Sunday, February 28, 2010

Making Make Believe & Technology

This week I've thought a lot about make believe. I read a very interesting chapter from the book The House of Make-Believe written by the Singers (who provided research for the Barney television show). It provided me with a lot of great information that will certainly be part of my literature review on interactive television including the importance of auditory clues for young television viewers. This will also come in handy as I prepare my production project.
As I read about make believe and how people are replicating the experience of make believe for children on television, I compared some of their findings with my experiences teaching kindergarten. In some regards, I feel as if I had my most successful week teaching this past week. I introduced the yoga curriculum on Wednesday. As I lead the children through a series of breathing and slow movement exercises, I tell them a story. The story is intended to focus them and help them visualize how some of the movements should look. For example, we rode a camel and straightened our back and rounded our back. This week, I also brainstormed a new dramatic play scenario with some of the children. We decided to play in a submarine and made our own submarine out of large wooden blocks. We had a secret latch, residential quarters, captain chairs for the people navigating, and water-proof walkie talkies so we can communicate while exploring the sea around us. I honestly had such a fun and fast choice time that day! I forgot how enjoyable it was to build a "fort" of sorts and make believe that you really are these characters. I felt so happy and proud that I could help facilitate that experience.
I thought back to when I began teaching this fall and how excited I was to incorporate technology into the classroom. However now, I wonder if it really has a place in the classroom. All of these children spend time at home on websites such as PBS Kids. They are learning how to navigate the Internet before they learn how to read. As an educator, I wonder if technology in the classroom hinders their ability and their time to make believe. Perhaps the classroom is a place for this generation to escape technology. Perhaps it is the place where we can preserve a child's play in its rarest forms. These are things I am continuing to think about.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Action, Reflection, Transformation

Today is my birthday. I started my day with a teeth cleaning, enjoyed a calm, long lunch, and caught up on children's television in hopes of hearing the Ting Tings sing the happy birthday song on "Yo Gabba Gabba!"
What I enjoy most about that show (and there are a lot of things I enjoy) is when DJ Lance lets the audience know that it's almost the end of their time together. He then goes over snippets of songs and stories that the TV audience enjoyed while watching that day's episode. The very first thing I learned at NYU while studying Educational Theater was Action, Reflection, Transformation or ART. When working with students or performing a theater piece, the department encouraged us to have the students partake in the action, facilitate a reflection of their work, and allow them to go forth as a changed person because of that experience. Heavy stuff! I not only appreciate that "Yo Gabba Gabba!" provides children with fun and informative songs and stories, I also respect their decision to reflect. This format reminds me of someone I know...St. Fred? Is that you smiling down at us from up above? Mister Rogers always put a "cap" on the end of his program to signify that he would be separating from the audience soon and he appreciated their time together. He sometimes reviewed some of the things they learned together or places they visited. It is a model we try to follow in classroom education as well. It gives the children time to think about how they can express their experiences with other people and sometimes provides them with the language to do so.
Since it is my birthday...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Television Made Me Do It

While looking for a new statement tee (read: procrastinating), I came across this one called Television Made Me Do It. When I first saw it, I laughed. I thought, "I'm not a wrestling fan...moving on..." WAIT! This tee says it all. Someone treating someone else horribly. Is the person at fault for doing those awful things to another human or is television at fault for teaching those awful things and making them so easily accessible to mass audiences? This question is like the nature vs. nurture debate. There are people who could argue either side, but it's probably a little bit of both. What do you think?

The Obesity Question

The question is: Is television responsible for childhood obesity? It would be silly to argue that the answer is undoubtedly "yes." Of course television can't be solely responsible for the obesity epidemic. There must be various factors that play into a child's diet. I spent a great deal of time researching the problem last semester. I found a social policy report that was particularly helpful throughout my investigation on the Society for Research in Child Development's website. The report is titled "The Epidemic of Childhood Obesity" and can be found at here. It cites environmental factors as a heavy influence including styles of family eating an activity, quality of school lunch and physical education, the design of the physical community environment, and the influences of media on foods and behaviors. AHA! With further research I learned that television not only consumed hours that could be spent on physical activity and play, it also bombarded the viewer with advertisements for high energy, sugar and fatty foods. Children, on average, view over 40,000 television commercials during their chidlhood (CF: Kunkel & Gantz, 1992). A study done by Grund, Krause, Siewers, Rieckert, and Muller in 2001 concluded that children who do not participate in regular physical activity and watch a lot of television are more likely to be obese. Aside from the creation of the Wii Fit video game program, there is arguably no technology or media that has been developed with the main intention of getting the viewer participant physically active.
Other cultures have decided to regulate food advertisements during children's program, but we rely on those funds in the U.S. to pay for our programming. To that end, if we cannot reduce the amount of advertisements for foods, we need to increase our physically active programming and find ways to get our young people active during their television viewing and media use.
In pursuit of further information about the television industry's connection to childhood obesity, I read a chapter from the book The Children's Television Community. This book has given me a much better understanding about the different responsibilities of those in the community and their thoughts about pressing issues in the business. I was excited to start the article "Super-Sized Kids: Obesity, Children, Moral Panic, and the Media" by Rebecca Herr Stephenson and Sarah Banet- Weiser. Unfortunately, the article focused more closely on alternative environmental factors rather than taking accountability for television's impact on the epidemic and posing possible solutions and states that "for companies producing media products for children, the extension of the network brand to the supermarket is an important form of promotion for shows and movies." I support their point of view that children should be taught to navigate media, however, that would require resources for education and parental assistance that are scarce and difficult have been traditionally difficult to acquire in our culture.
Michelle Obama recently launched the Let's Move program to promote 60 minutes of child physical activity a day and support a healthier diet. I leave you with a clip of Mrs. Obama on Sesame Street. I look forward to tracking her progress and strategies!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Wartella et al.

It has been almost two full years since I committed myself to returning to school with the intention of learning more about child development and entering the field of children's television. As I began my quest for knowledge, I spent a significant amount of time learning what information was already out there and easy for me to access. I joined the Cynopsis: Kids! listserve which allowed me to become better acquainted with many of the production companies, licensing agreements, and ratings for children's media. I often logged onto the Kidscreen website which provided me with a great deal of information about the key creative players in the industry and currently hosts a wonderful blog written by the president of Little Airplane Productions, Josh Selig. I also spent a significant amount of time on Amazon searching for books about different children's television programs and research. One name that continuously came up in my search was Dr. Ellen Wartella. Dr. Wartella is currently a professor at UC Riverside and a leading researcher in children's media. One book seemed particularly interesting to me as an aspiring scholar. I purchased Children and Television: Fifty Years of Research which was edited by Dr. Wartella with Norma Peccora and John P. Murray.

I have selected several articles from this book for my independent study. They include: "The Changing Nature of Children's Television: Fifty Years of Research," "From Attention to Comprehension: How Children Watch and Learn From Television," and "Is Television Healthy? The Medical Perspective." "The Changing Nature of Children's Television" provides a comprehensive history of television created specifically for children and its corresponding research. This provided me with a great understanding of the roots of the industry and how that past has influenced modern programming. I previously did not understand the full impact of the 1980's on television programming. It was marked with the introduction of cable television into everyday life, Nickelodeon as the station for children, and programming as "a showcase for licensed products" (p 26).

The article that provided me with the greatest amount of information for this independent study on content development was the piece on how children watch and learn from television. I previously did not know that television viewing decreased when children went to school, although it seems quite logical. I was also very intrigued about "active" viewing and the idea that children make "moment-to-moment decisions about when to attend, when to look away, and when to monitor sound for an interesting moment" (p 48). It also emphasized the importance of formal features in a child's viewing experience. As I develop my program, I'd like to refer to this text as a guideline for creating formal features that will not only be interesting to a child but that will also inform the rest of the program.

Although the book was published only three years ago, I did find that there was little comparison of television viewing versus technology use. I believe this is due to the fact that technology, particularly in regards to child-specific media, has experienced a huge boom in the past three years. With the inception of the iPhone application, Video on Demand, and Hulu, television viewing "looks" different. I am interested in finding out more about this comparison and doubtful that research can keep pace with the evolution of the medium.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Not trying to cause a big sensation...

Hello! Thank you for reading my blog. This semester, I plan to use the internet to track and journal about my academic readings, research, and the creative process of developing a children's television series. TV is dead, you say? I beg to differ. Although television isn't being watched in the traditional sense, series are being watched on demand, on the internet, and on telephones.

I've spent a great deal of time thinking of a clever name for the blog. In the midst of a mini-road trip this weekend, I thought a great deal about Mac's branding. The iBook, iPod, iPhone, iPad, etc. It seems as if we are putting this "i" in front of everything representative of technological advances. That's when I started thinking about "iGeneration" as a phrase for the current generation of young children who know more about social networking than I do. With the lyrics to "My Generation" stuck in my head, I immediately turned on my computer and googled the word in hopes that it was unsearchable. Much to my dismay, someone had already thought of this as an alternative to Generation Z (What the heck does the Z stand for, anyway?). Wikipedia has this to say about the iGeneration:
On the average they are highly connected, many having had lifelong use of communications and media technologies such as the World Wide Web, instant messaging,text messaging, MP3 players, cellular phones and YouTube,[10][11] earning them the nickname "digital natives".[3] No longer limited to the home computer, the internet is now increasingly carried in their pockets on mobile internet devices such as mobile phones.

I am excited to begin my exploration of children's television content development and look forward to reading your comments, answering your questions, and pondering your ideas. I'd like to conclude my first post with a music video that I have been thinking a lot about recently. Some of my heroes include Fred Rogers, Joan Gantz Cooney, and Jim Henson. They were all visionaries who were unafraid of making change in children's media. Their ideas and creativity have had a profound influence on my work as an artist, teacher, and academic. I think regardless of our chosen path, the media we participate in as young people has an impact on our adult experience. Please check out this XYZ Affair video for their song "All My Friends." Can you ID all of the special guest stars?