Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Tuning in with your children

Last Wednesday my sons & I (with DH our chauffeur) had the privilege and opportunity to attend the Disney Junior channel launch at the  Sydney Opera house.

Mickey & Minnie mouse flew in especially to Australia for the first time in 5 yrs. 

The excited delight on their faces was heartwarming.

Disney Junior formerly, Playhouse Disney premiered in Australia on Sunday 29th May. It is especially targeting the 2-7 yr old audience.

I am the first to admit I am a also very permissive parent when it comes to TV or children’s video viewing. Though my sons barely watched TV or DVD’s until after two –two and half. (They wouldn't sit still long enough.) They love TV viewing now.

I still practice moderation and switch OFF often, especially when the noise gets too much . Rainy days or during other weather extremes the boys probably watch a lot more than I would prefer.

For me it is more about quality. As long as they are  G rated or ABC 2(4) related with preschooler appropriate content I am comfortable with them choosing for the most part. I still find a few programs annoying and I do my best to discourage some programs and encourage others.

The latest Disney research shows that parents want learning for their children that focuses on social values and behaviour, not just academic learning. Eg. teamwork, friendship, problem solving and creativity skills.

I  agree with this !.

I am in awe that I had the opportunity to speak briefly with Nancy Kanter, the new Disney Junior Worldwide general manager (to add to her role as Senior Vice President, Original Programming) who also attended the launch.

Just to clarify , I spoke to Nancy as a parent . I am not an early Childhood expert though I spent over 10 years working as a paediatric nurse in a Children’s ward. We just touched on the basics because obviously the topic of child development and television programming is extensive.
Nancy’s commitment to the development of Children’s television is impressive. Read all about Nancy's bio here.

How are children’s programs researched and developed ?

Nancy explained how first Disney writers and production team develop a story that appeals to an appropriate age (in 2-7 target audience). The process involves significant consultation with early childhood experts to make sure their programs are reflecting the way children learn i.e. their understanding of early math skills, pre literacy skills (how to understand a story being told in a logical sequence), social and emotional stages. 

The research and development into programming takes great care to make sure the content is age appropriate as well as entertaining. Ideally the stories have to make sense to a 2-3 year old as well as appeal to a 5-7 yr old. 
Disney then test early episodes with basic story lines by taking them into preschools. There they ask questions ...
Did they like it ? Was anything confusing ? Did they find anything unexpected ?

When they find the unexpected they make changes.

For example in Jake & the Neverland pirates  the children liked the fact that even though Hook had done the wrong thing, Jake & his friends still welcomed Hook to be part of their team. They never anticipated that children liked a 'right' and ‘kind’ ending.

How can television be used as learning tool for young children eg. Social and emotional development ?

N: Children 2-5 especially imitate behaviour – be it good or bad behaviour. Disney’s aims to model good social skills, with characters that children can connect with. The adventures are meaningful and the characters /stories resonate with kids. Good story telling involves conflict and emotional learning. Through story telling Disney aim's to instill good life lessons as early as possible eg. manners, friendship and resolution of conflict. 
What is the advice for parents in deciding what’s appropriate for children to be watching ?

N: Watch the programs with your children. Only individual parents can gauge if they are comfortable with what their children are viewing and that the themes presented fit in their family values. Though much care, research and development is undertaken to make sure TV programming is age appropriate entertaining, educational and safe TV, is a family decision.

How much time should children spend watching television ? (Nancy’s children are all grown up).
N : Nancy first said she was a permissive mum as she was involved in the television industry. 
Nancy’s advice is that it is a family decision. She recommends parents spend time watching programs with their children and interacting with them. Tune in with your kids

Research has shown parents watching TV with their children has a lifelong impact.
Talk to your children about what you see and use it as a learning tool. It is important to also make decisions based on your own family choices and values.

Nancy also emphasised that we should balance television viewing with other outdoor play and other activities. 

The most important message I took away is that children’s television viewing is not just for passive entertainment or even pure learning.

Imaginative storytelling is a part of childhood , this is where magic begins. Disney is not just about entertainment , it is about encouraging an emotional feel for the characters we know and love. Many of the new Disney Junior programs have an integrated social and emotional message as well as learning opportunities. They are bringing in new characters as well some old characters mums & dads remember.

I know my young sons enjoy my husband or I watching their favourite programs. My  husband especially makes time to do this.

Sam, Joel & I previewed two episodes of Jake and the Never Land Pirates.

 A new , animated series based on Peter Pan , specially created for Disney Junior .It is aimed @ 2-5yrs. 
It is music-filled interactive treasure hunt. Jake (voiced by Colin Ford –“Smallville”), his pals, Izzy (a Girl, Madison Pettis) and Cubby, and their lookout parrot, Scully are on a treasure hunt sailing in their good ship Bucky, and having fun in and about their hideout on Pirate island. 

The friends model teamwork, problem solving and adventurous activity (swinging on vines, sliding down waterfalls), earning gold doubloons along the way (early maths) for various tasks. 

The friends are always keeping watch ; Scully especially on the lookout   for Captain Hook, his mate Mr Smee  who are usually up to no good. 

It’s bright , quick and good fun. I enjoyed watching Jake with my children. The episodes are short (11 mins each) and have happy ending to the conflict. It finishes with a live song by real pirates people - not animated.
The Disney Junior channel will feature the new series Jake and the Never Land Pirates, a series of Disney Poetry Shorts in which children's poems are set against Disney animation; and Mickey Mousekersize and Special Agent Oso: Three Healthy Steps which both encourage healthy lifestyles for pre-schoolers.

So do you tune in with your children ?

Disclaimer : We don’t have Foxtel/Austar pay TV but my mother/other family do - so the boys are familiar with a few of the Disney programs and of course Mickey mouse. That isn’t the only reason they love visiting Nanny.

Note: Matt Shervington,a guest presenter, also mentioned Foxtel TV has a Mini mote option. 
Mini mote is a child friendly remote that controls the content being displayed on the family's home television. Children choose what want to watch while parents have the security of knowing what they see is limited to selected children's channels.

PS : I loved the honesty and insights Kelly @Be a fun mum shares in her post about the role of television in the family here.
I agree for me too, it is more about knowing what they are watching than how much. 
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