COMMENTARY: PBS Kids Has Still Got it!

pbskidsIt’s Friday afternoon and like all Fridays this summer, I’m struggling to find something interesting to watch on TV. There’s only so many re-runs one can watch without actually wishing that school was back in session. In between channel surfing and lamenting on days spent in the classroom furiously copying down chemistry notes, I stumble upon a channel I hadn’t bothered paying any mind to in some years.

Somewhere along middle school and now, I’d decided there were better things to watch in the vast pool of cable channels than enjoying some good old educational shows on PBS. Don’t get me wrong, PBS has produced some stellar television like Masterpiece Theatre since its launch. I adored Masterpiece and still do (Downton Abbey anyone?), but anything on the network regarding the PBS Kids block had lost its appeal to me as soon as I’d discovered Lizzie Mcguire and Even Stevens on the Disney Channel. Sitting in despair however, I realized I had nothing better to watch, so I resolutely dropped the remote and left the channel on PBS.

Arthur                                                   

Abby August 8The first show that caught my eye was Arthur, and I was surprised it stood the test of time. As that all too catchy theme song came on (“Every day when you’re walking down the street…”), I quickly remembered why it had been one of my favorite shows. Arthur is based on the book series by Marc Brown, and follows an eight-year old aardvark and his friends and family as they intermingle with each other and deal with different experiences and problems. Yes, Arthur is an aardvark, but he’s not your archetypal aardvark. For one he doesn’t go around eating ants, and is anthropomorphic meaning he has human attributes such as wearing his trademark jeans and yellow sweater and eating sandwiches and ice cream.

What makes Arthur so great is that the show cleverly portrays real-world settings and situations. The show helps kids navigate through difficult circumstances such as having asthma and dyslexia, as well as childhood fears such as dealing with bullies and overcoming challenges. Viewers are instantly sucked into the story lines, which usually starts with a hypothetical condition that eases kids into the topic. Not to mention, the show is just pure fun. One example of that is the “Arthur’s Almost Live Not Real Music Festival”, which was an entire musical episode that was kind-of-sort of-fake, but churned out that classic library card song. That episode was plain genius and by the end, I too was belting “Having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card!” and made a note to visit my local library very soon. That, added in with the nice visuals, is sure to capture a young child’s attention. Speaking of children, Arthur is not meant only for kids as it makes some adroit allusions to shows familiar to adults such as The Sopranos, making the show not only kid-friendly, but an adult hit too.

Word Girl

Word-GirlThis show originally started as a series of shorts shown after PBS’ Maya & Miguel but was spun off into its own series. Word Girl is about a 10-and-a-half year old girl from the fictional planet Lexicon (a nod to the focus on words) with super powers who crash lands on Earth with her monkey, Captain Huggy Face. The show however isn’t just another science fiction based children’s show but offers real educational value as well. Word Girl, whose alter ego is Becky Botsford fights crime against a series of odd-ball villains, such as the cheese aficionado Dr. Two Brains and Granny May, an aging con-artist with projectile yarn. At the beginning of each episode, viewers are given instructions to listen for words dispersed throughout the episode. Using this device, kids are introduced to vocabulary words such as “ruckus” and are given the definition as well as a visual representation or analogy to further delineate the word.

The show focuses heavily on the English language but does so in an entertaining way that will elicit fits of laughter. A prime example is Word Girl’s interaction with the show’s narrator providing sidesplitting goodness. Even better still is the scene of an art class in which the pupils were tasked with depicting a tree but saw Word Girl writing down a dictionary definition, complete with the pronunciation and parts of speech instead. It’s no surprise then to see that the show recently won an Emmy for “Outstanding Writing in Animation.”

The Electric Company

tec-01This new version of the 1970′s adaptation features animated and live segments with two group of kids battling it out. On the one hand, you have the Electric Company, which includes a brother and sister duo and their friends. The kids have the power to create words out of thin air and each member also has special powers of his/her own. The Electric Company uses their powers to protect their neighborhood and others from their enemies, the Pranksters. The show is split into smaller segments, but each episode highlights one main story. One example is when the Pranksters try and prevent an Electric Company member from getting enough rest so he does poorly during a presentation.

Each episode also introduces kids to different words, sounds, and ideas. In one episode, kids are shown the value of a good night’s rest as well as eating a nutritious meal in order to have enough stamina to tackle problems and get through the day. Kids also learn problem solving techniques like splitting big words into smaller words they are familiar with to figure out the overall word. Like other PBS Kids shows, celebrities also make appearances and use fun methods to teach kids. One segment for instance had Jimmy Fallon rocking out about the letter “h” and how to utilize it, while another featured Pete Wentz as a temporary genius.

There are of course many other shows on PBS Kids besides the three listed above. Each delivers entertaining learning experiences that the family can enjoy.

For more commentary from Abby, check back often. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!