There's a lot to recommend the ZOOM Family Film Festival this weekend, December 3-6, at the Wexner Center, and the fact that you're encouraged to show up Saturday morning in your pajamas for cartoons and cereal is the least of it. Well, you're encouraged if you're a kid. If you're not, you can still show up thus uniformed, but the results might not be as cute.
When I recently posted about toddlers and computers, I got a lot of great feedback, more than anything else I've posted, and some encouragement to keep posting about the issues of kids and technology.
Fine with me, because that happens to be a special interest of mine. A couple of years ago, I spent a summer as an instructor at a technology camp, and since I mostly taught the youngest group of kids, ages 7-10, I had plenty of opportunities to see how children interact with and use computers. Without a doubt, the biggest lesson I took from it is that kids are much, much smarter with technology than we give them credit for. All they really need is the equipment and a push in the right direction. The rest they can figure out for themselves, and they generally will surpass your expectations.
I had returned from Nigeria not entirely convinced that the XO laptop was quite as wonderful an educational tool as its creators claimed.
I felt that a lot of effort would be needed by hard-pressed teachers before it became more than just a distracting toy for the children to mess around with in class.
But Rufus has changed my mind.
With no help from his Dad, he has learned far more about computers than he knew a couple of weeks ago, and the XO appears to be a more creative tool than the games consoles which occupy rather too much of his time.
As worthy as the OLPC project is, there's also the perfectly valid point that there are plenty of young people here in "First World" nations who still don't have access to computers. Next post on the topic, I'll suggest some options for them.
Here's my personal recommendation to all parents, aunts/uncles, educators, etc. who might possibly consider buying one of those cute play laptops for toddlers in their lives this holiday season: don't.
Even if I haven't already long been of the opinion we adults generally underestimate what children are capable of understanding, it's a fact that kids today are incredibly technologically sophisticated. Chances are, they, even at age three, are used to seeing the adults around them with notebook computers, smart phones, PDA's and other gadgets. They'll know and resent it if you try to give them fake versions of these, which is exactly what this NY Times article (via Marginal Revolution) says.
Instead of toys, I suggest giving them a go on a real computer. It doesn't have to be fancy - you can get one for cheap or maybe even free on Craigslist or Freecycle. But considering a how huge a role computers and technology are going to play in the lives of the next generation, doesn't encouraging them to learn and experiment with the real thing make sense?
If you're worried about damage to the computer (even if it is a cheap or free one), there are programs like AlphaBaby and BabySplat that let babies and toddlers have fun pounding on keyboards without hurting files, and also PixelWhimsy, which is slightly more advanced, but still allows a comfortable platform for children to understand how computer input works. There's also Toddler Keys, which disables all the potentially dangerous keys and gives kids free rein on the others. All of those are free downloads, by the way, the first one for Mac and the others for Windows. There are also scores of worthwhile educational games (take the little one to the Apple Store to test drive some for free, or try the library), and websites toddlers can participate in with a little help.
You don't need the fake, expensive toys that you'll have no use for in a few years. The kids in your life are good enough for the real thing.
In case you need me for the next few days, I'll be over here at What Claudia Wore, which is - naturally - a blog devoted to discussing what Claudia Kishi wore in the Baby-Sitters Club books. I am not even kidding. It is fantastic. When I was ten, I wanted to dress just like her.
Claudia was of course my favorite. She was everyone's favorite, as far as I know, although I liked Stacy and Dawn too. I even had the doll! (Of Claudia.) But, alas, I don't have any of the books anymore. I've known there were blogs revisiting the BSC (like Claudia's Room), but this is the first one I've encountered that's inspired me to start digging up copies to reread myself. And then make sure they're gone again by the time my daughter gets old enough to read them, because she doesn't need to be reading that crap and I don't want to have to admit to her that I did.
Another entry from the Oh-My-God-Am-I-Really-Raising-a-Daughter-in-This-World department: Barbie's Fashion Fever. When my boyfriend and I first saw this advertised during kids' television programming (we're parents of a two-year-old girl, by the way), we both laughed out loud. Albeit laughter tinged with a bit of horrified amazement. You can watch the commercial embedded at the link, but if you'd rather not, it's basically a glaringly pink boutique that comes complete with a card swipe reader and a credit card that "never loses money!" Excellent credit lesson to teach girls, who are already often uneducated about financial issues. Buy all the stuff you want with plastic, and never have to actually pay for it!
Sheesh. If you have to buy a gift for a young girl, I suggest the American Girl Library's great A Smart Girl's Guide to Money instead. Everyone involved would probably be better off, especially the girl in question.
Otherwise entitled: Some Irrelevant and Probably Inappropriate Observations on Modern Children's Television Programming.
I would like to have a bit more exposition on some of the characters and situations taken for granted in these shows. For example, why is there a talking, walking potato on JoJo's Circus? And why is he naked? Even the frog character has a tutu. Which, frankly, is a whole other issue, but I'd be willing to let it go if the potato can be satisfactorily explained.
Hip Hop Harry features a very large bear with a huge gold emblem reminiscent of a clock on a chain around his neck (and a giant wristwatch, just to make the clock connection stronger). Presumably, this prepares children for the rite of passage we all have to go through someday: watching Flava of Love.
My sister informed me that Wilmer Valderrama voices Handy Manny, which seems to bring his post-70's Show resume up to Manny and Yo Momma. Not to mention makes me wonder when Manny's going to start trading insults with those mouthy tools.
I discovered that They Might Be Giants provided theme songs for both Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (Elizabeth's favorite thing EVER), and Higglytown Heroes. Which is cool. Also reminds me of their fantastic Tiny Toons spot for "Particle Man".
I'm kind of creeped out by the practice of encouraging audience participation by asking questions and then pausing for answers. My daughter is too young to respond much yet, so it usually results in Mickey Mouse staring at us in silence for ten seconds. Slightly disturbing.
The Doodlebops are more than slightly disturbing. I can't quite put on finger on why, but they definitely are.
You know, the Blue Wiggle is kinda hot. But don't worry, that's as far as I'm taking that particular thought - I will not become these women.
I think the creators of any given children's show only make about five episodes of the show, probably on the presupposition that kids don't care what Dora's actually doing, as long as they're watching Dora do something. But what about the adults watching the kids? Do you realize I saw the same three episodes of Dora the Explorer in less than a two-week period? Is that really necessary? As the old saying goes, architects should be forced to live in the houses they design, and children's show creators should be forced to watch the same three episodes of the shows they create.
That red-haired kid on Little Einsteins has got to be gay. Maybe they should next explore the life and works of Oscar Wilde to help him puzzle it all out.
Max and Ruby. I love this show. I will sit and watch this show even when Elizabeth is taking a nap. And it's impossible to explain unless you a) watch the show yourself, and b) have a bizarre, childlike sense of humor.
I realize this makes it sound like my daughter watches insane amounts of television, which really is not the case. Even when I leave the TV turned on for her, she often loses interest after a while and wanders off to find her toys or books. Sometimes she comes back for songs, and then leaves again. Which often results in me looking up from my computer or whatever else I was doing and realizing I'm the only one still paying even remote attention to Little Bear.
You childless folks have no idea what you're missing. Don't worry, though - I'm sure that by the time you bring your own little ones forth, the same five episodes of Dora the Explorer will still be playing.