My kid’s favorite program right now isn’t on TV, it’s on YouTube: Robot Astronomy Talk Show.
It’s produced by NASA-JPL’s educational arm. It’s on whenever he wants to watch it, we can pause at any moment so I can explain (or try to explain with help from Google) strong nuclear force versus weak nuclear force, there’s actual astronomy to be learned from watching the show, and while the content is pitched a little higher than what my 5.5 year old son can truly wholly understand, with repeated watchings and explainings, he actually grasps quite a lot. He loves the silly robots with delusions of grandeur. The special efx are also pretty good.
Plus? It has true nerd cred points: it was eligible for a Hugo Award this year, although sadly, no one nominated it.
My kid also loves the Space Spitzer shows, which star a female space scientist who travels with a more benign, if snack-obsessed, version of IR-2, the power-hungry host of Robot Astronomy Talk Show. (More about IR-2 and Irrelevant Astronomy here.)
I think it’d be perfect if PBS picked up RATS as one of its shows. If it happens, you can send the finder’s fee check right here.
Now, anyone who’s the least bit familiar with my blog knows that I generally think watching tv is like being stuck in traffic. It’s time out of your life that you never get back. Was it spent well? That’s kinda up to the person trapped inside the car. Just like the map is not the territory, the toy you played with in the car on the way somewhere is not your final destination.
Basically, I believe that any medium can be a total waste of time if used excessively (intertubez, oh bewitching siren you, you’re included in that). For example, I see how my parents, especially, are now that they’re retired. Having lived in suburbia, they fell into the habit of watching the evening network news, then watching whatever’s on til the 11 o’clock news, then going to bed. Six hours of tv a night, 42 hours of tv watching 7 days a week–that’s practically another job if you define a job as a 40-hour/7 day occupation! SE-DEN-TA-RY. Suburbia plus tv equals not healthy, physically or mentally.
So now that it’s clear I’m a total scold and wet blanket, probably the last one you’d talk to at a party, certainly someone you’d never go dancing and have mojitos with (your loss–I’m an excellent dancer and silly drunk), I should come totally clean and confess: We. Don’t. Have. Cable. TV.
Yes, we live in Los Angeles, and We. Don’t. Have. Cable. TV.
I know, I risk deportation from this fair city for a confession like that.
Don’t worry, we’re not staring at a black&white with actual knobs you have to turn over here. We have a newfangled HD digital flat panel tv. We watch dvds on it, if we watch it at all.
Can I just express for you the joy of *not* having my delightful, intelligent, loving, bubbly, focused, intensely curious 5.5 year old constantly bug me for product X?
Are there words to convey how ecstatic I am that Hiro Protagonist does not walk around parroting the latest snarky kid saying, complete with eyerolls and copping other attitude all up in my grill that some child on tv does?
Am I pleased my kid has not yet learned to whine, “I wanna watch tv”? That day is coming, but the longer I can push it off…
We love to watch things on…Youtube.
Pingu, for example:
You know why I like that little clay penguin? Because he’s a gateway drug to the glories of WALLACE AND GROMIT. Hallelujah. Now that is some cultural product shot through with awesome.
Youtube is free, program schedules are irrelevant, there’s no commercials, and I can do the equivalent of make a mix tape from Youtube vids for my kid. We can watch some Robot Astronomy Talk Show then watch the real shuttle launch, or maybe footage of a moon landing. We can chase our curiosity across whatever Youtube and Google have to offer. (I’d never allow my son to do this unsupervised, however. There are hard-edged, profanity-laced mashups of even the most innocuous clips out there. Parent, beware.)
Best of all, it is well nigh IMPOSSIBLE to go to a store and buy merch that ties in with much of what he sees. Even PBS has their universe of affiliated toys and tchotchkes. I mean, that’s fine, children will always want to feel surrounded by friends-as-toys and that often means character-laden clothes, sleeping bags, lunchboxes, whatever. But sometimes it’s nice to just step out of that entirely.
And while it’s as natural as breathing for Americans, myself included, to buy the experience by buying the t-shirt, sometimes I think it’s not so bad to lack that option. Like the cool Lego star wars animation you saw? Try recreating your own at home. Build it, figure out stop-motion animation, etc. Forget the t-shirt, how about getting your hands dirty experimenting with what you saw?
A media critic famously labeled tv a lean-back experience and new media a lean-forward one. In general I agree, but how about turning off the screen altogether and getting outside?
Or–gasp–try picking up a book?
These are all the attitudes I carry toward watching tv. Huz and I have been tv free for years. We save it for special events, like President Obama’s Inaugural Concert, the Inauguration itself, the Olympics, the Tour de France (for huz), or the Oscars. And even then, when we watch, we re-discover how irksome it is to watch commercials. We also realize how noisy and busy-seeming tv is.
So it wasn’t automatic for me to embrace even public television, even when I know I can trust what’s being served up to my kid.
Investigating PBS’ offerings was new to me. It hadn’t really occurred to me to do it.
Recently I attended a little PR event held by PBS at our local public tv station, KCET. (It used to be a film studio in the early days of Hollywood, back when DW Griffith filmed in Griffith Park and was based in Silver Lake.)
The purpose was to let blogging moms know that PBS has a number of shows that are educational, commercial-free, and vetted by numerous children’s math, science, and literacy consultants so when your kids 2-5 years old watch them, the experience isn’t brain rot. Instead, kids often learn quite a bit from the programs.
Go here to read the rest of the review.