* I've lost a few readers since I posted this last week, so I'm going to apologise in advance to anyone reading it for the first time. I know a lot of parents and kids out there love "In the Night Garden," and if that's you, I'm glad you've found something that makes your children happy. I'm frustrated over the lack of good TV shows for babies and toddlers and that is what was behind this post. Please don't take offence and forgive me for coming across as a bit of a know-it-all, I'm not like that normally!
I always swore I'd be one of those mothers who don't let their kids watch television. Obviously that was before I had children... Apart from a fascination with American Idol at a very early age, J was never interested in TV until recently. His older cousin is hooked on it and when we visited them a few months ago J was always trying to divert her attention away from Playschool so she could play with him. I was partly pleased that he wasn't interested but also mildly disappointed that I wouldn't have another babysitter. I shouldn't have worried because that's all changed in the last few weeks. We have a DVD called "I Like to Sing" by an Australian kids entertainer, Justine Clarke. It's upbeat, fun and partly animated, and J is just transfixed by the singing and dancing.
One night a couple of weeks ago I made the mistake of putting it on when J was steadfastly refusing to eat his dinner. Since then it has become increasingly difficult to feed him without the effervescent presence of Justine and her gang. As soon as we put him in his highchair he turns to the TV expectantly. Some days we manage to get in breakfast and lunch without turning the TV on, but by dinnertime J is ready to be entertained, no matter how appetising the meal or how hungry he is. We've tried toys and tricks, like giving him his own bowl and spoon to play with, but the only thing that will get him to open his little mouth is Justine. To save our sanity I've ordered another of her DVDs and two by the Wiggles, hoping for at least a little bit of variety at mealtimes.
I've not had much exposure to children's programmes in the past, so I was surprised when we started watching the dedicated children's channels on cable TV here. Unable to form sentences at 6am, let alone entertain J over breakfast, I generally switch on the BBC's children's channel: CBeebies. Some of the shows are quite clever and funny, even for mums and dads. We love Andy Pandy for the cute storylines and the ironic tone of the narration. Humf and Little Robots are sweet and always have a nice moral for the kiddies. Mister Maker is colourful enough to appeal to children as young as J and the ideas are clever enough that older kids love it too, and it's different every day so parents don't get bored. Then there are shows like In the Night Garden that can only have been written by someone who's had too much cough medicine. There's something about it that appeals to children on a cellular level. J just has to hear the opening tune and he stops in his tracks. We don't watch it in our house out of principle. I don't want my son thinking it's ok to ride around washing other people's faces, a la Macca Pacca, or skipping along repeating your own name over and over, like Upsy Daisy. I have similar feelings about the inanity of the Teletubbies and Waybuloo.
At the risk of sounding like a smarty pants, I have issues with shows that oversimplify language and talk down to children. As a teacher I've done a lot of research into language development and it's a fact that babies learn to communicate more efficiently when they are exposed to normal, everyday ways of using language. Talking in "baby talk" serves no purpose at all. They understand what we're saying much earlier than they're able to talk back, and the best way to ensure that they do talk back is to model how and what to say. Obviously when you talk to babies you change your tone and repeat yourself more often than you would normally, but "dumbing down" what you say to them can negatively impact on things like speech, comprehension and vocabulary development. So until my son's verbal enough to argue with me, I'll be in charge of the remote control. Yes, I'm going to be one of THOSE mothers...