- Striving for Excellence in Children's Video
Some of my favorite childhood memories are of listening to stories from books, studying the colorful illustrations on the pages as my mother read the words to me. As an adult, I've retained my love of children's literature and my first child, like me, can never quite get enough of books.
When my daughter was about 18 months old I began watching children's television shows; I was searching for programs about friendship, caring, courage, responsibility, overcoming obstacles—in short, programs that offered the visual equivalent of some of the beloved books of my childhood.
But I was horrified by what I found. Clearly, there is much to be said for programs like Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers, but where are the stories—the short, well-made stories—that entertain but, at the same time, set wholesome examples, provide inspiration, hold up a mirror through which a child can see herself and her world? Such programming, I found, was almost non-existent, and there was almost nothing on television that I considered suitable for my daughter.
With the advent of home video, I began a new search. Here, surely, I would find what I was looking for. But, with the exception of the Disney movies, which are too long to hold the attention of very young children and are, in some cases, deeply disturbing and frightening (try watching Snow White or Dumbo from the perspective of a four- or five-year-old), most of the video offerings feature the same shallow characters and rampant commercialism that appalled me on television. No one, it seemed, was making quality cassettes for the home video market that were equal to good children's literature; no one, it seemed, was using the visual medium to promote healthy, positive values in a vivid and direct way through drama, music, and song.
I decided to fill this gap.
My goal was to produce short, entertaining, and educational stories for young children based on realistic situations, featuring characters with whom children could easily identify. And so I established Yellow Giraffe Productions.
As a first step I consulted with specialists in the field of child psychology, education, and pediatric development—among them, prominent [End Page 96] educator Dr. Maurice Teitel, of the State University of New York at Stonybrook; and Sheila Sadler, director of the Village Community School in New York City. We agreed that for our young target audience the stories should be short—between 15 and 25 minutes—and that the first cassette should be a collection of three stories. For variety, we'd employ a different filmmaking technique for each story; live action, puppetry, and story telling. Our guidelines for Yellow Giraffe Productions were clear; we wanted material that presented problems and issues that confront children on a daily basis, material that addressed familiar social or behavioral issues like sibling relationships, losing a favorite toy, quarreling with friends, dishonesty, fears. The educational goals would be achieved mainly through role modeling, which can occur, we assume, simply as children watch others, without any direct reinforcement for learning.
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The first story we chose is titled, "Please Get Me A Puppy." It is a 15 minute, live action movie dealing with a situation known to many children and parents and offering a solution that involves compromise on both sides. In the movie, six-year-old Jessica begs her parents to buy her a puppy. They refuse on the grounds that their apartment is too small, they are too busy to care for a puppy, and Jessica is too young to take on the responsibility herself. One day, Jessica finds a [End Page 97] small kitten in a garbage can at the park. Mother agrees to take the kitten home and feed it and then to take it to the animal shelter. "The owner will surely look for it there," she explains to Jessica. But there is no space for the kitten at the shelter, and Jessica is allowed to keep it for another day. The next day...