It is very important for children to learn math. My kids watch a lot of those shows. I’m glad they do. Science? Yeah, science is valuable. I won’t say I wasn’t impressed when, for example, my then-three-year-old son Zane, who had a speech delay, informed me something was a rectangular prism. What’s been more challenging if finding shows that will teach them reading, and specifically shows that will teach them reading that I don’t hate. I won’t say I love this one, especially not as much as Sandy, my now-four-year-old daughter does, but I definitely don’t hate it.
Whyatt (Nicholas Castel Vanderburgh, mostly) is the younger brother of Jack of Beanstalk fame (I don’t know). (Look, uh, crediting’s uneven on a lot of these shows.) They live in a land inside books along with Red Riding Hood, Princess Pea, and Littlest Pig (assorted kids over the years). They solve problems dealing with fairy tales and things, becoming superheroes for the duration, and along the way, they find Super Letters. The letters come together to form the lesson that the kids are supposed to be learning today.
The show is created by Angela C. Santomero, who has a long and distinguished career in children’s educational programming—you might know her as one of the creators of Blue’s Clues. It’s not as well known, of course, but Blue’s Clues falls into the gap of “I’m too old and my kids are too young,” so none of us have really watched much of it. Sandy might be interested in the new version, but I don’t think she’s seen any of it yet.
I will say that I find it part of an annoying trend of rendering fairy tales toothless. There’s an episode with the Big, Bad Wolf where the way they defeat him is to change his adjectives. And, yes, we learn that “bad” and “sad” and “glad” all rhyme, and changing from one to another is a matter of a few letters, and I’m glad Sandy’s learned that, because it’s a very helpful thing to know. That said, you know, fairy tales are supposed to be dark; it’s their nature.
Similarly, the valuable lessons do tend to be “people don’t mean to hurt your feelings” and so forth, and while that’s mostly true, it was frustrating to me growing up in a household with someone who may not have meant to hurt my feelings but primarily because she didn’t give them the slightest thought and still doesn’t. And to go to school with people who absolutely did intend to hurt my feelings and took pleasure in doing it. I will say that they can also be “be patient” and “notice that you’re hurting other people’s feelings,” which are definitely lessons my kids could stand to learn.
Still, Sandy is learning to read, and that’s the important thing. It’s one of those shows that asks her questions and waits for her to answer them, and she takes great pride in her ability to do so. For those of you worried about her screen time, I promise you that I’m also helping her. We have flash cards. (She was learning to read words that end in “-ock,” and she remembered that one of the letters in “knock” was silent but not which one, and a four-year-old declaring, “Cock!” with great confidence is adorable and wrong.) But I know that, for sheer repetition, TV’s the way to go.