It’s a big world . . . it’s a big big world . . . .
Humming along yet?
If not, then you haven’t met some of our newest friends, the talking animals of the World Tree on the PBS Kids show It’s a Big Big World. Now, normally I am NOT a big TV fan, but I have to say, I’m just in love with this show. The animals talk in complete sentences. Their colors are bright and types and abilities are diverse. They ask questions of each other, and they go find out more about interesting topics using books, fossils, rocks, and with the help of the teacher figure (the kindly old tortise, complete with a chain around her shoulders for her eyeglasses). Best of all, they work through problems together. Sometimes (okay, each time), one of the youngest ones has a misconception about the topic of the day, but by asking questions and comparing notes with the other animals, all is soon straightened out. And then each of them learn more about the topic, thanks again to the teacher figure. The central figure of the sloth is the big brother figure (in a good way), and he guides the smaller animals through their adventures much like Bear does on Bear in the Big Blue House. (Yes, we had a momentary crush on Bear too. But we’re over it. I think.)
And not once to they go to the TV or computer to learn more. Unlike Elmo, who does both in nearly every episode. (Bad Elmo!) I’m not opposed to online research (clearly), but I don’t think we need to teach the 2 year old set that the proper way to learn things is to turn on the box and Google it. There are other ways to learn things. Like by doing them. Experimenting. Exploring. Comparing experiences with others. There will be plenty of time for Widget and his friends to use the computer, and I’ll be happy to help, but I don’t like teaching 2 year olds that we always go online to find the answers.
(Although there was a very interesting article in the Post this weekend about term papers becoming obsolete in the digital age … but I have to admit, it made me cringe. I must be old school.)
(I miss my stacks of notecards.)
I like this show for one other reason, a characteristic that it actually shares with our other current favorite, Between the Lions. Between the Lions is meant for older kids — preschoolers and maybe kindergartners? — but Widget loves to watch it today. Where Big, Big World revolves around a science topic for the day, Between the Lions features a sound of the day and teaches literacy at its most basic level. The sound (today’s was “ee” as in “feet”) is repeated over and over, in several dozen words, which are put up on the screen in very large type, and skits. The skits are contemporary, musical, and fun. They range from a singing group (Somebody and the Vow-elles) to Gwain’s World (where two mounted knights joust; their clashes turn the word that each is carrying into a single contraction) to Chicken Jane (a modern take on the old Dick and Jane stories; Chicken Jane always gets it in the end). Each episode has a theme (today they got a parakeet and a book teaching them how to care for her), lots of interaction between the characters, and sometimes a surprise visitor who pops in to read a special word or visit via webcam/computer. Yesterday’s special appearance was by a female astronaut. The show actually reminds me of the old Electric Company, as a good follow on from the alphabet and number teaching on Sesame Street.
The characteristics that these two shows have in common? They are both smartly written, entertaining, overtly educational, and they show interactions among the members of a family group. Each show has two very young cubs/monkeys who ask questions and learn throughout the show, a mother figure, a father or big brother figure, and a grandparent figure or two. They also each feature a reference room where answers can be found. This room is brightly colored and fun to visit.
Both these shows are very verbal, model positive family group interactions, encourage further investigation, and make learning fun. And even the youngest characters talk clearly and well, unlike Sesame Street’s Elmo, Baby Bear, Baby Bear’s sister, and my all-time irritation that is the grunting monkey of Curious George. (I want to love the little monkey. Really I do. I loved him as a child. I still have my stuffed George, as a matter of fact, and I gave him to Widget recently when we introduced the books. But as the parent of a late talker, I have had real problems with the TV show presenting him as a role model who grunts and is understood perfectly. By everyone. There. I’ve said it. I’m so over Curious George.)