Friday, January 22, 2010

Hey you guuuuuuys

My job is not glamorous or impressive or lucrative but occasionally it does allow me to wow my kid. This happened yesterday when I took Primo to a sneak peek screening of The Electric Company’s new season which starts Jan 25th on PBS. We booked it over to Lincoln Plaza after school, and slipped in just as they were starting the screening of the episode.

Here’s what I have to say about the Electric Company. It will rock your socks off. I don’t remember watching the show when I was a kid but David was a devoted follower back in the day and he thinks the new one fully measures up, which is high praise, indeed. It is great for two reasons:

  1. Its hilarious, clever, fast-paced and its format – one narrative with many different kids of skits threaded in – holds your interest the whole time

Thanks to this, the show is able to

  1. Teach kids to read and love reading

Oh, and there’s a third reason too:

C. Celebrities! Jimmy Fallon, LL Cool J, John Leguizamo, Yclef and lot sof basketball stars whose names I don’t know but who’d be sure to impress the sports-minded among you.

The Electric Company is like Flintstones vitamins: good for kids’ health but they taste like candy. When you’re talking about educational children’s programming, that’s what you need to get the job done.

I was sort of surprised when Primo got into the Electric Company last month because he notoriously HATES programs featuring what he calls “real people” rather than cartoons, and also because the phonics and vocab lessons seemed slightly above his head. But just goes to show you about having modest expectations for your little one.

In the episode we saw last night, one of the things it focused on was punctuation –teaching kids about how you use periods, exclamation points, question marks and commas. Primo now knows ALL ABOUT COMMAS – how you put them in a sentence to help break it up and introduce pauses in the right places so the words make sense. That seems like a big lesson for a kindergartener, but the show brought the lesson to life in such a clear and dynamic way, you couldn’t help but get it.

His favorite part was an animated skit that featured two sets of mothers and daughters. The first mother said, “My daughter studies rocks and flies” (the sentence pops up on the screen so kids can see the words). And her daughter took out a magnifying glass and securitized some pebbles and buzzing insects. Then the second mom said, “My daughter studies, rocks, and flies.” And her little girl read a book, then played electric guitar and then put on a propeller hat and flew off. Then the first girls said, “Mommy, can I have a comma for my birthday?”

Ever read Eats Shoots and Leaves? It’s like THAT, for kids. Genius.

Primo thought this was so damn funny he has not stopped telling the joke to everyone he meets. He also liked LL Cool J’s rap which rhymed “comma” with “my mama.” About halfway through the show, he whipped out his pad and started drawing and writing letters furiously. When the screening was over, he told me he’d made a book to give to the actors who played the characters Shock and Jessica, who’d come to the event. So we went over and he nervously handed them his creation which was filled with Electric Company games and scenes from the episode. They were incredibly cool about it, really taking his work seriously and listening to him explain the contents for an impressively long time. One of Shock’s specialties, by the way, is that he uses the beatbox to help kids learn phonics. How flipping cool is that??

The Electric Company is produced by the same people who do Sesame Street which means that they have to conduct testing on everything they do and consult educational experts in order to create curricular goals to incorporate into the show. Which means the teaching moments are not incidental or casually stumbled upon but carefully put together to target the areas kids need the most help with and to do it in a way that delights children.

And one more thing – the Electric Company’s website is really fantastic – full of games and video clips and pages your child can personalize. I am really discerning when it comes to the computer games I’ll let Primo play but I love the Jack Bowser Great Escapes game, where kids have to fill in the blanks in sentences, selecting from a list of possible words on the screen. Last night while playing the game Primo differentiated “hug” from “huge.” Who could ask from anything more??