We recently had the pleasure of attending one of Justine Clarke’s Sydney shows on her Great Big World Tour. I must admit I’ve been a fan of her work for some time, both on Playschool and her music DVDs. What I love about Justine’s work is that it doesn’t talk down to kids at all. It’s playful and fun, but it’s also clear that the producers and musicians are dedicated to creating a quality product. So much of what’s produced for kids is second rate in terms of production quality (ie tacky graphics, poorly produced music and video clips that lack any kind of creative vision). This was what I found most refreshing about Justine Clarke’s I Like to Sing DVD when it was first released. The quality of the animation and music is enjoyable for adults and children alike, which seems so much more respectful to kids.
Well, the newest production, Great Big World, continues Justine’s tradition of quality lyrics and music, delightful clips and a joyful spirit. Whether its My Granny Loves to Laugh, Scoot on My Scooter or My Shadow and Me, the songs refer to the ordinary features of a child’s world, with with a spirit of wonder and excitement. The DVD also exhibits the emotional depth of Justine’s previous releases with tracks like The Softest Song of All, Beautiful Beautiful and Happy Dog offering children a diversity of emotional experiences.
But it is the appeal to the imagination that is the strongest feature of Justine’s work. While this is evident in her DVDs, it bursts forth in the energy of the live show. Justine is a seasoned performer and she engages the children beautifully. Justine Clarke is a wonderful introduction to the world of music and storytelling for pre-schoolers. Going to the concert was a wonderful experience, not only for my daughter and niece, but also for my husband and I. Great Big World was an enjoyable reminder that the world is a wonderful place to explore and the animals and people in it are to be cherished.
Around nine months ago, my husband and I learnt a lesson we’ll never forget. We were in Dubbo on holidays and were looking for something to do on a rainy day so we took Birdy to see the movie UP! We thought it would be a nice bit of fun for all of us. How wrong we were! Although it was a really sweet and positive film, Birdy was just too young for it! (She was not yet 3). There were scary dogs, wild adventurous rides, evil characters and emotive music. She found the whole experience overwhelming, was distressed at several points and just wanted to go home.
I realised that for a three-year-old watching a movie is a totally different experience than for an adult. And watching it in a darkened theatre, with a huge screen and surround sound is another experience again.
While we’re used to the conventions of movies, young children can find even the simplest of plots difficult to follow. They can’t read the language of film, the visual cues that indicate the passing of time, the true nature of a duplicitous character or complex relationships. And while we may think it’s obvious that cartoons or animated films aren’t real, it may not be at all obvious to them. The other day I was reading Angelina Ballerina to Birdy. The book contained references to royalty so I made the comment that Angelina must live in England with the Queen. Birdy then asked me if we could visit Angelina when we go to England. Even though Angelina is cartoon mouse who does ballet, Birdy still (on some level) thinks she’s real. That’s part of the magic of childhood. But it’s also part of the fragility of childhood. And why a film which to us, is water off a ducks back, can create real distress or concern in a little one.
I stumbled upon a wonderful resource this week, set up by The Australian Council on Children and the Media. Called Know Before You Go, the website gives detailed film reviews from a child’s point of view. It highlights the sorts of themes and situations that are likely to be distressing to children of different ages. It comments on the language, violence and sexuality portrayed in films. And best of all, it explores positive themes and messages that you can explore with your child through the film. I was impressed by the quality of the reviews, which are written by child development professionals.
Going to the movies can and should be a magical experience for children. My husband and daughter have had two wonderful movie experiences. One was The Fox and the Child, a beautiful film about a friendship between a wild fox and a young girl and more recently they enjoyed Tinkerbell and the Great Fairy Rescue. However, my own feeling is that there is plenty of time to enjoy movies when children are older. My neighbour has two daughters, aged 3 and 5 and they have not yet seen any movies. In fact, when they put on a movie at school her eldest daughter found it too scary and asked to do colouring in. Next time the teacher announced she was putting a movie on, my friend’s daughter just assumed it would be scary again and took herself off to colour in. The teacher called my friend aside at school drop-off to ask what the problem was. “Don’t you watch movies at home?” The assumption was that every kid watches movies. But I tend to agree with my friend that there’s nothing wrong with waiting until children are old enough to cope with the stimulation, excitement and tension that movies create. What’s the hurry?
In the meantime, there are plenty of great TV shows and DVDs that are-appropriate for young children: Playschool, Charlie and Lola, Maisey, Poko, Justine Clarke, The Wiggles and Elmo just to name a few. As a result I’ve also decided to start doing more reviews on this website. I’ve been meaning to for some time, but now I have the motivation to start…Watch this space!
Have you taken your kids to the movies? Or do you watch movies at home? Which ones would you recommend? Which ones do your kids love? Which ones would you rather forget? Do your kids react differently at home than to the big screen experience?
Because it was marriage week last week, I was reminded about the importance of couples spending quality time together, so I thought I’d better practice what I preach and have a date with my husband.
Have you ever seen the movie Date Night? Last time my husband and I had a date night, we went to see that movie… For those who haven’t seen it, it’s about a married couple who go out for a dinner date, only to find themselves caught up with the mafia in a fight for their lives and of course in the end it brings them closer together and saves their marriage. Well this week I thought I was actually in the movie.
Like most couples with young kids, we don’t get to have date nights too often. Put it this way, we were given gold class movie tickets for Christmas and we’re still waiting to use them. Also about six months ago, our family gave us some money to go out and have a nice dinner together. That was a few weeks before I got the job here, so we thought we’d have a special dinner to celebrate the new job and I’m afraid the money is still sitting in a little envelope on top of the fridge!
So for this date, we had planned to go out to Gold Class to see Inception. I was really excited about it. But of course when I got home Birdy was really sick, coughing, sneezing, temperature, the works. Turns out she had the flu and she was miserable. So going to a movie just wasn’t going to happen. After we finally got her to sleep we decided just to duck out to a local restaurant for a quick bite. After all, when you’ve got a grandparent willing to babysit, you don’t want to waste the opportunity. So here’s how the night went:
Froze to death looking for restaurant – argued about which restaurant to go to – made up – ate dinner – rushed home – arrived home just minutes after Birdy vomited – spent the rest of the night looking after sick kid who hardly slept. That was date night. So no mafia hitmen but not exactly the romantic, relaxing evening I’d been looking forward to all week.
But at least we made the effort to do something. In The Marriage Course they have this great suggestion for spending quality time together. It goes something like this.
10 minutes each day.
Marriage time or date night for 2 or 3 hours each week.
2 weekends away each year.
And one good holiday together per year.
Even if you can’t quite live up to it, it’s a good goal to aim for. I have no trouble with the ten minutes each day and the holiday part – it’s just the weekly date night that’s a little challenging with young children… especially sick, coughing, sneezing and vomiting ones. But you get that.
How do you make sure you get quality times with your husband or wife? Do you have a date night or marriage time? Or a daily routine for catching up? How did you manage when your kids were young? Have you ever had a disastrous date night?
I had a confronting experience this week. You see when we were at my parents place last Christmas, Birdy got hold of one of my old Barbie dolls and deviously smuggled it home by hiding it under the seat of our car. I didn’t realize it was there until we were back in Sydney. At first she just liked decapitating it on a regular basis, and I would find a sad headless and naked one-legged Barbie in pieces on the floor of her bedroom, which was rather disturbing, but lately she’s taken to playing with it in a more conventional fashion. The only problem was, this poor old Barbie didn’t have any proper clothes, just a glittering pink leotard that was left over from a long lost ball gown outfit. So I thought, well, if she’s going to play with it anyway, I should probably make it more respectable. So this week I set off on a mission to get Barbie some decent clothes.
However, I soon discovered that they don’t sell decent clothes for Barbie dolls. They’re all indecent. It’s probably more a reflection of current fashion than anything, but all the Barbie outfits were incredibly skanky, with plunging necklines, bare midriffs and ten-inch heels. I picked up packed after packet of Barbie clothes and each time I had to say, “We’re not getting that.” The only normal outfits they had were uniforms for a flight attendant and a nurse. Everything else looked like it belonged to a pop star or a pole dancer. In the end, Birdy chose the nurse’s uniform, which I thought was very sensible of her, but when we got it home and put it on the Barbie Doll, I was wondering where the rest of it was. If a real nurse wore that dress she’d be out of a job in no time!
I don’t know if Barbie dolls have changed from when I was a kid, but I was certainly shocked by how unrealistic the body proportions are, with their tiny waists, big heads and huge eyes. I definitely think the heels are higher, the face is far more made-up and the fashions are more revealing. I don’t think playing with Barbie dolls did me any real harm, but my generation wasn’t living in a media saturated environment like kids are now. We weren’t exposed to billboards, the internet or magazines for eight year olds – in fact we were exposed to very little advertising fullstop. One of the reasons Melinda Tankard Reist and others are speaking up about the impact of sexualized images on children is that when you see one or two inappropriate things they can very easily slip under the radar, but when you put together all the messages that children are exposed to, you realize just how much pressure they’re under to grow up too soon. And playing with very adult, sexy dolls like Barbie dolls or Bratz dolls might be innocent enough, but it ads another layer to that very adult world that children are exposed to.
Did you play with Barbie dolls as a child? Do you let your kids play with them? How have they changed over the years? Do you think they’re harmless fun or do they send a negative message to kids about how young girls should look and behave? Perhaps you’ve found a positive way of dealing with some of these issues…