It would be quite the understatement to say that my fascination with television is a direct result of the cartoons I used to watch as a child. There was nothing quite like waking up at 7am on Saturday mornings, staring in utter awe as I was bombarded by the adventures of costumed titans, unlikely heroes, visitors from other planets, and of course, those riotous talking animals.
But as all truly great fiction does, many of these cartoons transcended the genre, melding with unmistakably real issues and topics that children otherwise may not have been privy too.
Take Batman: The Animated Series, for example. Hailed as one of the greatest animated series of all time, the show’s grim, Art-Deco aesthetic was equally complimented by recurring meditations on the consequences of violence, the perpetuity of crime, and the labels of “good” and “evil”.
I’ll never forget watching “Over the Edge”, in which after watching her fall to her death, Lieutenant Gordon discovers Batgirl’s identity to be that of his own daughter. I won’t spoil the surprise ending, but Gordon consequently incites a vicious police campaign against Batman, whom he blames for dragging her into such a violent lifestyle. Who was in the right? Who was in the wrong? Could such a binary view of things even be adequately applied here? As a child, that was an incredibly profound predicament to witness.
This notion is continued with X-Men: The Animated Series, another fan-favourite that not only retained, but also heavily focused on the source material’s allegory for prejudice and discrimination (unlike the modern TV incarnations of the titular mutants).
Directing children towards literature that represents adulthood in its true nature.
“I am very busy. I am an adult.”
I recently was lucky enough to meet one of my childhood heroes: Daniel Handler. Handler, who goes by his pen name Lemony Snicket, sat down for the afternoon with his young and old fans alike at the Revue Cinema in Roncesvalles. He talked about books, about people, and about the people in his new books.
The subtle comedian that he is, Handler also talked very briefly to a young volunteer about the nature of adulthood. So briefly, in fact, that it really only took one sentence to sum up how children perceive adults: “I know your name isn’t Max. But I am an adult. I don’t have time to learn it.” The statement inspired laughter from the audience, and a sheepish grin from non-Max, but it left me thinking about the adult characters in his books, and in other books I read when I was young.
Take a minute to consider some of the adults in well-known children’s literature. Visions of Count Olaf and his horrendous theatre troupe in A Series of Unfortunate Events, unsupportive and dim-witted parents who don’t realize their daughter’s potential in Roald Dahl’s Matilda, and the caricature-esque Vernon and Petunia Dursley in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter all come to mind. What do they all have in common? They are cruel, unreliable, and self-involved. They are very busy. They are adults. But for all of these less-than-ideal depictions of adults, co-exist the Uncle Montys, the Miss Honeys, and the Hagrids.
Hockey is an inseparable part of our Canadian heritage. The spirit of the game was implanted in me at a young age. Growing up, my parents had Hockey Night In Canada playing on the television every Saturday night. Even as a young child, I recognized the rivalry between the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs solely from the tension on ice and the energy of the fans in attendance. Boys in my suburban neighbourhood would gather in the street to play road hockey, or simply have target practice against their parents’ garage doors, leaving marks of success and dents of determination.
Sadly, those days seem long gone. As I drive around my neighbourhood, now, I can’t help wonder… where are the pile-ons, where are the nets and where are the kids? They’ve all retreated to their homes, where I can only assume they’re playing video games, messing around on the computer, or sending text messages! A new era is upon us – one that is significantly different than the one I grew up in. I mean, geez, do they even make hockey cards anymore?
I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that hockey (both street and ice) has taken a hit in popularity with so many things competing for kids’ time. Bauer Hockey Inc. – the same folks who’ve helped generations of kids’ lace up – recently released a study that confirms a decline in interest. Their study found “approximately 90 percent of Canadian families and their children choose not to play hockey”. The study was broken down into “perceived barriers”, including perceived affordability, perceived safety, perceived time commitment, and perceived fun. (Non-hockey families apparently don’t perceive hockey as a ‘fun’ sport while every other sport in the research, i.e. soccer and baseball, was described as fun.) Bauer has developed the pilot program, Grow The Game with the intention of being informative, affordable, and fun. Mark Messier, a famous former NHL player, supports this initiative and has been a vocal advocate for increased participation.
When I used to work teaching little kids how to cook, we had to put a limit on how many times each child was allowed to stir the bowl of ingredients. This sounds like a strange restriction, but it was often necessary to avoid tough cookie dough, and to allow everyone to get a turn helping out. Even so, there was always at least one person who cheated – that is, someone who stirred eight (or twenty) times instead of the requisite six.
The truth is, getting kids excited about cooking is easy. They love to stir, chop, measure, smell ingredients and toss salad. I recently looked at three cookbooks for kids that work on this premise.
Jon Milton, author of Do Try This At Home: Cook It!, is one of three “Punk Scientists” who work at the Science Museum in London. In this vein, the book is a collection of cooking experiments that happen to yield delicious results. Recipes range from Leek and Potato Soup to Baked Alaska, each with a “Science Bit” sidebar with an explanation about the science of cooking. From a parent’s point of view, the recipes are accessible and educational, with symbols to indicate time, difficulty level, and whether adult supervision is a good idea. From a kid’s point of view, the book succeeds for the same reason How Stuff Work and Popular Mechanics for Kids succeed: because science is cool.
Annabel Karmel’s Cook it Together focuses on spending time together in the kitchen, and on an awareness of where key ingredients come from. The book has a lot of kid appeal with colour photos illustrating every step of the recipes and special pages about ten featured ingredients including tomatoes, rice, apples and chocolate, among others. These features explain a little bit about how each ingredient is grown, harvested or manufactured. As the title suggests, these recipes are for parents to make with their children, meaning that cooking instructions are sometimes sparse, assuming a basic adult knowledge of how to do things like cook rice and use the broiler.
While many are still cautious about the presence of apps in the classroom, they’ve certainly presented us with a way of reconciling the gaps between various learning disabilities and disorders in special education. Inexpensive, interactive, and easily transportable and storable, mobile apps perfectly capture the idea of adaptation on an individual, child-to-child basis.
This is a medium that was founded for engaging users in new and unique ways through intimate, personalized experiences that cater towards specific needs. And that right there is the essence of special education; adapting the learning element itself to children with special needs instead of the other way around.
Here are some of the ways in which apps are helping special education to evolve.
AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication)
AAC apps are those that give children who are non-verbal or have speech impairments another way of communicating. For example,
is a popular AAC app with a simple interface in which children tap on images corresponding to basic needs such as “bathroom”, “hungry”, “drink”, or “play”.
The great thing about AAC apps is the fact that they commonly use features like customizable commands and user-driven picture libraries to ensure children can communicate through symbols and images that actually have meaning to them.
Finding content is the challenge that all media outlets grapple with on a daily basis.
Whether it be a major television network or a small, local newspaper, the need for content is equally crucial to survive and stay relevant.
For TSN and Rogers Sportsnet, the task is made somewhat easier by their ability to cast a wide net over the realm of professional sports. Publications such as the Toronto Sun and the Toronto Star are also afforded a similar luxury.
I was nine, it was winter, Norton Juster was speaking to me, and I found myself conducting the sky. My first post – no, plea – is an attempt to remind parents, teachers, siblings, whomever, to stop taking their children’s level of understanding for granted, and put a book like Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth in their hands.
A novel often deemed “too complex” for the mouldable minds that make up its major readers (children ages 8-10), Juster’s story of Milo and his tollbooth-to-conscientiousness continually accomplishes one of the greatest feats a children’s book can: instead of erring on the side of simplistic, it challenges its readers to learn beyond the pages.
The Simpsons, which has delighted, entertained and made over two decades of youth and their families laugh, has come to life.
Since it first aired in 1989, the Simpsons have become a modern staple of cartoon comedy as one of the most recognizable TV sitcom families of all time. With over 500 episodes aired on FOX and a full-length blockbuster film under their belts, they can now add theme park to their list of accomplishments.
Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla., has constructed interactive replicas of some of the more famous Springfield landmarks seen in the show including Moe’s Tavern, Kwik E Mart, and Krusty Burger. Visitors can also saddle up to a new kiosk and have their picture taken on a faux Simpsons’ family sofa.
I love cereal and I loved it even more as a kid. Left to my own devices, I would eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner! Strangely enough, my interest in cereal had little to do with the stuff in the bowl and everything to do with the toy or “freebie” I would receive when opening the box. This pretty much echoed the relationship I had with McDonald’s; I loved Happy Meals because of the toy collectibles, and then my interest in the food would follow. My happiest days and greatest appreciation for McDonald’s was when they partnered with a movie and offered not one, but a “collection” of toys! Those were good times!!
Fast-forward 10 years; I am no longer collecting McDonald’s toys from Happy Meal’s, and I rarely go there for the food. I’m one of the lucky ones!
Let’s look at the not so lucky ones: children. Children cannot identify the intent to advertise, they are not aware that the toy giveaway is a clever marketing tactic. Parents placing a premium on convenience cater to their child’s wants and needs, especially if it is an on-the-go solution. Most fast food restaurants are family friendly; this means they have something on the menu for everyone. Burgers, fries, pop and toys, all in one sitting. Happy meal, happy family, right? Not a problem if it’s a once in a while solution. But for parents short on cash, and energy, regular reliance on fast food can have a long-term effect on the eating behaviours and health of a growing child. However, a not-so-healthy meal accompanied with a branded cartoon toy is a win-win for a brand and a corporation.
An Ethical Framework and Best Practices Report for Children’s Digital Developers… Let the Debate Begin!
In the spring of 2012, one of our instructors in the Centennial Children’s Entertainment course approached the kidsmediacentre with a proposal. As an online, interactive developer, she recognized the need for an Ethical Framework for children’s developers. She’d heard countless pitches for kid’s content, but the marketing and monetization plans left her feeling decidedly uncomfortable. Many of these developers oozed digital and creative genius but what they sometimes lacked was an understanding of the legal, ethical and developmental needs of children and their parents.
While some developers entering the kids’ space are new to the concept of “acceptable industry practices”, many others are not. Ontario can hold its head high on the world stage when it comes to developing engaging children’s content. We have an award winning cross-platform children’s industry and there are many developers who live and breathe best practices. So we sought them out. We wanted to know what child development considerations govern their interactive brand development? How well did they know the regulatory landscape? What are the opportunities and challenges they face in marketing and monetizing their children’s products?
Media offers a world of entertainment and learning possibilities for children and youth. The kidsmediacentre explores kids' media futures and is committed to supporting cross-platform content producers in Canada to ensure the kids' media industry is vibrant, indigenous and committed to the healthy growth of children.