barney character is even older than that, as initially Barney was a straight-to-VHS program. After the success of the video series, the show was produced for television and aired in 1992. 

The original format of the program was focused around a group of kids at school, whose stuffed dinosaur friend magically came to life to play with them. The ages of the children ranged from kindergarten to around fifth grade, and even an 8th grader came in from time to time (one of the younger girls' sister). Usually the kids were playing together after school, albeit without any adult supervision until Barney shows up. Then songs would be sung, lessons about bugs, homes, friends, and family would be learned, and Barney would become a stuffed toy once again when it was time for them to all go home. Some latch-key program, huh? The show is always closed with a singing of the "I love you, you love me, we're a happy family...." song we all know.

Later on in the series, the location shifts from the school itself to a tree house, which is supposedly outside of the school, and then to a local park and rec center shaped like a train caboose. In more recent episodes (although according to online sources, the show has not been produced new since 2009), the kids are even mostly phased out and Barney's dino friends take center stage. 

Barney's friends have been added slowly over the years. Baby Bop, the green dino, is a three year old girl, and has been around mostly since the start of the series. She also had some appearances on the original video series. She is known for having a yellow blanket that she adores and sings about, and wearing ballet shoes all the time. BJ the yellow dino is added about 6 years into the series. He is the seven year old brother of Baby Bop, which is interesting because he's obviously a different breed of dinosaur. (I know, minor detail, gotta suspend disbelief, yadda yadda yadda...) BJ is noted for pretending to be a superhero called Captain Pickle. Finally, towards the end of the series, Riff the orange dino is added. He is apparently a 5-6 year old cousin of BJ and Baby Bop, and loves to play music (I'm assuming the reason for his name). Towards the end of the series, the three friends of Barney become the focus of the series, with only occasional interaction with real children, and as a parent, I am not a fan. Originally, it was the imaginations of the children who brought Barney to life, and without them it's just another cheesy show with people in costumes.

Many of the songs from the Barney catalog have remained throughout the series. Baby Bop's "My Yellow Blanket" song, BJ's "I'm Captain Pickle", the "A Home is a Place to Live In" song, and of course the "I Love You" song are all standards that you will recognize from early on. 

The show is more of an educational program as well. It focuses on various topics, such as shapes, bugs, art, music, reading, and so forth. Sometimes, due to the fact that there are kid actors, the lessons come off a little preachy, and your child may get bored with those parts of the program. However, the characters break into song, and attention is once again grabbed.

Barney also still tours live, most recently with Sprout's Sunny Side Up Show mall tour, which we got to see come through Cincinnati late last summer. 

I think I was more excited than my son was, although he did shake Barney's hand (second picture). By the way, just for the record, I have lost 15 pounds since then. Thankfully.

Barney can be seen on your local PBS channel as well as on PBS Sprout. PBS itself is a free over-the-air channel while Sprout is a channel that is only available through a cable or satellite provider. As always, be sure to check your local listings for times and channels. There are hundreds of Barney videos and DVDs available as well, and I'm sure CDs. In fact, the Barney merchandising was quite feverish in the 90's for those who may have been too young to notice/remember/care. There are toys and accessories galore available for purchase by parents.

What your child learns:
  • Mathematics: Shapes, counting, simple addition and subtraction.
  • Art: Colors, how to use various art materials, how to make costumes and toys out of household materials.
  • Social and Emotional Development: How to be a good friend, empathy, feelings and emotions, how families are different and the same.
  • Reading: Alphabet, small sight words, Mother Goose rhymes, rhyming words, spelling.
  • Science: Bugs and their life cycles, animals, various simple experiements.
  • Music: Different instruments and their sounds, songs to sing along with.
  • Movement: Exercise ideas, dance.
  • Cultural Education: Spanish language and culture (more in earlier episodes when two of the girls were Mexican), countries around the world and their languages, cultures, and traditions (more in the later episodes).
Barney is a diverse show, and they make a point to make sure that many different cultures, ethnicities, and family styles are represented. It's a show that also teaches children to love one another and treat each other the way they want to be treated. Even if Barney bugs the crap out of you, that's a lesson I'm sure we all want our kids to learn.

Children of many ages will likely enjoy Barney as well. He is brightly colored and an upbeat, happy dinosaur, as are his other dino friends, so even the youngest children will be attracted to him. There is also a lot of music, which is fun for the little ones as well. However, even though older children are often depicted on the show, I don't see it being of much interest beyond the first years of grade school, if even that old. Barney has a somewhat childish reputation, so your older child may feel like it's more "for babies".

As a parent watching, I'll admit, there isn't much for us to like. The kid actors are remedial at best for most of the series, and there's very little if any adult supervision shown for us to relate to or interact with. The premise of the show is one of the more fanciful ones as well, so it might be tough for parents to get on board. You either have to have grown up with Barney, or have a very high tolerance for mundane children's songs and situations. If you fall into neither category, then I suggest you skip it, although it is one of the more educational programs. I, for one, like the older versions of the show much better than the more recent ones, but I can tolerate it for the most part if I tune it out. As you can see from the pictures above, I'm also not above giving a hug to a happy six and a half foot purple dinosaur either.

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