In Which I Watch Children’s TV Shows…For SCIENCE!

This weekend, I discovered that The Magic School Bus was available to stream on Netflix. I spent my Saturday morning snuggling in with my pajamas, two pups, a cup of tea, and a blanket of nostalgia as I watched a couple of episodes. I thought about “The Frizz” and Bill Nye the Science Guy, and how they were just as influential as my “real life” school teachers in shaping my love of science as a kid. I wondered what science programming is available for children nowadays. Is there anything that has the potential to become an educational classic like all the shows from my childhood?

One day about a year ago, we were channel surfing and stumbled upon a kids show with an adorable looking CG-animated Tyrannosaurus rex explaining to his Pteranodon friends that “a hypothesis is an idea you can test!” My interest was piqued.

Turns out that show was Dinosaur Train, a PBS series that explores the prehistoric creatures of the Mesozoic Era by way of time traveling train. Nothing stimulates a young child’s scientific imagination quite like dinosaurs. And I have no shame in divulging the fact that as childless adults, we found the show on Netflix and binge watched a few episodes.

A friend on Twitter also pointed me to Sid the Science Kid (the CGI predecessor to Dinosaur Train, both produced by The Jim Henson Company), which introduces basic scientific concepts and the scientific method of asking questions and making observations. She mentioned how the show uses age appropriate language, but doesn’t make it hard for an adult to listen to…in other words, age appropriateness without “dumbing down.” This is so important in science communication!

Google searches also revealed a show called SciGirls, which is aimed at 8-12 year old girls by featuring other preteen girls doing their own science and engineering projects. In a culture that still reinforces sexist/gender-specific marketing for boys and girls (see the “I’m too pretty for homework so my brother does it for me” T-shirt fiasco), I think this show is a great attempt at empowering young girls to get interested in STEM fields.

And for older kids, nothing makes science look cool like the explosive production on Mythbusters or the wonder-filled storytelling in Cosmos.

Perhaps there is hope for children’s science programming after all. None of these jump out at me as potential “classics,” but who knows what our perception of media will look like in 20 years. And of course, there is a whole new programming medium for the digital age, with a plethora of great science-related YouTube channels available 24/7. I’ll share some of my favorites in a future blog post.

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