Nina’s World: A Bilingual, Everyday Wonderland

Nina’s World debuted on NBC Kids in 2015. It is a spin-off of The Good Night Show, which also features a character named Nina. Nina’s World is gentle and sweet, and offers a bilingual alternative to Dora the Explorer. Nina lives with her parents, who own a bakery, and her spry Abuelita, who takes her on adventures throughout the city. The show also features Tio Javier, Nina’s young, rockstar uncle who sings her favorite songs for her, as well as her imaginary friend Star.

ninas-world.jpg

The show is incredibly sweet. Nina is clearly loved, and her parents and Abuelita give her space with which to enjoy her world. I was especially struck by the episode “Nina’s Big Adventure,” in which Nina is disappointed that her Tio Javier is going to Peru without her. To cheer her up, Abuelita Yolie takes her on an adventure around the block, in which they use their imagination to pretend that a puddle is the mighty Nile and the playground equipment are Mayan ruins. In order to help children differentiate what is “real” and what is in Nina’s imagination, the show uses a starkly different animation style, which resembles a child’s drawings. Nina has a rich inner world that is actively encouraged by her family and friends, which helps Nina and, by proxy the viewer, feel safe and secure.

Although Nina’s World is enriched by Nina’s imagination, it is a story grounded in the here and now. Sandy Wax, the president of Sprout Network at the time, told NPR in an interview, “We believe that the real world of today’s kids and families is a very cool and fun place. We don’t believe that we have to be transported to magical kingdoms and castles in order to create a relatable story that really speaks to this generation.” And it’s true that Nina’s World doesn’t need magical kingdoms; she has the magical kingdom of her own imagination.

Nina’s World is lightly educational. It teaches children manners, citizenship, and how to be kind and respectful. Children learn these lessons alongside Nina, who helpfully explains her thinking process along the way. Children will also pick up new Spanish vocabulary, as Spanish and English are spoken interchangeably by the main characters. Helpfully, another character will usually give the viewer context in English, which would allow for seamless, integrated learning.

Overall, Nina’s World is an incredibly gentle show that is perfect for preschoolers who want to join Nina in imaginative adventures, and pick up a little Spanish along the way.

-Macklin

NW_Playdate_Splash.png

references:
https://www.npr.org/2015/09/25/443334527/move-over-dora-ninas-world-brings-another-bilingual-girl-to-tv
https://www.commonsensemedia.org/tv-reviews/ninas-world

 

Advertisements

Octonauts: Teaching the Value of Biodiversity and Teamwork

The Octonauts is a television show by Disney Junior, based on the book series of the same name by Meomi. The Octonauts are a band of anthropomorphic animal adventurers, who explore the ocean in the Octopod. The cast of characters includes Captain Barnacles Bear, Tweak Bunny, Kwazii Kitten and more. The Octonauts work together to help various sea creatures they encounter along the way. Although the show is fictional, the sea creatures the Octonauts encounter are real, and the end of every episode is summed up by a catchy “Creature Report” song, that lists a few quick facts about each creature they encounter.

 

octonauts

Common Sense Media describes the show as “ a bit like what you’d expect if you mixed Finding Nemo with Star Trek.” Octonauts is futuristic and fun, and the technology on the Octopod has a spaceship-esque feel. There are elements of the show that are downright nonsensical (what ARE the vegimals?), and it is a gentle show that doesn’t get scary. Overall, the show is very appropriate for preschoolers.  

Besides teaching children about the ocean and biodiversity, the Octonauts could spark conversations about teamwork, as the team must work together and blend their different personalities to solve problems and help the sea creatures they meet along the way. Even when one of the Octonauts makes a mistake, like when Kwazii Kitten takes out the Gup-B (a cross between a submarine and a fighter jet) right before a big storm, they work together to solve the issue and never argue about a solution.

That being said, the Octonauts has room for improvement in regard to gender roles. There are two female Octonauts: Tweak Bunny and Dashi Dog. Neither of them are central characters, and they never take a leadership position in the show. Dashi Dog, in particular, seems to act as part building manager, part photographer, and part secretary. She always seems to be working at the whim of the charismatic Captain Barnacles Bear or the absentminded Professor Inkling Octopus. Tweak Bunny does defy gender stereotypes in that she is a respected mechanic, yet she mostly stays in the Octopod and sighs when Kwazii Kitten puts another dent in the Gup-B. I feel I must also mention Peso the Penguin, and his vaguely Mexican accent. While not truly offensive, Peso’s accent feels like a misstep, or at the very least, bad voice acting.

However, besides these flaws, the Octonauts is an incredibly enjoyable show. It teaches preschoolers the value of teamwork and biodiversity in a way that will entertain children and parents alike. Be warned, though, “The Creature Report” is an earworm, and you’ll find yourself humming it while you brush your teeth three days later.

-Macklin

 

octopod.jpg

references: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/tv-reviews/octonauts

TV Review: The Amazing World of Gumball

First airing in May 2011, The Amazing World of Gumball is one of Cartoon Network’s current animated series that leans toward a satirical comedic style. Now in its fifth season, the show is about 12-year-old blue cat Gumball Watterson and his best friend Darwin, who was originally Gumball’s pet goldfish who grew legs and became able to live out of water. The two characters attend middle school in a city called Elmore where they frequently find themselves involved in all sorts of strange troubles. Common Sense Media says the show is “full of quirky characters and a lot of over-the top humor, in a world where kids’ wildest imaginings will likely come to pass.” The show creates this world through a combination of TV techniques such as traditional animation, puppetry, CGI, stop motion and flash animation, and live-action. This combination of techniques led writer for Entertainment Weekly Ken Tucker to call the show “wildly imaginative” and “visually and narratively daring,” (Tucker, 2011).

Though originally intended for ages 7-15, this show has some interesting features that may make it appealing to children (or adults even) off all ages. Each episode of the show is 11-15 minutes long. Because of this, the plot points move very quickly, which makes it ideal for viewers who struggle with paying attention for long periods of time. The show also involves a lot of attractive, bright colors. The dialogue is very sarcastic, with lots of gross-out humor and cartoon violence. Some of the plot points are targeted toward the older end of the audience range. For example, one of the big points in the episode I watched revolved around the idea that the parents would replace Gumball’s fish every time the previous one died. Though they tried to tell him that it was the same one, Gumball acknowledged that he knew the fish were dying.

Much like the fish example, the show has a combination of situations that children may experience in their own live and situations that are completely unrealistic and off the wall comedic. The main character also has to deal with situations where his good intentions get him into trouble, and then trying to fix the problem just makes it even worse. This concept could be really appealing to children if they sympathize with Gumball. However, this show is intended for comedy, not education, which means the characters do not learn from their mistakes. Though, if you are looking for a fun show to watch, you have come to the right place.

-Sarah

gumball

App Review: HangArt

HangArt is an app version of the game “Hangman” that is intended for children in grades K-3 or ages 5-8. It is produced by Literary Safari. I first discovered it through the Madison Public Library “App Finder,” but it has also been featured on the “Best of Edtech 2016,” and voted Teachers with Apps “Best Play and Learn App 2016.”

The game is compatible with both Android and IOS platforms. Though the app has no noticeable differences between platforms, there is a difference in pricing. The app is $1.99 in Apple Store and $0.99 in Google Play Store. However, there are no in-app purchases, which means the only money involved will be in the original purchase. One other perk is that you do not need an internet connection to play it, which means it can be useful for long car rides or when data or Wi-Fi is limited. It was even featured on the New York Times’ “10 Children’s Apps for Summer Road Trips” list.

This game plays with 200+ K-3 sight words. The game can have up to 6 different profiles and each profile can choose their own grade level: Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd+. The higher grade levels include more challenging words than the lower levels. You can also choose to play one-player or two-player. Much like the original hangman game. Players are given lines that represent how many letters are in the given word and the letters of the alphabet to choose from. When a correct answer is given, the letter appears on its corresponding line. When an incorrect answer is given, a piece of the hanging man’s body gets added. If there are too many incorrect answers given, the hang man falls. However, there are a lot of fun features that make this version different. For example, the hanging person is hanging from his or her hands on a monkey bar, which not only makes it less violent than the original, but it also gives the players an image to connect with. Another unique feature is that the game provides hints in the form of pictures. Each time a letter is correctly guessed, the game adds a little more to the picture hint. When the word is completed, the player is shown the whole picture and the player is asked to follow along and trace the letters of the word. The game also has three other options for players, one where you can just practice letters, one where players can learn how to draw the pictures associated with each word, and one where players are given 6 of the words they have used in the game to create a story.

The game seems to do a pretty good job at following the apps goals. The app gives children the opportunity to practice their letter recognition, spelling, and handwriting skills while playing the game. It also teaches children sight words and vocabulary in an interactive way with fun pictures to help illustrate the words. One other appealing aspect is that the pictures are very multicultural, and every child will find a picture that they can connect with, which is great for making all children feel included.

Though it is age appropriate, the School Library Journal believes that the app will “likely appeal most to children who are already reading, can guess spelling patterns successfully, and build a collection of words” (Grabarek). However, I believe that the game play may get a little boring quickly for children that are on the older end of the spectrum, because you are asked to trace each word after you discover it. Though this seems incredibly useful for children learning to read and children that need more practice with the shapes of letters, it may be less appealing to children that already have a good grasp on their letters. Players do have the option of skipping the handwriting part, though the pop up box asking this occurs on every word. Overall though, I found this to be an impressive and fun game.

-Sarah

hangart

Scavenger Bingo: Blend of Real-World and Digital Play

IMG_7951

Scavenger is a free app available on iOS devices and intended for children ages 6-8. The game was created in 2015 by Seedling, a children’s lifestyle company started by a mother searching for more interactive play opportunities for her children. The company creates kits and materials to encourage real-world play and learning opportunities. According to Madison Public Library’s AppFinder, Scavenger is “a fun way to encourage users to get moving and interact with their environment and other people while using an electronic device” (AppFinder, 2015). Because of its creator, the app does need to be viewed with a critical lens, as the company sells lifestyle products that are not necessarily created with reliable educational resources.

Scavenger is the second app the company has released, and aims to produce an experience providing a combination of digital and real-world play. The app is very simple, with different game board options provided for certain themes, including Around the House, Road Trip, Christmas, Hanukkah, and several others. Once you select your board, nine tiles will be shown with simple graphics and words to describe each item. After starting the game, a timer will start and the goal is to find all nine objects and photograph them in the shortest amount of time. There are options to join games with friends, so the game can be interactive with others.

The app is definitely age-appropriate when it comes to operation. There are very few buttons to choose from in order to access the game boards, and the graphics are easy to understand. The app was designed as a way for caregivers and children to interact, so if there is any confusion, it would take a simple clarification from an adult to continue the game. Without an adult, there may be some confusion for certain graphics that the child is unfamiliar with.

IMG_7950

In terms of accessibility, the app does fairly well, although there are a few points of concern. The app is free and comes with 9 game boards. The tiles in these are general enough that most children could probably find the items without much difficulty. After this, the specialty game boards (such as Theme Park, Beach, Airport, and many others) are $0.99 each to unlock. To build your own custom game costs $1.99, so the full creative potential of the app can only be unlocked with extra cost, which could easily add up over time and usage and limit access. It is also only available to iOS users, so children hoping to play with friends may not be able to if their friends have non-Apple products.

Overall, the game is simple enough that it doesn’t necessarily require sound educational resources to fulfill its objective. It’s a fun and easy way for caregivers to encourage children to mix digital and real-world play, and can spark conversations about objects within the child’s environment.

-Chloe

“AppFinder.” AppFinder, Madison Public Library, 2015, http://www.madisonpubliclibrary.org/kids/apps/appfinder?title=&name=Alphabet&field_app_developer_value=&tid=All&tid_1=All&field_free_app_value_many_to_one=Freemium.

Peg + Cat, Acute Animated Math Show

Peg + Cat is an animated television program for preschoolers that introduces children to unique methods of mathematical problem-solving and is highly recommended by Common Sense Media. Peg is a young girl with smarts and spunk, and she loves to have adventures with her cat, Cat. Together they encounter everyday problems, like a messy room, or fantastical problems, like how to move a giant boulder during the age of dinosaurs. No matter what, they use math and number sense to solve their big problems.

Produced by both The Fred Rogers Company and 9 Story Entertainment (the company behind shows such as The Octonauts and Doc McStuffins), Peg + Cat airs on PBS and is intended by the creators to “inspire preschool children to see math as exciting, accessible, and fun” (About, 2013). Using skills established by the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics, the show provides examples of how to use many number sense and pre-math skills, such as patterns, shapes, and measurements.

In one of the first episodes, “The Messy Room,” Peg announces they have a “biiiiig problem!” as she looks over a large pile of stuff in the middle of her room. She has company coming over to look at Cat’s debut art piece, and her room has to be clean for that. To solve the problem, she and Cat come up with a sorting song and begin sorting the pile according to clothing type, the item’s usage, shape, etc. While this is a fairly realistic problem that preschoolers can relate to, there are very imaginative aspects of the show that generate more interest. Cat can talk, sing, and create art, there is a character named Pig who sings about his love of triangles (he loves that they have three sides), and a large monster that collects only small yellow things. Overall, the plot provides an interesting set-up to explore important math skills.

ZX9699A003S0055384246b8de90.96221437_1280

While critics appreciate the educational value and thought put into each episode, Common Sense Media reviewer Emily Ashby points out that the show provides examples of positive character traits as well (Ashby, 2013). Peg displays perseverance, collaboration, and teamwork throughout the show in order to solve her problems. The dialogue is imaginative and entertaining even for adults, and although there is little character development over time, it does feature Peg learning some important lessons and verbally expressing what she’s learned.

With an engaging protagonist, imaginative plotlines and characters, and reliable educational content, there is little to critique in Peg + Cat. However, some parents have expressed concern about the reaction level of Peg when it comes to problems as well as how often she yells. Peg declares each problem to be a big one, and enunciates clearly and loudly while speaking. While I don’t think this is enough to seriously critique the show, it is something to be aware of when recommending the show to parents and guardians.

In the end, Peg + Cat is an excellent program for preschoolers to gain exposure to number sense, math skills, and a smart female role model. It successfully utilizes musical numbers to accompany the educational content, and it would be an excellent show for co-viewing and practicing the demonstrated skills.

 

-Chloe

“About Peg Cat.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 2013, http://www.pbs.org/parents/peg/about/.

Ashby, Emily. “Peg Cat – TV Review.” Common Sense Media: Ratings, reviews, and advice, Common Sense Media, 7 Oct. 2013, http://www.commonsensemedia.org/tv-reviews/peg-cat.

Dino Dan: Trek’s Adventures

trek

Any dinosaur-lovers out there? The television series Dino Dan: Trek’s Adventures takes CGI-designed dinosaurs and places them in modern, live-action settings and stories. Trek Henderson, a ten-year-old younger brother of Dan, the previous star of the Dino Dan series, realizes that he can see dinosaurs all around him, just like his older brother. Living in the same settings as real (though apparently invisible to everyone else) dinosaurs, gives Trek the perfect opportunity to conduct dino experiments, and observe the behaviors and personalities of the creatures around him.

Most episodes begin with Trek creating a simple experiment to observe the differences between dinosaur species. For example, in episode “Trekoodon,” Trek’s friend Penelope challenges him to prove how smaller dinosaurs, like the troodon, have some advantages over the big carnivores, like the T-rex, or over the flying dinosaurs, like the microraptor. Trek, dressed in a troodon costume, runs races and obstacle courses against the other dinosaurs, demonstrating the skills and strengths of troodons.

The CGI dinosaurs are quite impressive, and believable. There appears to be no regard for grouping dinosaurs by different periods in time, like the PBS show Dinosaur Train. However, placing the dinosaurs in a modern neighborhood, where they walk down the street, destroy garbage cans in the alley, and wander the school playground, shows the relative size and behaviors of various dinosaurs compared with familiar, everyday people and places. Not only do viewers learn the names and sizes of dinosaur species, but the show also teaches vocabulary like “carnivore,” “omnivore,” and “herbivore.”

The acting is enjoyable, with well-written dialog. Trek Buccino, who plays Trek in the show, has an array of entertaining facial expressions, and great rapport with the other actors. He has a celebratory happy-dance whenever he makes a new discovery, loves cookies, and is thoughtful and kind. While Trey’s character is ten-years-old, the show is geared towards a preschool audience. Winner of a 2016 Parents’ Choice Silver Award, the show is suggested for ages two to five. Fear not any violence, as this is a gentle TV show that avoids any scenes of terrifying carnivores attacking and eating other animals. Sometimes a carnivore takes an interest in Trek, but he just waves it away with an annoyed swat, yelling, “Not ME!”

While the show is no longer aired on Nick Jr, there are plenty of feature-length movies and TV episodes available via Hoopla online, or on DVD in the children’s department of the library. There is absolutely no commercialism in the show, so after watching Trek’s adventures, expect that the only thing your child will want (besides a pet dinosaur in their backyard) will be to learn more about these amazing animals!  -Jeneva

Parents’ Choice Award, Review by Gina Catanzarite:  http://www.parents-choice.org/product.cfm?product_id=34060&StepNum=1&award=aw

microraptor

Trek and a microraptor test their climbing skills in the episode “Dino Climbers”

Belle and Sebastian

belle 2

Belle and Sebastian, 2013

Based on a 1965 novel, the French film Belle and Sebastian is inspiring and hopeful. Set in a fictional community in the remote French Alps, six-year-old Sebastian lives with his adoptive family, Cesar (a shepard) and his adult niece Angelina (a baker). Though he has never met his mother, Sebastian dreams that one day she will come back to him, perhaps in time for Christmas. He spends his days wandering and playing in the mountains, and helping Cesar with the farm animals. However, it is Nazi-occupied France, and the Germans make life difficult in the small community. The villagers, already growing hungry as the Nazis take their food, are concerned with what they call “a beast,” roaming the mountains and killing their livestock. Sebastian, however, is not convinced that the “beast” is to blame. He befriends the huge, shaggy dog, and names her Belle. Belle proves her goodness by protecting Sebastian from the Nazis, by saving the sheep from wolves, and in the climax, helping ferry a Jewish family out of France and into Switzerland through the thickest of snowstorms in the glacial peaks of the Alps.

Gorgeous views of the Alps and wildlife are in almost every shot of the movie. You can visibly see the seasons changing in beautiful detail over the course of the story. Though that beauty is also dangerous: While sheparding the Jewish family through the mountains, an avalanche nearly kills everyone, and while crossing over an icy river, Belle actually falls off the cliff (though she is rescued due to her rope harness). There are moments that call for a relatively mature audience; Cesar is an alcoholic, a Nazi officer creepily stalks Angelina, and in the past Belle’s previous owner abused her. As the film does take place during a war, guns are everywhere. Belle is shot in the leg, and nearly dies.

The movie spends no time explaining World War II Europe, so a bit of background would be necessary for viewers to understand why the Jews must leave France. But with this background knowledge, the audience gains a richer appreciation of the dangers of war-torn France, and the risks of aiding Jews in any capacity. And both Angelina and Sebastian don’t take “no” for an answer when they are warned ferrying the Jews is too dangerous for women and children. Angelina, Sebastian, and Belle make a heroic team facing dangerous odds.

Belle and Sebastian is a film both adults and preteens will find appealing. While Sebastian is six-years-old,  the film might be inappropriate for some children that age. Parents’ Choice Awards suggest ages seven and up, but Common Sense Media lists ages ten and up as appropriate. School Library Journal advises an audience between ages eight and fourteen.  The film won a Parents Choice Award in 2016, and was a grand winner at the 2015 New York International Children’s Film Festival. The SLJ called the movie “radiant and not to be missed.”  -Jeneva

belle 4

2016 Parents’ Choice Awards: Reviewed by Gina Catanzarite: http://www.parents-choice.org/product.cfm?product_id=34434&StepNum=1&award=aw

Common Sense Media, Reviewed by Grace Montgomery:  https://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/belle-and-sebastian

Prince, Jennifer. School Library Journal, Vol. 61, Issue 8 (August 2015), 42.

“Break It Down”, an Arcade Game to Learn about Decomposing

plum1

(Playing the Game!)

“Break It Down” is a game on the PBS Online Platform “Plum Landing” that is free for all users, and designated by Parent’s Choice Awards for children ages 6-9. All of the games on Plum Landing have different methods of teaching environmental science to children. The game I chose is about how decomposers break down waste in the jungle to keep it fresh from rotting/wasteful materials. The game has players break down waste by choosing the right decomposer and blasting it with a special “cannon” to create soil.

Contextually I think the game is age appropriate. The higher pitched sound of the narrator and the colorful graphic design are certainly appealing to children. The game itself is pretty simplistic, a sidebar shows what decomposers should be shot at what kinds of waste. After a level is done in the game, players are given interesting facts about the decomposers represented in the game. It’s an overall incredibly engaging game for the age range designated by the Parent’s Choice Awards.

However, I will critique that the game could get confusing for children in some aspects. In the introduction of the game, the narrator Plum talks about what decomposers are, however there is no text that accompanies the introduction until game instructions are discussed. Children could get confused or lose interest. There is an option to skip the intro, but that takes away the game’s context. The beginning of levels have a similar format when talking about specific decomposers. The game should certainly be played with an adult that can understand the narrator, particularly if the child playing gets lost in the narrative or is hearing impaired.

plum2

(“Fun Facts” after a level!)

Despite the accessibility issues listed above, I think the game is a fun way for children to learn about environmental science. The game is not influenced by commercialization, and Plum is a recurring narrator in “Plum Landing” games, becoming a familiar character for children. – Ally

Common Sense Media: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/website-reviews/pbs-kids-plum-landing

Parents’ Choice Awards: http://www.parents-choice.org/product.cfm?product_id=35171&StepNum=1&award=aw

Game Link: http://pbskids.org/plumlanding/games/break_it_down/index.html

Review: “Bubble Guppies”, Diverse Fun for Everyone

guppies

 Bubble Guppies is a show on Nick Jr. intended for children around the ages of 2-5 years old. The show takes place in a school full of young guppies who are taught different subjects and go on adventures with their teacher Mr. Grouper. The show covers many subjects, such as learning school related topics like sciences and maths as well as important life skills that concern cognitive and social knowledge. In one episode, children can learn about shapes and how mail works in the next! It’s an educationally diverse show where caretakers and children can pick what they’d like to focus on.

Not only is Bubble Guppies educationally diverse, but the group of young children are also diverse. Multiple ethnicities and genders are presented to families, and each guppy has a distinct personality. Guppy Deema is very imaginative, Gil and Molly host a show together, and Nonny is a wiz kid, smart and diligent. With all the different characters, the Guppies are eager and curious to learn about the world around them. The show gives positive diverse representation of how people of different backgrounds and personalities learn to solve conflict together.

Bubble Guppies is a strategically created show for young toddlers and preschoolers, and is interactive with the audience. The show frequently “breaks the fourth wall”; if Mr. Grouper asks the guppies a question, there’s a pause on-screen for viewers to answer! The TV show also has plenty of songs (repeated and not repeated) that children can dance and sing to. Some of the recurring songs like the Theme Song, “Lunchtime” and “Outside” can engage children with the program, particularly younger toddlers. They’re staples in the show, where children can find excitement in repeating songs while not tiring out caretakers.

All though the show does have commercial products, the show’s subject matter does not prioritize selling products. Teaching children critical development skills is a well-done task that does not endorse any kind of vendor. Children can also enjoy the show without companion items such as toys or expensive materials. However, Bubble Guppies merchandise like music soundtracks and toys are easy to come by in stores. The show also has a website where kids can play games with their favorite Guppies!

Various representation of educational topics, viewer interaction, and the show’s colorful aesthetics make Bubble Guppies a hit for children and caretakers alike. – Ally

Parent’s Choice Awards: http://www.parents-choice.org/product.cfm?product_id=30584&StepNum=1&award=aw

Common Sense Media: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/tv-reviews/bubble-guppies#

Wikipedia (for naming characters): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bubble_Guppies#Characters