There have been reports expressing concern about the impact of television on a child’s development and, when computers are brought into it, concern over ‘Facebook depression’.
Of course, there is a balance to be struck, but I prefer to share the views expressed recently in the Guardian by Anne Wood recently, when she sensibly pointed out how television is part of life for almost everyone and, with parental help, can enhance development.
Now the BBC is often the target of criticism, but I can’t say I have too many complaints about CBeebies.
Not that I watch it too much and nor does my three-year-old son. (I expect that those in charge of programming at CBeebies don’t expect viewers to sit down for hours at a time, either, for that matter.)
We watch it a little. And it enhances the day.
Often, our post-breakfast activity is to sit down and watch Mister Maker in the morning (actually being screened on the main BBC channel in the children’s slot).
Now, if you met Phil Gallagher, the eponymous character, you’d probably try to avoid him. But he’s a hero to my boy.
That’s not to say he even lasts the entire 20 minute episode. Often, before I’ve even had chance to finish the cup of tea I allow myself during this quiet spell, Speller Junior has left his chair and is heading into the toy room/dining room. I’ll find him sat at the table, waiting for me to come and join him and to bring paper and paint with me.
He is inspired by Mister Maker. He doesn’t necessarily copy him with any precision (apart from wobbly clowns made with plastic eggs, playdough and googly eyes), but just like Mr M, he gives a running commentary on what it is he wants to do and then proceeds to do it.
My job is to sit there and assist with provision of supplies, supervise the gloopy glue and to take over painting duties when the real artist needs to move on.
Now I like to think this creativity is also fuelled by parental encouragement – and now from his preschool – but I know where he first got the phrase ‘be careful, because scissors are sharp’ from.
The point is, we can’t blame television if children spend all day sat in front of it. It’s the parental duty to strike the right balance.
It’s not just CBeebies that give these options (Cartoonito Tales, narrated by Jane Horrocks, is an excellent storytime), but it probably leads the way.
And a lot of people must know it. Look at the big names they get in: whether it’s Kimberley Walsh from Girls Aloud doing the bedtime story, or Derek Jacobi narrating In The Night Garden, the stars want to be part of it.
With my boy Mister Maker is the favourite show. With someone else’s daughter, it’ll be Show Me Show Me. If you, as a parent, take part in the television experience, then you can find out what works.
I have a lot of time for CBeebies.
Justin Fletcher is probably another character who, if I saw him walking down the street, I’d duck into a doorway to avoid.
But you have to applaud the programme Something Special for the way in which it integrates children with special needs into the action without being patronizing or putting labels on anyone.
That is educational. Just because there isn’t a flashing light in the background saying such does not mean that children aren’t learning.
Look at the early years’ curriculum; learning through play is crucial.
So when you get the ill-informed muttering there isn’t enough educational value in preschool and children’s programming, they aren’t looking hard enough.
Of course there is some dross out there.
But that’s where you come in as a parent. Watch with your child. They’ll enjoy your company and you’ll learn which programmes give something towards your child’s development.
And don’t forget. There’s nothing wrong with actually having a bit of fun in front of the television screen either.
We’re not special in our household. We also enjoy Fireman Sam, Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom and Peppa Pig.
I also remember as a child the programme Why Don’t You? Which asked ‘why don’t you just switch off your television set and go do something less boring instead?’
It always confused me, as it was a television programme.
But you know what? After Mister Maker, the television is normally switched off and it doesn’t come back on. We go and do something else.
And that’s at least as much my son’s choice as mine.
He wants to try things out for himself. He’s not alone. Most kids that age will want the same. Television can sometimes point the way.
And the best thing is that if you, as a parent, enable that process. You’ll learn too.
Now, I’ve got to check our supply of empty kitchen roll tubes remains sufficient. We’re going to need them for our next project.
Follow Paul Speller on Twitter: @Norbertsdad
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