PBS Kids vs. Nick Jr.

The best PBS shows for children are better than Disney Jr. and Nick Jr., writes Fordham’s Mike Petrilli in In praise of PBS Kids. He thinks the government subsidy makes the difference.

The best PBS shows in my view—and my elder son’s!—actually teach something. Not something vague like “reasoning skills” but something concrete like science! Yes, his favorite shows are Sid the Science Kid and Wild Kratts, a very clever program about wildlife. At four and a half, he can’t read yet, but he can learn a ton about our world—and with his curiosity on overdrive, he’s eager to learn and learn and learn.

Other PBS shows are strong on content knowledge too, especially Dinosaur Trains and The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot about That. Others focus on teaching decoding and comprehension strategies—these stem from the early 2000s and reflect the Bush administration’s obsession with early reading — namely Word World, Super Why, and Word Girl. And the line-up is rounded out with several pleasant if content-free offerings that aim to teach character and the like (Arthur, Caillou, Clifford, and so forth).

Nick Jr. offers The Backyardigans, which is “brilliant.” He’s heard Disney’s Gaspard and Lisa is great for vocabulary. But he blames Nick for “the poisonous Sponge Bob Square Pants and the hugely annoying Dora the Explorer — the crack cocaine of children’s television.”

PBS shows are more educationally sound because “the Department of Education’s Ready to Learn program provides upwards of $30 million a year to develop high-quality programs” and related web sites and games, Petrilli writes.

In an e-mail discussion thread, parents and grandparents agreed that Caillou is loathesome.

As a good libertarian, Neal McCluskey thinks government should stay out of the TV business and questions whether “at-risk” kids watch PBS shows.

MATCH founder Michael Goldstein, the father of a four-year-old, doesn’t think PBS shows are “more educationally sound.”

1. Nick Jr shouldn’t be accountable for the fact that its sister channel, Nick, has SpongeBob.

That’s like holding Disney Channel accountable for John Carter. Or dinging Curious George because PBS has pledge drives. No relationship.

2. I’m not that impressed with PBS Dinosaur Train on dino content. Nick Jr. Dino Dan is at least its equal.

3. PBS Cat In The Hat has a lot of knowledge? What are you smoking there in Northern Virginia? It has Martin Short. Case closed.

4. I agree that Nick Jr Backyardigans is amazing — if that ran on PBS would you argue that it’s only possible b/c of the subsidy?

5. I agree PBS Kids has good science shows for kids. But

a. Since they do, Nick Jr presumably looks for the niche PBS doesn’t fill. One is multicultural characters that 3 and 4 year olds seem to like — Ni Hao Kai Lan, Little Bill, Dora, Diego.

b. If PBS didn’t produce the science shows, what makes you think that Nick Jr wouldn’t?

Nick Jr runs Team Umizoomi. It’s all about math. “Geo” and “Mili” are the lead characters, and most of the show is finding patterns. Why wouldn’t they do the same if PBS weren’t already on the scene?

It’s been many years since I watched Sesame Street with my preschooler in the pre-Dora era, so I have no dog in this hunt.

My three-year-old granddaughter has abandoned Elmo for Disney’s Peppa Pig. She now refers to herself as “Julia Pig” and calls her little sister “George Pig” after Peppa’s little brother. She’s picking up Peppa’s British accent, especially when she says, “Let’s give it a go!” or answers the phone, “Julia Pig speaking.”

Dora the tween Explorer

“Tweenage” Dora the Explorer is moving to the big city, going to middle school and acquiring a new look, but she’ll remain a role model, says Nickelodeon in response to a “Let’s Go: No Makeover for Dora” petition by those already turned off by Dora’s Magic Talking Kitchen, Dora Princess and Dora Babysitter.

What next? Dora the Cheerleader? Dora the fashionista with stylish purse and stilettos? . . . If the original Dora grew up, she wouldn’t be a fashion icon or a shopaholic. She’d develop her map reading … design new ways to bring fresh water to communities in need … become a wildlife preservationist biologist.”

Under pressure, Tween Dora’s new look –  flowered tunic, purple leggings and sandals — was revealed.  Nickelodeon says Dora will solve “mysteries with four new girlfriends related to the environment, wildlife and school.”

The new Dora will be nine to 10 years old. I guess “tweenage” starts early.