Teaching the History of Media to 7 yr olds : An Epic tale.

Teaching the History of Media to Grade Two and Three: An Epic tale.

ARTICLE FOR SCREEN EDUCATION MAGAZINE (2009) BY JEFF LICENCE

Teaching history can be a slippery business – all those dates, people and places to remember, not to mention all that subjective information from a few long dead sources. Teaching history to seven and eight year olds is another world entirely, as their idea of long ago was before breakfast and an ancient artifact is Dad’s old CD player.

This is the mindset that I entered when I set out to teach my Grade two and three children all about the history of the media.

I teach a specialist Media program at Surfers Paradise Primary School. I see classes from Prep to Year seven once a week for approximately forty minutes and I try to teach them all I can about how the media informs, entertains, manipulates and influences our world.

For children in lower primary, I take a very broad perspective on media, defining it as ‘a way of sharing information and ideas with lots of people’. I also tell my students

‘the media tells stories’. These definitions open up a whole range of communication options familiar to the children, including books, comics, magazines, newspapers, posters, film, T.V, DVD, music, advertising, webpage’s, games, etc. The concept of audience is also implied in the definition.

This broad definition allows me to cross over a number of learning areas in my teaching, including Visual Art, Music, Dance, Drama, Media, English, Technology (design), I.C.T and S.O.S.E.

The children I teach vary widely in their demographic backgrounds but there is one thing they have in common – they are all very plugged in. An informal survey I conducted with my junior classes revealed that about a third of these seven and eight year old children had T.V’s, Computers and Electronic games in their bedrooms. Their talk and their play is often defined by the latest game or T.V experience and despite their apparent lack of disposable income, many of the children seem to have the latest game consoles, have seen the latest movies and are starting to pester their parents for a mobile phone.

For these young ‘digital natives’, technologies are quickly superceded. A combination of built in obsolescence, constant upgrades, quickly outmoded technologies and marketing tells kids that unless it’s brand new and right up to date, they are being left behind.

Coming from an era when electronic equipment lasted longer than a year and was repaired when it broke down, I wanted to give my students a sense of perspective about the long history of communication technologies and that their experiences in the digital age are a very recent phenomenon. So began our journey through the grand continuum of time and invention that has given rise to today’s digital marvels of communication.

My original intention was to start with the birth of photography and sound recording around the turn of the 19th century, however as I researched, I realized that each great technological innovation owed a debt to a previous idea, theory or invention.

So, I decided to go right back to the time of early civilizations, to when early hunter-gatherers walked the earth.

I shared with the children pictures of cave paintings from Kakadu National Park and Lascaux in France. I asked the children to imagine a great hunter living long ago who had successfully speared, skinned and butchered a great Wooly Mammoth (the greater the gory detail, the more they love it!). That night, he sits around a fire and tells his family the story of the hunt.*

Not satisfied that the memory of this great hunt should be lost, he gathers some coloured ochre’s from the river and sets about painting the memory of his great hunt onto a cave wall. This could be considered one of the first acts of representation, as this early human depicted his subjective experiences into form.

The children in the classes loved this story and were fascinated by the pieces of ochre found in a nearby creek that I used to paint their faces.

*Children of this age (and people of any age, I believe) are transfixed by good oral storytelling. Despite their heavy diet of imagery from T.V, Movies, games, websites, advertising, billboards etc, children still want and need stories that are not pre imagined and that call on them to create the imagery.

Over the following weeks we looked at a variety of indigenous cultures and discussed how they all shared their stories through oral storytelling, sculpture, painting, drawing and carvings. We learnt how all cultures have used music, visual art, dance and drama to recreate events of significance, to make sense of their place in the world and to understand and appease their gods.

We learnt about how our forebears sent messages using drums, gongs, bells, smoke signals, pigeons, arrows, runners and riders. For children born into the age of email, instant messaging and mobile phones, the concept of not being able to send a message and get an almost instant reply was mind-boggling.

Leaping through time, we moved into the age of the Sumerians and Egyptians and the concept of written text. It was comforting for children still learning to write that the first forms of writing were pictures.

I used a small piece of wet clay and a stick to demonstrate to the children how the Egyptians wrote messages before papyrus was invented. We viewed photos of tombs and the intricate hieroglyphs patiently carved into the walls. We talked about how pictographs and hieroglyphic messages recorded a moment in time that could be decoded exactly as written, rather than relying on the interpretation of storytellers. These written texts could also be stored and re read later, allowing cultures to begin recording their histories.

The children wrote their names in Hieroglyphic symbols and we explored the meanings of various Egyptian symbols. We had studied symbols and their purpose in an earlier unit and the children seemed to appreciate the logic of some of the Egyptian hieroglyphics while being mystified by others. The children also drew a family hieroglyph, showing their family, home and a favorite activity as a series of drawn symbolic depictions.

As part of our journey through the ancient media, we took a quick trip to Pompeii and marveled at the amazingly well preserved examples of ancient life and their use of the arts (especially mosaics) as a storytelling medium.

If I had more time, this would also have been a good opportunity to explore paper making as this development by the Chinese was crucial in allowing writing as a form of expression to flourish.

From the first forms of writing we moved to the development of hand written books. The children were surprised to learn that books were a rare and precious commodity and that being able to read and write was a skill reserved for the clergy and nobles. They were impressed by the detailed calligraphy that these early scribes achieved and shocked by the fact that it could take a scribe three years to complete a book and that would remain the only copy.

The children practiced drawing their own initials in the elaborate fashion of the illuminated first letters of these old books with some beautiful results. This process also gave them an appreciation for the patience and artistic skills of the scribes who produced these handcrafted books.

Lots more time and detail could have been spent teaching the children about the development of Latin, Greek and the modern alphabet, but times waits for no teacher.

Next, we took a big jump through time to Germany in around 1440 to discover Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press. Before showing the children a picture of the press, I made a big deal about how this machine changed the face of communication for the next 500 years, helping millions to become literate and that it equated in greatness with the invention of the computer and the internet in terms of it’s role as a communication technology.

Expecting the most, the children were unimpressed by the simple wooden press with metal plates and carved block letters. They were more impressed when I explained how it worked and that once a page was set out on the plate, it could be copied repeatedly. One of the children said, “It’s like a giant stamp machine!” Having laboured over drawing two ornate initials, the children could really appreciate how this “big stamp machine” sped up the process of printing.

We discussed how the influx of newly printed books, newsletters and newspapers offered people new ideas and gave communities a broader view of the world for the first time in human history. The printing press and the influx of information and ideas it brought, helped establish formal education and the birth of mass literacy. My students were surprised to learn that in these earlier times, few people were literate and only privileged children went to school. Some wished it was still so.

In the final installment of our tour of the media ages, we landed at the end of the nineteenth century, when developments in electronics, telegraph, radio, photography, filmmaking and sound recording technologies converged to establish what we know as the electronic media.

I shared with the children the first ever photograph taken by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce over a French farmyard roof. They weren’t too impressed by the picture quality, but were able to get a sense of the momentousness of this invention when we considered how, prior to the birth of photography, no identical image had ever been reproduced, and more poignantly for these children, no true life images of family existed.

We reflected on how the first sound recordings must have been highly emotional experiences for people hearing themselves, their loved ones and their music for the first time. We watched excerpts of silent Charlie Chaplin films and the comedy was just as fresh for my twenty first century seven years olds as it was when it came out eighty years before. We listened to a nineteen fifties radio episode of ‘Planet Man’ and tried to recreate some of the sound effects.  I found pictures of early, bizarre looking TV’s with two inch screens and massive flywheels that looked more like gym equipment than Televisions. We laughed at the size of the first computers built by the English to crack German codes during the Second World War.

Slowly, as we drew closer to the present day, the technologies became smaller, faster and more capable and the children became less captivated. It seemed as though scratching a hieroglyphic into a piece of wet clay held more magic for them than learning about the telephone or the computer. However, if I’d asked them to swap their computer for a piece of papyrus, or their MP3 player for an old Bakelite radio, not many would have been willing.

Traversing the highlights of the ancient, print and electronic media through a 100 000 years of human history was a long journey for my students. An entire unit could have been built on just the electronic and digital media developments of the twentieth century, but I chose to save this for another term.

After recovering from our jet lag and culture shock, I gave the children a multiple choice quiz to assess their knowledge and understanding. Their results were very good, surprising me with what these young children could recall over the 2 terms of media lessons.

What I learned in teaching this unit was that despite our technological advances through the ages, storytelling and the arts have remained the conduits through which we explain, justify and glorify our existence. In the future, our ‘digital native’ storytellers will push the boundaries of new technologies and the arts to tell stories that our hunter-gatherer forebears and we could never have imagined.

Jeff Licence teaches Media from Prep to Yr 7 at Surfers Paradise Primary School and is a private consultant in the area of Primary Media, offering media related workshops to teachers, parents and children.

References: Geoffrey Blainey, A Short History of the World, Penguin, 2000

 

Useful Websites

www.connected-earth.com

British site with lots of great info, games and interactive pages about the development of technology through the ages.

www.otr.net

Old Time Radio – great source of free old radio shows on MP3.

www.tvhistory.tv

Good info on T.V set design, development and marketing.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pompeii

‘Being Dad’ – a Fathers Day reflection for 2011

This is the full length version of the article originally published in the Aug/Sept edition of Kids on the Coast.

Being Dad

by Jeff Licence

It’s Fathers day again, promising us Dads an array of socks, chocs, jocks, aftershave, gardening tools, car wash, razors and other essentials in a mans life. But once the presents have been opened, the milky cornflakes wiped off the doona and the sun set on the day, what does it mean to be a good father these days and how do busy fathers live full, balanced and creative lives in the fast paced 21st century?

As just one Dad living through the roller coaster of modern fathering, I thought I’d share some of my own experiences, as well as the wisdom of some good Dads I know, in celebration of this thing called fatherhood.

My own journey as a father started 8 years ago. My wife greeted me at the door one day with a mischievous grin, held up a double blue lined pregnancy test and we were gone.

We were building a house at the time and there’s nothing like a babies due date for a man to really throw his back into his work. Consequently, 2 weeks before we were due to move in and about 3 months before the baby was due, I did throw my back out and found myself an immobile wreck. All I could do was watch my heavily pregnant wife pack and stare at the mess around our new house.

Thankfully, an upright posture was mine again in time for the birth. There is nothing that makes a man feel more redundant and awed by a woman, than seeing her in labour and witnessing their sheer animal determination that screams, “This baby will be MINE!!”

After 28 hours of heart shattering and unproductive labour, my wife Nadia was taken in for an emergency caesarian and our beautiful son Asher entered the world to the sound of his mother singing…

“Oooh child, things are going to get easier, Oooh child, things will get brighter,

Oooh child, we’ll walk together in a beautiful sun, Oooh child, things will be brighter.”

There is no preparation for fatherhood. Sure, having a dog and looking after nieces and nephews was good practice, but the sheer 24/7, sleep deprived, stained and messy magnitude of it all has to be experienced to be believed. A wise father a few years ahead of me said, “Once you get through the first 6 weeks, you’ll be ok.” It took us all of that time and more to get used to this suckling little creature dominating all aspects of life and yet, it couldn’t have been more right.

I remember my first trip to the shops with 3 week old Asher. I carried him proudly, feeling like he was the first and most beautiful baby in the world. It was then I started noticing all the prams and other babies traveling the aisles with me. It was like joining a new team and it felt special to be wearing the same vomit stained jersey. I could now give that small, knowing, “Yes, aren’t they cute” look to passing mothers, and the more understated, “Oh my God, what have we got our selves into…I haven’t slept in weeks…. but isn’t it amazing!”  look to passing Dads.

A few months later, I had another revelation about the depth of this new team I had joined. I was standing at the beach with Asher in the shallows, letting him enjoy the splash and surge of the water, when I noticed several other men around me, patiently watching over their kids. This was a group of men I’d never noticed before – tired, bedraggled, loving Dads watching over their flock. It made me think for the first time of the long line of fathers before me who had stood in these deep parental waters and it felt special to be part of that number. And it made me think of my own Dad.

My fathers story is sadly short. He died of cancer at age 48, father of 5, when I was 12. My memories of him, some real and some reflections from stories and photos, are of a strong, smiling, practical man who built our house, fixed our cars, loved us and our mother and worked as an engineer.

When Dad got sick, it was like the air was sucked from the room. He started feeling sick on New Years day 1980 and died on Remembrance day that same year. As a 12 year old, his loss was well beyond my emotional comprehension and no one was ever able fill that man sized void.

I wonder now, how my Dad had time to do all that was asked of him; go to work, be a good husband and father, volunteer at a million working bees, as well as build our house on weekends over 15 years. I wonder how he found balance in his life and if he looked after the things that he felt passionate about. I’d love to sit down and ask him.

Instead, I asked some friends; men and fathers I admire for their ability to balance the juggling act that is 21st Century fathering. They all share a great love for their children and families and a healthy respect for themselves.

Alan and his partner have recognised the need to take time for themselves, as well as to make time for family. This helps them maintain their individual identity, feeds and recharges their relationship and keeps their creative fires alive. And of course, communication is key.

“We discuss how to be a good parents, to set boundaries, to give our children freedom through discipline, parent with a fair, yet firm hand to navigate around the Cape of Good Parental Hope.

Our children have a natural talent for making us fully appreciate life’s little joys. Sometimes I am fit to burst with tears of perfect joy when I hear one of my children belly laugh. Other times I am so utterly exhausted, that I explode uncontrollably at the kids to BE QUIET and feel terrible afterwards. I immediately apologise and it seems children are the best people in the world at moving on quickly from such an outburst.

I am at times turned into a “Rebel without a cause” from the seemingly endless responsibility that being a Dad brings, though I’ve got much better at timing these outpourings of wilder energy. We remain focussed on our own passions and talk about how important they are, but are happy to put the family first in the end. Fathering has helped me to be a better person.”

As Alan says, parenting is one of the best ways to grow as a human being, if you can rise to the challenges, roll with the punches and release the frustrations. However, when we are sleep deprived, covered in our kids snot and up to our eyeballs in dirty dishes, keeping a clear perspective can be tricky. Sometimes the objective view of a friend, parent or counselor can help us see through the parental fog.

Stephen Hoskin is a Men’s Counselor based on the Gold Coast. He has worked with men and young men for over ten years and understands there are many changes affecting modern fathering.

“The changes in the role of fatherhood have overall been very positive, mainly due to the greater involvement and emotional connection we are able to have with our kids. With these gains have come greater expectations and the need to learn parenting skills that may or may not have been role modelled for us by our own fathers.

We still need to be authoritative with our kids. What has changed is that the authority and respect needs to be earned through how we relate, rather than just being a given. We also need to be communicating with our wives/partners on an equal basis so that even if we have different parenting styles, we can be on the same page. These aspects of modern fatherhood are, I think, much trickier than in previous generations and the rewards, such as deeper relationships, are potentially much higher if we can discover the skills that are needed.

Steve suggests these as some positive dad behaviours:

  • Being consistent with boundaries and rules.
  •  Be aware to maintain and repair emotional connection and remember, it is the behaviour and not the child that we are responding to.
  • Being able to have, show, name and own our strong emotions without directing them at our kids – how we respond is critical to maintaining healthy relationships.
  • Being an ‘emotional coach’ for our kids, helping them find words for their own emotions and responses. Asking open questions can help them identify what they are feeling –  What, When, How, Why, Where questions.
  • Be really curious about our children’s viewpoint and avoid giving advice or trying to solve their problems for them – particularly from pre teen years onwards.

My friend Pete’s kids are nearly all teenagers, and his parenting style has evolved as his kids have grown and become more responsible.

“When an issue arises with one of my kids, or when I feel it’s a good time, I take them (one on one) down to the bridge over the creek near our house and sit. The idea is to pause life for a moment and create a forum to allow any issues to fall out. I don’t try and solve the problem, just get them talking about it, relate my own life experience at their age (they love that!) and talk about their options.

I reckon true fathering is allowing them the space and time to figure out the issue themselves with my support. Having these kinds of discussions in a quiet, natural place is important too – nature is a good environment for a grounded conversation.”

By being there, but not solving his kids problems for them, Pete’s calling on his kids to step up and be responsible for the issues that affect them and the family. Teaching our kids how to solve problems for themselves is one of the greatest gifts we can give them.

“To be an effective father you’ve got to commit to the role. Sure you can cruise along and try and be a friend to your child, avoiding the ups and downs in the relationship, but really, they’ve probably already got loads of friends – they need a father.”

Pete’s talking about being a role model and boundary setter, who creates the edges of behaviour and expectations for kids, so that they know what to push up against and where they feel safe within. It’s not always the most popular position in the house, but it’s a vital pillar in the child’s emotional and social foundations. It also shows your kids you respect yourself enough to have boundaries.

Respecting yourself enough to keep your own passions alive is another challenge for many busy Mums and Dads. Sometimes the T.V or computers become the default relaxation mode, as it’s a passive, entertaining way to disappear. So how do we maintain our passions, when just running the kids bath and getting them into bed can seem like an epic task at the end of the day?

Men’s counselor, Steve Hoskins suggest to ask yourself:

“What do you love doing that recharges your batteries? What might you have stopped doing due to the busyness of life? How can you create space to do more of those things that give you a little recharge? One dad I worked with said he used to drive home via the beach and go for a walk to consciously let go of the day’s work, so that when he walked through the front door, he was able to be more present with his family.”

Many families today are blended families, where children come and go between the homes of ex partners, adding a whole other layer of complexity to the parenting role. My friend Eric has 2 children of his own and 2 step children from his new marriage and describes the juggling act as “very interesting!”.

“Fathering to me means being there for my children as much as possible, being present in their lives, especially as we have them week on week off. I am very involved in their sport and take them all surfing as much as they want in the time we have them. Feeding my soul with surfing has always been pretty illusive for me until the last year or two. Now I can surf and exercise after the kids have left for the school bus and more in the week that we don’t have them. This setup allows my wife and I alone time when we don’t have the kids, which we cherish.”

For myself, finding balance in my role as a father and husband, while attempting to make a living through my creativity has been a challenging adventure. After many years of teaching young kids about media, I now work as a video producer, write articles and teach children, parents, and teachers about media. Getting here has involved luck, hard work and mostly the courage to take the leap of faith into doing what I love.

It’s taken some adjusting for all the family and especially for my wife who has to put up with me working from home, but the benefits have been immeasurable. I now have more time to be with my family and to honour my own creative passions. I’m earning less but the quality of my life has doubled.

My own children are now aged 4 and 7 and the more time I spend with them, the more I learn. The other day I asked them, “Where does the energy come from that makes things alive in the world?”

Mia (4) said, “We are on the planet and it’s spinning around like you’re in a race and that’s why your hearts beeping when you’re running.”

Asher (7) thought for a minute, then said, “The energy for the world comes from ….the Sun….God….love ……your heart!”

I could only smile and agree and think how lucky I am to be a Dad sharing his life with these amazing little beings.

End

Bio – Jeff Licence is a writer, filmmaker, early childhood teacher and media education consultant.

Navigating the Media Maze – an interview with… me!

Navigating the Media Maze

About 6 months ago I was interviewed by Journalist Fiona STUTZ for a magazine article from ‘Bedrock’ an early childhood teachers magazine. Here it is…

“We’re in a phase where every day children are bombarded by images and information from a variety of media sources. Bedrock Journalist Fiona STUTZ hears from Queensland media consultant Jeff Licence about how educators can better understand media concepts and use media technologies for learning, communicating and connecting with children.
“We’ve got these incredible tools now that allow us to go beyond being a passive recipient of the story. We can actually become a lot more involved in the process. For kids, this is an exciting time, and for teachers too,” Jeff says.
Digital media can affect children in many positive ways. “It gives them an incredible opportunity to view, listen, read, share and create stories,” he says.

Has storytelling changed it’s spots into pixels?

Has storytelling changed its spots into pixels?

Is this the new reading?

A question and discussion model to help young children 

understand digital media texts.

 by Jeff Licence

Originally published in Screen Education Issue 62, Winter 2011

Introduction

Growing up in a digital world is a vastly different experience from the childhood many of us remember. One of the biggest changes for 21st century children is the amount of variety, access and time they spend plugged into digital media. In this article, I would like to share a series of questions and discussion points that early childhood educators can use to broaden their students understanding of storytelling (particularly visual storytelling) in the age of the digital native.

Digital Natives are the generation born after 1980 at the beginning of the digital revolution. 30 years later, we are seeing the second generation of digital natives coming through our preschools and primary schools. These kids have grown up in households more plugged in than any in history, and they’re taking to their digital lives like ducks to water. For some teachers, especially those born before 1980, jumping into the water with them can be quite daunting.

The pace of technological change since the 80’s has been phenomenal. Today, we and our kids can choose from a multi platform, high definition digital extravaganza of options – computers, the internet, mobile phones, IPads and IPods, live streaming, podcasts, digital T.V & Radio,Youtube, Google, wireless broadband – all these media options housed in a small device in our pocket – the smart phone. And all this technology is still in it’s infancy.

One of the issues digital technologies create for educators is the incredible access children have to information, imagery and entertainment. Primary and High school teachers are being encouraged to become ‘information managers’, helping their students navigate the myriad of information out there to arrive at their own interpretations and understandings. Many middle primary aged students understand the mechanics of using computers, internet searching and word processing programs, yet still struggle with information overload, often choosing the first link that Google presents. The challenge for teachers remains in helping their students synthesize the vast quantity and varying quality of information they get from the internet, choose reliable sources, and put what they have learnt into their own words, rather than simply cutting and pasting.

In early childhood settings teachers are rightly encouraging hands on, play based learning, with computers and technology playing a smaller, supporting role in their pedagogy. However, when their students pack their Dora and Ben 10 bags and go home, the media world looms large. They quite often plug into a D.V.D, D.S or Mum or Dad’s IPhone in the car before they’ve even left the school gate.

Ultimately, the digital and traditional texts our young students are accessing are still stories. The method of delivery has certainly changed and the internet and gaming has brought a new level of choice and interactivity, but digital texts are still authored and most have characters, plots, problems to be solved, themes, levels of complexity and (hopefully) a moral or deeper message to convey.

Helping children understand what these stories mean, how they are created and how they portray and reflect real life issues can aid a child’s understanding of relationships, develop empathy for others and use imagination to solve problems. Storytelling may have changed its spots into pixels, but it’s still integral to our lives.

A Question/ Discussion model to understand media texts.

Early childhood and primary teachers have always used texts (traditionally books) to initiate conversations, ask questions and develop teachable moments. One way of engaging and broadening children’s understanding of digital texts is through questions and discussions after reading, viewing or listening to a text.

This process can help to:

–  focus children’s attention on how words, pictures and sounds are combined in digital texts to create meaning;
–  reveal children’s understandings, feelings and ideas about the texts;
–  share some of your own thoughts about digital media;
–  clarify children’s misunderstandings, such as, “Is Ben 10 real?” or “Are all bad guys men?” or “Will that monster really kill us all?”;
–  give children a sense of perspective beyond the text to see the bigger context.

You might use these questions to initiate discussion after reading a picture book rich in imagery or after watching an animated DVD. Perhaps you have observed children in the playground “role playing” from a show or game. One of your children may talk about being frightened by a movie they saw on the weekend. You might be focusing on the visual texts of a particular author. Whatever the springboard, this is an opportunity to engage the children in meaningful conversations about the texts they are experiencing though the media.

 Character Questions

Q: Who are your favourite characters – why? What do you like about them?

Children will often identify with the qualities and actions of certain characters in the story – strength, nobility, desire for justice, image, good fighter, bad guys, etc. This can give you an insight into who they align themselves with and why.

Q: Are there any bad characters in the show? How do the storytellers show or tell you that they are bad?

  Here is an opportunity to discuss the use of camera angles, framing, music, sound  effects, facial expressions, make up, digital effects and other visual         conventions and character stereotypes used by storytellers. For example, bad guys in lots of children’s movies wear dark clothing, are usually            unattractive and have deep, scary voices. Low camera angles are often used to denote their power and dark, brooding music accompany them  wherever they go.

Activity ideas:

– Children can draw a stereotypical good and bad character from a favourite or made up text, referring to stereotypes of costume, facial expression, angle, body language and background. Older children can also write a backstory for the character, creating a context for a full narrative.

– Use your class camera to demonstrate with the children how the choices of angle, framing, lighting, costume and facial expressions can effect how we ‘read’ a picture and a character.

Narrative Questions

Q: What kind of things happen in the text?

Q: What was the best part? What was the worst/scariest/funniest?

These questions allow you and the children to break the narrative down into discernible moments/segments and provides an introduction into narrative structures of beginning, middle and end; introduction, problem, resolution and conclusion.

This process also creates opportunities for the children to talk about the text in their own words and express their understandings.

Activity ideas:

– Children reinterpret the text through drawings, drama and writing. They can choose a favourite scene to recreate or different groups can act out the beginning, middle and end of the story.

Authorship Questions

Q: Where does the text come from? Who made it?

An important step in helping children understand that digital texts are constructions, is reminding them that they are authored. When we read a book, we will read the name of the author and illustrator, but with screen narratives, the process of creation and authorship is much less obvious – the story just seems to emerge magically out of the screen. Having conversations with the kids about the contribution of filmmakers, actors, artists, animators, game designers, graphic and web designers and musicians can deepen the child’s understanding of the process and help allay children’s fears about the ‘reality’ of the show.

Activity ideas:

– Watch DVD special features and ‘Making of’ documentaries from animations and movies you have all watched together.

– Give (trusted) children a camera and ask them to document the day. You’ll be amazed by their perspective. Download the photos/video and assemble into a slide show and present it as your “Class Movie”. These movies are also great for parent information nights and culminating events to give the school community a picture of what happens in your classroom.

Opinion/ Feeling Questions

Q: What do you like about the text. What do you not like about the text?

These questions provide a chance for metacognition and reflection – children thinking about what they are thinking and revealing how they feel about the text. This makes their thinking visible and helps them separate fiction from reality.

Q: Are there are any characters or things that happen in the show that scare you? What are they? How do they make you feel? Is it real?

For little children, the world is very literal, so an incredibly life like animated monster in a movie or game looks, sounds and feels real. These discussions give the children a chance to reveal their fears and gives the educator a chance to assure them that the text is a created work of fiction.

Activity ideas:

– Ask the children to draw, act out or write about a scary or upsetting moment they have seen in a movie, game or website. Just about every child will have one. As the children create, remind them that these scary scenes are creations made by filmmakers and animators, etc. Children get a laugh about blood in movies being made from tomato sauce. If a child’s fear is based around real news, (and there’s no shortage of disastrous news footage) they need an opportunity to talk about and express their concerns.

You can give the children the choice of displaying or destroying the picture afterwards, taking it home to share with Mum and Dad, who may be unaware of their child’s responses to media. If the child is seriously traumatized by something they have seen, you may want to refer them to the school guidance officer.

Modern media is bypassing parents role as gatekeepers of certain knowledge passed on at appropriate times, so these activities can give children a chance to ‘debrief’ through art and self expression and be referred to specialist councillors if necessary.

 Advertising/Merchandising Questions

Q.  Were there any ads in the text? What are ads for?

            At the most basic level, children need to know that ads are there to sell them             something and will only reveal the good things about a product. Ask the children to             compare advertising with what the product delivers. Every child has a story of a             much hyped toy that either broke or didn’t deliver what was advertised.

Q: Is Dora the Explorer (or any other character) just on T.V? Have you ever seen that character in other places, e.g in a electronic game or website, as a doll, on a T-shirt, lunch box, etc? What have these other things got to do with the show?

These days, it is difficult to buy a children’s toothbrush that doesn’t have a Wiggles, Disney or Nickelodeon character on it. With so many media platforms available to them and a variety of licensed spin off products, large media corporations can maximise their earning potential through merchandising. If a child has seen the movie, visited the website, wants the DVD, D.S Game, Doll, Backpack, Yogurt and Pencil case, that’s brand recognition on a massive scale. The saying in advertising and branding is, “get them as a child and you’ve got them for life”.

Helping children understand that advertising and merchandising is a way for big companies to make a lot of money, may empower them to be more conscious about what they choose to pester their parents for (we can only hope!)
There is an environmental angle to all this too. More consumption means more merchandise produced, more resource and energy use, creating more waste. Is it ever too early for children to learn about ethics, environmental responsibility or being a smart consumer?

Activity ideas: 

– Using catalogues, children can sort and classify the varieties of merchandise derived from a particular character or show.

– Read the ‘Lorax’ by Dr. Zeus. This is a brilliant allegory about how the environment and society are affected by our need for ‘Thneeds’. Follow up discussion points and activities can be found at: http://www.seussville.com/Educators/lorax_classroom/educatorlorax_discuss.php

– For older children ‘The Story of Stuff’ is an online video that follows the materials economy through from resource extraction, production, distribution, consumption to  disposal. Go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLBE5QAYXp8

– Children can also design their own merchandise based on a favourite book, story or character they create.

 Purpose questions

Q: Why did they make this text?

Was it to share the story, to entertain, to educate, to make money, to advertise and sell merchandise, to enlighten future generations, or for fun.
Helping children understand the purpose behind the creation of the text creates a context for storytelling.
 Q. What message or big ideas do you think the author is trying to share?
Even though children can be very literal, some children are very perceptive, so it’s worth asking these questions. You may be surprised by the depth of their understanding.

Activity ideas:

– You can compare the same story, e.g Winnie the Pooh, in a variety of formats, e.g book, DVD, comic, game, audio story and compare how story elements are dealt with in each format to create meaning. What aspects of the story are lost or gained by not having sound, or pictures for example.

You wouldn’t ask all these questions in one sitting, but one question may propel you into a great discussion that illuminates the reason why stories hold such an important place in our lives. Some of the questions may seem too conceptual for the age of your children. As their teacher, you will be the best judge of where they are at, but it doesn’t hurt to throw them the occasional curly question. You might get some blank looks or you might be surprised at their level of sophistication. After all, they are the plugged in generation.

There is a line of thought that developing some of this textual understanding can take away the magic of story for children. For very small children, I believe this could be true, but as children’s interest in, and exposure to storytelling grows, it can add to the child’s sense of interest and understanding of what’s happening in the text and behind the scenes. It also helps children separate the fiction of the text from reality, which, as graphics and animation techniques become more and more realistic, may prove a valuable emotional life skill for our young digital natives.

Jeff Licence is an early childhood teacher, media education consultant, filmmaker and writer. He presents workshops for teachers, parents and children about the changing face of media and technology and how to find balance and connection in a plugged in world.

Jeff has presented for the C&K Association at their  Brisbane and Sunshine conferences and conducted several Parent and Community Forums through C&K. Jeff has acted as media consultant for Pengari Steiner School on the Sunshine Coast and has presented his media workshops at many early childhood and primary schools. Jeff has written for Screen Education and Kids on the Coast magazines and his blog is regularly updated with articles and information about children and the media: http://www.jefflicence.wordpress.com

 


Rolling in Coverage – News media’s effect on kids

Rolling in Coverage

Helping families respond to the media’s portrayal of News and Natural disasters

Flooded Reflection – Brisbane floods 2011

The recent rolling media coverage of the floods, cyclones and the Christchurch earthquake has revealed just how subtle and influential news media content can be on the minds of young children. In this article I’d like to share some ideas to help families discuss and debrief about any issues that may have come from watching too much news.

Steven’s story.

Steven was asleep when the cyclone hit. He was awoken by rain on his face as the wind began to lift the roof. He could hear his parents moving around the house, doing their last ditch preparations and battening down the hatches to ride out the cyclone.

“Me, my brother and Mum and Dad crawled under Mum and Dad’s bed with mattresses all around us. I remember the sound of the wind and this big explosion when all the windows blew out. The wind was so strong it blew little bits of glass through the steel spring mattress and we got cuts all over us.”

Steve remembers the house swaying about a meter in each direction under him as it was buffeted by the wind. He was surprised because it had always felt so solid. During the eye of the storm, Steve’s father found the dog which had miraculously survived the first half of the storm outside and the family moved into the bathroom – the smallest room in the house. Steve sat in the bath, hugging the dog with his brother and watching trees, iron sheeting and other debris fly overhead. The roof of the house had come off. Steve was only 5 years old and this wasn’t Cyclone Yasi. It was Cyclone Tracey in Darwin in 1974.

Today, Steve is a fit, healthy counsellor who helps people deal with their own trauma’s, however his memories of Cyclone Tracey are still vivid and he is still gun shy of storms.   “I was fine until my early twenties when I realised I wasn’t immortal. I started getting nervous around storms, especially electrical storms. My reaction now is what I call a ‘body memory’. It’s more of a sensory, emotional reaction than an intellectual one. My strategy is to call on my frontal cortex and do some self talk: “This isn’t a cyclone, it’s just a storm…. it won’t be the same as Cyclone Tracey…. that was an extreme event….this is just a storm… but it’s a good idea to get to shelter…”

I asked Steve how he felt about Cyclone Yasi when it was bearing down on Northern Queensland. He said, “As soon as the media alerted everyone and started showing those incredible satellite images of the storm, I would have been out of there…. on a plane or in the car… I would just get away. I wouldn’t stick around. Some of those pictures freaked me out. The good thing is that the media give people lots of early warning these days, so people have time to act.”

Muddy trail

The media has relayed many stories like Steve’s over the past month. Tales of survival, loss and community strength in the face of flood, fire and cyclone. But what impact has the rolling media coverage of these disasters had on our kids? How does the news and it’s depiction of ‘dramatic world events’ affect our kids sense of safety and stability.

I got to thinking about this when I was driving my 4 year old daughter to preschool the other morning, about a month after the floods and 2 weeks after the cyclone. Out of the blue she said,

“No one is going to drown today because it’s a sunny day.”

Mia’s quiet comment made me realise just how much of what we see on T.V news and through other media channels is being internalised and processed by our little ones. We had been unaffected by both the floods and the cyclone at our place, but had kept a close eye on it via the rolling coverage provided by most of the networks. We don’t usually watch the news, preferring radio news as it’s not so visually driven and there’s less chance of the kids seeing something inappropriate. However, we relaxed all that when the amazing stories and pictures started to roll in 24/7 on almost every channel.

The kids circled around us and the T.V, not quite knowing what to do now that Mum and Dad were suddenly watching all this news. We tried to explain the gravity and historic nature of the floods and cyclone to them. Our son was interested for a while but got bored and even a bit frustrated by it. “Not more flood news!” he would say in the compassionate tones of a 7 year old. Mia didn’t seem fazed by it at all, hence my surprise with her comment in the car. When I asked her if she was worried about the floods, she said, “Yes, I don’t want you or Mama or Asher (her brother) to get drowned.”

A number of studies have observed an increasing trend to present more violent topics and graphic pictures in the news. (1) With the rise of televised terrorism, especially since 9/11, news of attacks, suicide bombers and army and civilian deaths are almost a nightly occurrence.

According to researchers, children become frightened by media content, including news media in several ways. One way is when media content evokes direct fear, in the same way as danger frightens someone in reality. Another way is when children can become frightened by observing the emotional responses of eye witnesses and surviving relatives of victims. A third way is through negative information transfer brought by the newsreader and eyewitnesses. (2)

Hill End Ferry Terminal

The recent coverage of the floods, cyclones and fires certainly provided some shocking and memorable images, but their was also an upside. The depth and breadth of the flood and cyclone coverage gave many people the opportunity to get away or prepare themselves and their homes and probably saved many lives. Perhaps, it was also the media coverage that spurred the vast flood of donations and volunteers that came to the aid of those affected. One lady I spoke to in Brisbane’s Hill End on the Sunday after the flood said she had been overwhelmed by the help they had received in the clean up. They were flooded in the same house in 1974 and had received no help. Maybe the rolling media coverage this time around helped raise awareness to a point where compassion overflowed and we felt compelled to lend a hand.

This family got no help in the 1974 clean up.
Knee deep helping hands

That our compassion overflowed is a nice reversal of the common effect of much media driven news – compassion fatigue. This is a response to information overload, the impotent and overwhelming sense that there is nothing that can be done in the face of this crime ridden, war torn, disastrous world. Of course, not all media news is like this and neither is real life. People’s lives are filled every day with amazing, positive actions and interactions that don’t make it into the news. However, if an alien chose the nightly news as a way of understanding humanity and life on planet earth, he’d probably phone home for a return ticket.

Our children (like that alien) are new to this world and they develop much of their understandings and feelings about the broader world through their media experiences. According to the Media Awareness Network, “Parents should pay close attention to what their children see in the news since studies have shown that kids are more afraid of violence in news coverage than in any other media content. Fear based on real news events increases as children get older and are better able to distinguish fantasy from reality.” (3)

A dutch study investigating elementary school children’s emotional responses to a violent news event: the assassination of Dutch filmmaker and columnist Theo van Gogh, showed that active mediation (discussion, questioning and explanation) successfully reduced the connection between news exposure and fear, anger, and sadness, especially with the younger children in the sample. (4)

Active Mediation – Discussion, Questioning and Explanation

So, here’s a few tips aimed at helping your kids debrief, when the media and especially the news presents some sound byte sized chucks of ‘current events’ that make them question their choice of planet.
They are adapted from the Media Awareness Network (MNet), a Canadian non-profit organization that has been developing media literacy programs since 1996.

Discuss frightening and disturbing news events with children. Don’t assume they haven’t heard about a disturbing news event – ask first and, if they have, discuss it. Talking honestly and reassuringly to kids about traumatic events will go a long way in assuaging their fears. Reassure children by giving them the facts and the broader context, e.g “floods don’t happen very often, we live on/ can move to higher ground, we will always make sure you are safe.”

Understand what news frightens children at different ages. School-age children are beginning to distinguish fantasy from reality and to worry about real-life dangers. Help them to develop a realistic sense of danger by explaining that traumatic events such as fires, floods, cyclones, fatal car accidents or plane crashes are rare, which is why they’re considered newsworthy. As children get older, the closer an incident is to the reality of their lives, the more disturbing it will be to them.

Encourage older children to watch the news and discuss current events with you.
It’s important that young people understand what is going on in the world and their community. Watch the news with older children and use it as a springboard to discuss difficult topics such as racism, sexuality, war, death, drug and alcohol use. As much as we want to shelter our kids from the worst of the world, at the right age, awareness is going to aid them better than ignorance or naivety.

Create “teachable moments.” Use an atlas or Google Earth after watching the news to look up countries or areas mentioned in stories. Because news items often lack context or thoughtful analysis, use an encyclopedia or the Internet to get more in-depth information about an issue or a country that kids show interest in. Reminding children that they are a long way from these conflicts can reassure them they are safe.

Try to find positive news stories. Call attention to stories that emphasize positive actions and people making a difference – stories about new medical research, animals, bravery and personal strength, peace accords, activism on social or environmental issues and exceptional achievements in sports, the arts or sciences. There are many websites (mainly American) dedicated to presenting positive news. Here’s a few:

http://www.happynews.com/

http://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/

http://gimundo.com/

Explain the business of news. News media provide a valuable public service but they are also businesses that, in most cases, depend on advertising revenues to support them. In the search for images and stories that will attract audiences, the news media tend to focus on either sensational crimes, tragedies and disasters or “soft” news, such as entertainment and lifestyle features.

Discuss bias and stereotyping in the news. Although most journalists try to be objective and factual in reporting events, there is no such thing as a news story without a point of view. Bias can be unintentional or deliberate, depending on the motives of news gatherers, the sources of information they rely on and the political leanings of the media outlet’s owner. As well, reporters often work under tight deadlines and may not have time to present several sides of an issue. (5)

Some of these explanations will be too mature for very small children. Little kids live in the moment, so sometimes simple reassurances, hugs and a cuddle with a favourite toy, then moving on without dwelling on or over analysing a subject can be the best strategy. If it comes up later, like Mia’s response to the floods, talking through what they fear and reassuring them can help. (5)

Conclusion

Watching a disastrous news event is not nearly as traumatic as being affected directly by it. However, with the amount of ‘watching’ done by our young digital natives, as parents we need to maintain an awareness of what they watch, for how long and how it impacts on them. We can’t control the media’s representation of world events, but we can control what images, sounds and ideas enter our home and our children’s minds. As they get older and their emotional resilience grows, we can check in with them regularly about any fears or concerns they are experiencing in their digital lives. Maintaining a steady eye on the media content they experience (real and fictional) and giving them the space and confidence to talk about it is always going to be of benefit in raising happy, resilient, positive kids.

References:

(1) Slattery K.L Doremus M. & Marcus L. (2001) Shifts in public affairs reporting on the network evening news: A move toward the senstational. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

(2) Valkenburg, P. M. (2004). Children’s responses to the screen: A media psychological

approach. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

(3) http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/parents/television/tv_impact_kids.cfm

(4) Parental Mediation of Children’s Emotional Responses to the News

Moniek Buijzen, Juliette H. Walma van der Molen, and Patrica Sondij

The Amsterdam School of Communications Research ASCor

University of Amsterdam

http://www.allacademic.com//meta/p_mla_apa_research_citation/0/9/1/3/6/pages91366/p91366-1.php

(5) http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/resources/tip_sheets/news_tip.cfm

The T.V is out of here!

Our shed is a place for storing all kinds of boxes.

We took the plunge. Our T.V, silent and unplugged now sits in the shed, covered in an old blanket. It no longer stares back at us from the corner of the living room, spewing forth copious sounds and images. The silence is golden.

This is not the first time our T.V has been sent on sabbatical. Before we moved house last year, we lived without T.V for about 7 years. We still watched DVD’s and had plenty of digital computer therapy, but the calls of advertisers and cries of promoters where not heard in our house. When we moved back to the suburbs, our new house had an aerial, we got given a set top box and hey presto, we were plugged in again. For a while it was interesting, like being newly arrived aliens watching a new race of people sharing their lives through a box. But it didn’t take long for the old T.V formulaes to reappear – the over zealous salesmen in the carpet ads, the slick and abstract European car ads, the annoying, breathy and OH, SO DRAMATIC voice over people in the T.V station promos and of course, the cute, witty 10 yr old American sit com kid who delivers one liners like a 40 year old jewish comedian. Not much had changed in T.V land.

Of course there were a few gems in there and we got good at being selective about what we watched. Unfortunately, our kids didn’t. For them, whatever was on was it, and don’t let family outings, the lure of the beach or a friend come to visit get in the way of that screen.

The main reason for our T.V detox was our kids. Something happens to them when they spend too much time watching. It’s hard to pin point exactly what it is…. it’s as though they become so immersed in T.V story land, they get separated from themselves and when it’s turned off, have trouble remembering who they are again.  My son gets a glazed and slightly desperate look on his face, throws uncharacteristic (and uncharismatic) tantrums and wanders around the house looking lost. It’s like he needs time to reintegrate back into his body and ‘real’ life. I’ve seen this glazed look, magnified a thousand times on the faces of serious gamers when they are having a break from a 7 hour gaming binge.

It seems our move to get rid of the T.V goes against the trend. A recent survey conducted by the Cancer Council and Heart Foundation reveals that the majority of students surveyed have at least three television sets in their homes and almost half of them have a TV in their bedroom. The report also says that one quarter of young Australians are overweight and obese, 85 per cent don’t do enough exercise and three quarters aren’t eating enough vegetables. Youch!

An excellent phone in conversation I heard on ABC Coast FM (www.abc.net.au/sunshine/?ref=nav) with Annie Gaffney (yes, we do have radio) had many parents discussing how to help their children get physical. Many societal issues where raised: time poor parents unable to drive their kids to soccer, poorly planned housing developments covered with McMansions and no backyards, the prevalence of junk food outlets and fast food advertising in children’s T.V, and the need for parents to set an example in terms of exercise and diet.

One factor in this discussion was the media habits of our digital native (and some of their parents). Many are living a stagnant, screen bound existence where their fingers do the clicking but their legs aren’t doing much walking. With 3 T.Vs’ in the house, one in the bedroom, plus the laptop computer, a wireless interent connection, an array of gaming devices, a mobile phone next to the bed and an Ipod in your ears, why would anyone need to go outside, let alone get up and exercise. No wonder we rate as one of the most obese nations in the world.

Our T.V detox is making us more active already. The beach, the pool, playing with friends on the playground are more alluring to the kids now that screen time is no longer an option. Even less physical activities like drawing, playing with lego and dolls draws on their creativity and actively engages them. Screen watching is a very passive experience and often leaves kids (and adults) thinking, “What can I possibly do now that is as exciting as that T.V show?”.

Mia in crafty action

Getting rid of the T.V has brought a host of changes in the behaviour of our kids. It’s still early days, but already the level of connection between us all has improved, as has the behaviour and level of empathy between the kids. They play happily, together and alone, and haven’t asked for the telly once. Mia (4) plays for hours with her dolls and the new space left by the abscence of the T.V has found Asher (7) either drawing or sitting on his bed reading Captain Underpants out loud to himself. Is there a more beautiful thing than the silence that comes from children engaged in happy, productive activity?

Dinner time has changed too. Since the kids were born, our dinner routine was a messy flurry of spoons shoved in mouths, wiping pumpkin off chins and brief, often interrupted attempts at conversation. It hasn’t exactly been a time of zen like family connection. Now that the kids are a bit older, can feed themselves and aren’t pulling the table cloth, their plates, cups or brothers onto the floor, we’re putting a lot of focus on dinner being a special family ceremony. The kids set the table, we light candles and everyone sits on their special chair. We all take turns sharing the best and the worst parts of our day. Asher got given some children’s affirmation cards for his birthday, so we all choose one at the end of the meal. It’s all very warm and fuzzy and makes sharing a meal together feel special.

One of things about T.V is it’s ability to suck time. Now, without it, we have all this free time to do whatever we fancy in the time before bed. After dinner, we play Uno, Eye Spy and a lego game called Creationary around the table or we read, talk and the kids play.  The vibe in the house is different too – without this screened box beckoning and shouting at us from the corner of the room, the room seems bigger, more peaceful and like a real ‘living’ room. We even go to bed earlier and read. Not having thousands of images flicking and ticking around in our brains trying to be processed means we can sleep much more peacefully….the difference is quite fundamental!

Asher in Lego mode

It all sounds very idyllic, so before you reach for the vomit bowl, realise that we still have our melt downs, shouting matches and “I’m bored” moments. It’s just that we felt that the T.V was depriving our family of connections and time that we will never get back. It was also causing more conflict than the quiet time it was creating.

The T.V may come back out for a visit in the holidays as a special treat and we will watch the occasional D.V.D or Youtube clip on the laptop, but we are glad that that T.V will no longer be the default relaxation device in our house. That’s what puzzles, books, music, games, outside and each other are for.

Folk of the far away T.V
Mia multi-tasking....feeding mousy and being the Fruit and Vegetable Queen in her shop.

Related links:

http//www.abc.net.au/sunshine/?ref=nav

Unplugged in the Family Room

Playing on the Lego games website

The glare from the screen flickers on my sons 6 year old face as he stares intently at the downloaded Lego game. He is immersed, almost swallowed whole by the screen, enthralled by the interactivity, the colourful graphics and the many leveled options that drip feed him like a pellet fed mouse. He would happily disappear altogether into this digital media fun land if we let him. It is only my hand, wrapped firmly around his ankle, that keeps his feet on this side of the screen.

Many families have had their children swallowed by screens. At first it was just the T.V, sitting benignly in the corner, spilling forth cute children’s shows and DVD’s with perky presenters and catchy theme songs. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the children moved closer to the screen, grabbed a chair and a mouse and started clicking on stuff. Suddenly, while your peeling carrots or checking emails in the other room, they’re entranced, plugged in and gone all digitally native on you.

As a 21st century parent, I feel the magnetic push and pull of the digital world and it’s effect on my children. Having studied and worked in the media and also taught young children about the media, I’m particularly interested in how our plugged in digital experiences intersect with our family lives. Many children I have taught (children in Grade 3 and younger) have a T.V and a computer in their bedroom, as well as an arsenal of computer games and hand held games gear, seemingly at their disposal 24/7.

Media in bedrooms for little kids is a particular issue, because it gives them unmonitored access to the media world, particularly through the web. It also assumes they are mature enough to make good choices about what they will view, play, upload and download. If you’ve ever sat through a morning of kids cartoons, you’ll understand that kids aren’t always choosy or discerning viewers.

For the first 5 years of my sons life, we lived without T.V. When I told my primary age students this, they looked at me aghast and said, “But… how do you live??!! Sure, Asher watched plenty of DVD’s, played a few online games and watched the odd Youtube clip, but essentially he grew up with a large backyard, lots of great toys and a small, daggy, non wide screen T.V. He would watch all the usual G rated stuff and the occasional nature doco, but at the end of the show, it would just stop (DVD’s just finish, and that’s all folks), and he would start playing with his toys or go outside. His T.V exile meant that he had a limited time frame around his viewing and he wasn’t exposed to 100,000’s of ads. He has never pestered us for stuff, mainly because advertising hasn’t convinced him that he needs it.

We are perversely proud of the fact that he has only recently recognised the McDonalds big M and still calls it ‘Old MacDonalds’! When he first noticed it, aged about 4, he said, “Hey Dad, that’s a funny looking sun!” (I mention this because the McDonalds big M symbol is considered one of the most widely recognised symbols in the world. And Asher really is very observant!)

We have used the DVD player as an electronic babysitter at times, but we always knew what was on and for how long and Asher always knew that there was a time for turning it off and doing something else.

Many children (and adults too) use T.V’s, Computers and Games as their default way of relaxing: vegging out in front of a screen. However, think about the number of pictures, sounds and words their young, developing brains are interpreting and give meaning to in a 30 min show or a 90 minute movie or in a 4 hour gaming marathon. It’s a lot for to decipher and really not that relaxing. Sleep studies have shown that high levels of media interactivity effect the quality and quantity of sleep. I’ve taught kids who look strung out on a Monday morning at school because they’ve spent 10+ hours playing computer games on the weekend or went to sleep at 10.30pm because their was a good movie on the T.V in their bedroom.

Having the screen as a default way of relaxing or tuning out, also implies that all entertainment and fun will be found elsewhere and provided by someone else. Limiting the availability of Asher’s media entertainment helped him feel capable of creating his own fun and diversions. Susan Maushart, in her excellent and often hilarious book, The Winter of our Disconnect, (Random House, 2010) shares her journey of disconnecting herself and her 3 teenage children from the mainframe of media for 6 months. Amongst her many insights, she talks about the changes that occurred in her own family as a result of having no T.V, computers, mobile phones, IPods, or gaming stations pulsing in the background whilst they shared a meal together.

With no more attractive prospect to lure them from the dinner table, the children did not exactly learn to linger over cigars and brandy. But at least they stopped inhaling their food {speed eating} and bolting for the nearest digital foxhole…. we probably increased our face time at the dinner table by 15 – 20% in both quantity and quality.

Susan Maushart, The Winter of our Disconnect, (Random House, 2010)

Maushart makes many deep observations about her children’s and our societies use, overuse and abuse of the electronic media. One of the fundamental things she discovers is that our modern predilection for being plugged in 24/7, and for entertaining and virtually connecting ourselves into a stupour, separates us from ourselves, each other and our ability to connect as families. Or put another way, having screen free time allows us to connect with ourselves and each other in a more real and meaningful way.

Asher is nearly 7 now and T.V has once more entered our lives. He watches afternoon cartoons, he’ll sit through a movie, he hates the News,  but he’ll happily switch it off and go and do something else. He is an excellent little artist, can climb and run like a monkey and music is also a big part of his life. Hopefully, the simple choice to have no T.V in Asher’s early life, has given him wings to be a creative and active participant in his own ‘real’ life.

And no doubt one day soon, he will recognise the McDonalds symbol and probably want to eat there.