I asked a child on Halloween why he dressed up as Captain America, since even in my small classroom of children, at least 40 percent were dressed up as a superhero. Oh, the answer I received, as he struck the unmistakable hero pose with fists at the ready and shield in hand…. he told me it was because: “Captain America kills all the bad guys”.
It’s this connection to violence and the concern that superheroes promote aggressive behaviour that has me as an Early Childhood Educator telling children they cannot play superheroes during outdoor play. Schools and childcare centres alike are discouraging children from hero play and in removing heroes from the classroom, they are missing what I believe to be a super sized teachable moment. Underneath a superhero’s flashy costume, state of the art weapons and fantasy powers, is an individual who is dedicating their life to helping others and standing up for what is right. I’m inclined to think that is an excellent concept for children to learn.
Preschool children are developing empathy and beginning to move away from a phase in child development called egocentrism. We see this concept at work when a child doesn’t want to share their toy or when they are what parents would describe as stubborn. These children are not simply being uncooperative; they are developing an understanding that there are perspectives other than their own.
“Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody has those days. Everybody knows what I’m talkin’ about. Everybody gets that way.”
—Nobody’s Perfect, performed by Miley Cyrus (as Hannah Montana)
Young children often struggle to discern between reality and fantasy. Assuming they understand their favourite television characters are made-up, played by people who are simply pretending, is asking a lot.
Mara Wilson, the adorable child from Matilda, and Mrs. Doubtfire, writes: “And then there are the fans: kids your age who think they know you because they’ve seen your face on TV, parents who pray you stay squeaky clean because their children want to be you.”
Even well-developed adults hold celebrities in a place of reverence, when in reality they are humans just like the rest of us. They go to work, spend time with their families, and even have the same needs, desires, and eccentricities.
What are the repercussions of encouraging children to aspire to be like their favourite characters? In reality, young stars like Miley Cyrus, Orlando Brown, and Lindsay Lohan, are not nearly as aspirational as their screen characters. Who is responsible for the aspirational nature of the children’s characters, and, of equal importance, the actors who play them?
Tired of the litany of mindless teen gossip rags and the unrealistic beauty standards of teen fashion magazines?
Maybe it’s time you were “Fazed”.
As young readers gain access to magazines, it seems reasonable to hope they will find magazine titles that help them develop into mature, well-rounded young adults. Enter Faze: a Toronto based magazine created in 2001 by Lorraine Zander, who had a vision to give children a magazine offering “an insightful look at real life issues.” Faze targets readers between 13 and 24 years of age, tackling a variety of issues and subjects that are important to this age group. What’s more, young adults and teens actually write the content requested by the readers of the magazine.
I received my first copy of Faze in the ninth grade. It was refreshing to read a magazine that had articles about self-confidence and careers; topics that are often overlooked by publishers targeting this age group. Faze skipped the mindless indulgence of gossip magazines, instead offering content that really mattered. One article I read suggested publishing as a career, and since then, I have worked towards that dream. I look back on this magazine and understand it taught me so much. It gave me the courage to look for work that will provide purpose in my young life.
Before I begin, I must admit that I absolutely love the beautiful stop-motion films put out by LAIKA Studios. I have fond memories of seeing my first LAIKA film, Paranorman, days before starting Centennial College’s Children’s Entertainment program. I was so inspired by the gorgeous animation, the witty script, and fully fleshed out characters. Afterwards, I sought out their first film Coraline and fell in love again. Lastly, I had the pleasure of seeing LAIKA’s keynote presentation on The Boxtrolls at the 2014 TIFF Kids. Unfortunately, none of LAIKA’s films have seen much box office success. To quote Mark Shapiro, Head of Marketing and Brand management at LAIKA, “We all want to move people and create great innovative films. But in order for LAIKA to sustain itself, there needs to be a financial return from your movie.” Here are some reasons why you and your family should give LAIKA Studios a chance.
LAIKA hires some of the most talented artists in the world. With this amazing group of talent, LAIKA has produced arguably the most beautiful and technically innovative stop motion in history. The animation is so smooth and beautiful that it is easy to forget that these are tiny puppets being moved a fraction of an inch at a time and then photographed. The photos are then strung together to become a film. Eggs, the main character in The Boxtrolls, has 1,400,000 possible facial expressions. Each face was 3D-printed in color, then coated in superglue and sanded to perfection.
In one week of work, the average animator completes about 3.7 seconds’ worth of footage. All of the animators together completed 1-2 minutes of footage every week. Boxtrolls Producer Travis Knight puts it bluntly: “It’s the worst way to make a movie. It makes no sense. You’re cutting your hands and contorting your body. But it’s an incredible art form that is so rare and so beautiful.”
Like most of my generation, I grew up playing video games with a healthy dose of physical activity thrown in. Unfortunately, recent reports indicate that more than 80 percent of Canadian children between the ages of 6 and 17 play video games regularly. However, my concern is not how long they play, but what they are playing.
Looking at the video games available (for both children and teens), it’s easy to spot stereotypical gender roles being perpetuated through branding and graphics. Putting aside games meant only for adults, and focusing instead on games marketed directly at kids, we can see the trend more clearly. We can also see that it is reinforced through design.
A brand character is a type of visual content marketing that is repetitively used to get consumers familiar and comfortable with a brand. This can be used within the logo of the company itself (i.e. Wendy’s, Aunt Jemima), or can be an active and independent facet (i.e. Tony the Tiger or Ronald McDonald).
More often, we see the second approach being used when marketing games towards children – especially those of a certain gender. Take, for example, the Nintendo DS game series Cooking Mama. They are primarily targeting young females, made evident by the colour choices on the package, and the brand character “Cooking Mama” represented as an apron-wearing woman. She oversees the player as they attempt to create various dishes in the game.
Despite the cooking industry being male dominated, the creators’ felt the need to make their brand spokesperson a woman. And instead of “Cooking Woman” they chose “Cooking Mama”. It may have been simply a marketing strategy, but the brand is still putting a mother at the forefront, a mother whose only responsibility is to cook and perform domestic tasks.
Yet Cooking Mama isn’t the only series that pushes stereotypical gender views of women. Game franchise My Baby continues to portray them in age-old roles. The series has three games thus far: My Baby Girl/ My Baby Boy, My Baby First Steps and My Baby 3 and Friends. All of these games focus on the player acting in the maternal role of child rearing.
Conversely, games that are directed at boys see a substantial content shift. It’s no longer about domesticity and chores around the house; it’s about adventure, adrenaline and a show of prowess. Take Mario Kart 7 for example. Compare the game cover designs and it’s easy to spot huge differences. Cooking Mama and My Baby use bright, saturated colours like pink, purple, blue and green, while Mario Kart 7 relies on the stark contrast between red and white.
Many colour theories state that red is often associated with fire, blood, energy, war, danger, strength, power and determination. Many of these keywords can be seen in Mario’s virtual adventures; maybe not the blood, but there is definitely fire, power struggles, and overt tests of Mario’s strength, power and determination. Mario as a brand spokes-character gives male children the perception of adventure and danger – a polar opposite to the gendered content for females.
This past summer, celebrity personality Kim Kardashian released a mobile game for both iPhones and iPads. For those 12 and up, the game allows players to simulate a celebrity lifestyle wherein they can create their own character and do things like travel, walk the red carpet, shop, and date other celebrities. To me, the game is pointless and gives youth unrealistic expectations, especially in terms of money. After all, outside the game, not many of us can afford a $5,000 Gucci bag. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like this marketing trend is going to change anytime soon; in fact, it’s getting worse.
Children really brighten up a household — they never turn the lights off.
As adults, sarcasm is one of our favourite forms of socially accepted comedic expression. We use it to blow off steam, we use it to indirectly mock each other, we use it to get laughs, and we use it as a defence mechanism to hide how we are really feeling (angry, sad, disappointed). Although my parents restricted my TV intake, most of my friends were raised on The Simpsons. And if that example isn’t appropriate for you, take a look at almost any television show you’ve watched in the past 20 years. Will and Geoffrey from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Chandler from Friends, Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, Joey from Dawson’s Creek, Xander from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Lucille from Arrested Development, and everyone from Married with Children; and that’s just naming a few.
While I am now able to recognize sarcasm (well, most of the time), kids have a harder time with social cues and often sarcasm can appear apathetic, indifferent, cruel, or just plain rude. Basically, it hurts their feelings. It also has to do with miscommunication. Kids take things more literally than we do, everything is taken at face value, and the subtleties of sarcasm go right over their heads. Anyone who has ever been at the receiving end of a child’s sarcasm are more than aware that it comes off as hurtful instead of funny. Sarcasm originates from the Greek word sarkasmos, which means “to tear flesh”, so, here’s my question: Should we teach kids about sarcasm?
Did you ever play with LEGO as a kid? I remember using the coloured bricks to construct buildings and intricate vehicles and robots, to make my imagination come to life. I also remember carefully tiptoeing around my living room to avoid the agony of stepping on a stray piece. LEGO is still one of the world’s largest toy manufacturers, but LEGO toys today look a whole lot different than the LEGO I remember.
Of course you’re not just getting bricks, and gears when you buy a LEGO product – you’re buying the instructions to build a Star Wars X-Wing Starfighter, re-enact a chase scene between Batman and Two-Face, or act out Disney Princess Rapunzel’s Fairy Tale. This is an example of a growing trend in the children’s toy industry toward commercialized toys: toys that are based on licensed characters and tied into other branded media products, like TV shows and movies. Commercialism has crept into our children’s toys and is changing how they engage in play. Play is one of the most critical parts of child development, but does commercialized play – vs unbranded play – allow children the same opportunity to imagine, explore, and learn?
Maria Montessori, an innovator in education, is known for advocating that “play is children’s work.” For kids, play is an essential part of physical and social development. Creative play is how children learn critical thinking and problem-solving skills. It is through make believe that kids explore, experiment, express themselves, and make meaning from their experiences.
In Susin Nielsen’s popular middle-grade novel, Word Nerd, 12-year-old Ambrose ends up in the hospital after three boys from his school put a peanut in his sandwich, triggering his peanut allergy. Troy, one of the bullies, says, “For six years, I’ve eaten peanut butter and jam sandwiches for lunch. Then you show up, and suddenly our school’s declared a peanut-free zone.” For this reason, among many, Ambrose’s mom pulls him out of public school. Obviously, this is a nightmare scenario, hopefully pretty rare in a time when most public schools are nut-free zones. It doesn’t change the fact that dietary restrictions can be a cause for feeling different when you’re a kid.
I recently sat down to talk to cookbook author and food blogger Amanda Orlando, whose book Allergen-Free Desserts That’ll Fool Your Taste Buds: A Book for Kids and Parents is coming out in spring 2015 from Skyhorse Publishing. I had every intention of getting her tips and tricks for writing about food for kids in an exciting way. She had some great insights, but the longer we talked, the more we kept on the topic of what it’s like growing up with food allergies.
“When I was really little, allergies weren’t a common thing,” Orlando, who has allergies to dairy, nuts and legumes, told me. “So if there was any kind of food, like a party or lunchtime or whatever, they always sat me in the corner by myself.” One thing’s for sure: this isn’t the greatest way to get kids excited about food and cooking.
It’s no secret that book-to-film adaptations have become all the rage. Take a look at some of the most popular movies in the past few years: you can find novel adaptations in almost every genre and category. From serious Oscar heavy hitters such as 12 Years a Slave and Wolf of Wall Street to more mainstream hits like The Hunger Games, there are countless movies that started off in the pages of a book.
If you look even closer at the page-to-screen trend, however, another pattern seems to emerge, and this pattern takes the form of 22-year-old Shailene Woodley. While her breakout role was back in 2008 with ABC Family’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager, she’s rapidly evolved into something of an It girl in the past year. For the most part, you could argue that her success started with a book – or more accurately, many books. Four of Woodley’s biggest movies (The Descendants, Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars, and The Spectacular Now) and even more of her smaller projects are all novel adaptations.
Upon noticing this pattern, I couldn’t help but wonder: what it is about Woodley that just seems to work with adaptations of great novels? More specifically, what is it about her that seems to work with adaptations of teen novels? After watching a few interviews with Woodley and reading a feature article or two, it became abundantly clear.
A little over a year and a half ago, a few friends and I had an idea – one that, though we couldn’t possibly have known it at the time, would go on to irrevocably change the way we looked at art, technology, and, most of all, each other. For 20 years, we’d each been fascinated with different aspects of cinema and television, but never knew how to actually make something of it. Our big idea? To just do it. It was hardly revolutionary, but prior to reaching that revelation, I’m not quite sure any of us grasped how incredibly ripe the times were for independent content creation.
We live in a world where, largely due to the presence of YouTube, the lines between producer and audience, or creator and viewer, are becoming increasingly blurred. That duality, simultaneously inherent in all our online interactions, has given rise to a decidedly reactive community of creators, whose unique stories and voices now exist heavily in response to perceived lacks and faults in the entertainment industry at large.
See, now more than ever, we ourselves have the ability to develop the content we demand, and distribute it through a platform that actively thrives on the DIY attitudes of its users without discriminating against the raw aesthetic and quality generally associated with low-budget independent productions.
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