Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Things He Says (Five Year Old Edition)

When Oliver was younger, I loved posting about the new words he would say or the funny little phrases he would come out with. Now that he's older, his language acquisition moves so quickly that it's hard to keep up.

He still picks up new words, but usually, he surprises us by learning entire new parts of speech. Take conjunctions. Lately, he's been experimenting with the word "anyway." He uses it correctly as a verbal punctuation, to change the direction of a conversation that he's bored with. "Anyway, what are you going to get me for breakfast?" Neither of us taught him that - he just picked it up.

Right now, what I'm most impressed with is his talents as a storyteller. I'm amazed at his ability to create and wild careening stories just off the top of his head. One time, we were driving home from someplace and Oliver was falling asleep. Often, when he's tired I will tell him the story can try to keep him awake. This time, I decided to ask him tell me a story, just to see what would happen.

He began telling this crazy roller coaster of a story. I can't remember everything that was in it, but at one point, I remember there were polar bears building rockets so they could fly to Mars. The story lasted for 15 or 20 minutes and kept changing direction - adding new characters, changing scenes, shifting the landscape. And every time he changed the story dramatically, he would insert a giddy "all of a sudden..."

Mrs. B professes that she hates telling him stories, but she's managed to come up with her own special character for stories. He's called Fluffy the Cloud. She can put Fluffy in any situation - visiting Mt. Rainier, swimming in the ocean, fighting off bad guys with the help of Superman and Flash. He begs to have her tell him Fluffy stories, and he even offers to help her with the stories. "Mommy, I'll tell the middle and the end part, and you can tell the beginning part."

He is so much fun to listen to right now. He creates imaginary conversations with everything-with the stuffed animals, with his action figures, with blankets and pillows. I've even seen them start conversations with pieces of toast while he's eating his breakfast.

And he's still such a ridiculously affectionate little boy. Sometimes, I overhear his crazy little conversations between his stuffed animals or robots or whatever he's using, and I'll hear one say to the other, "I love you." The other one says back, "I love you too," and suddenly they're hugging each other.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Super Why is Awful

It's the worst children's show on television. Yes, and I know Barney is still being aired regularly. Super Why is worse. It's horrible. It's an affront to thinking parents and a shameful way to introduce children to classic literature.

Super Why is one of those shows that sprang up in the wake of Dora the Explorer and Blue's Clues. (Apparently, it's produced by the team that created Blue's Clues.) It's purportedly educational and supposedly encourages literacy - the characters talk directly to their audience and tell them to point out letters and read words and stuff like that. That's fine. A lot of shows do that, and that's not a problem. Here's the issue, though. They're murdering the classics of children's literature - the Brothers Grimm, Mother Goose, Hans Christian Andersen, the stories we all remember when we were children.

They tell the stories, which is nice, I suppose. But they ruin them by retooling the morals!! They twist the fucking things around so that the moral of the story - the whole POINT of the story - is either wrong or watered down to some namby-pamby inoffensive platitude.

Example 1: they took on Hansel and Gretel in one episode. Once you sort through all the "point to the A!" crap, basically, they told the story of Hansel and Gretel. They went into the forest, they saw a witch's house made of candy, they started eating it. The witch came out and got angry. And then they revealed the "message" of the story - they should have asked permission first. Yes, sure, when you encounter a witch in the forest who wants to eat your cherubic German flesh, you should ask permission before eating her evil candy house.

That's not the goddamn story! The story is that the children are starving, the witch is evil and wants to eat them, she traps them with her candy house as bait, and they throw her in the oven and then take her gold back to their father and they never go hungry again. The moral is that witches are evil!!!!! (Of course, I mean fairy-tale witches, not any actual practical Wiccans or witches who may be reading this. Characters in fairy tales bear no relation to the real thing in real life, and I mean that referring to witches, wizards, bears, children, queens. Nothing is real in fairy tales.) It's not about asking permission. It's about many things - beware of strangers, stick together in difficult circumstances, never trust a candy house. It's not about "please, may I?"

Example 2: This was the one that finally set me off. They did "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" recently. It might be an old episode - I just saw it recently, along with Oliver. Same thing - blah blah blah read these letters, blah blah blah what's the magic word, blah blah blah let's solve the mystery! Kid keeps crying wolf, parents don't believe him, finally kid gets in trouble and parents don't believe him. Right? And the moral is - don't lie to your parents and they'll believe you when you need them. That's the moral that you and I remember from our childhood. That's the point of the story. "Crying wolf" = "lying."

Except these pinheads decided the moral of the story was "parents should believe their children." "Oh, we should have believed you," his parents lament at the end of the episode. No, they shouldn't have! The message is that telling lies will get you in trouble! This is one of those classic fables that has a scary consequence at the end - the wolf eats all the kid's sheep. There are even some versions where the kid gets eaten, too. Fables are scary for a reason.

Look, no one wants to see their kid get eaten or baked by a witch, but the heart of these fables is in the telling. By screwing around with the message of these fables, they're completely undermining their ability to educate kids. I read classic stories and fables to my kid all the time, and I'll even tell them to him as a bedtime story. I want him to remember the message behind them. Fables are for teaching morals and rules of behavior. If you want to teach someone their letters, fine. Use pointless and imaginary stories like Dora does. Don't fuck with classic stories for no good reason.

I hate Super Why. I stopped recording it on our Tivo, and I change the channel every time it comes on. I don't ever want Oliver to tell me that I got some story wrong because he heard it differently on Super Why. Stupid anti-literature show. Stupid brain-crippling piece of crap. Don't let your kid watch this show. It's horrible.