Friday, September 7, 2012

Television for girls

The topic I want to talk about today is television. I know it's quite a hot topic of debate amongst Montessorians and I don't want to extend this into that debate today. The crux of this post is about quality movies for children over six, particularly girls.

I have written before about stories and movies for boys that aren't all about guns and fighting and I will post a list of our choices at the end of the blog for you.

However, girls, strangely enough, are an oddity for me and I realised that I had very little knowledge as to 'girls' movies because my daughter has always chosen to watch the same types of things as her brothers.

The debate as to television viewing per se, is something that in Montessori and, moreso in Steiner, circles goes around as a hushed whisper as if ownership of one is akin to owning a cannabis farm in the garage!

Let's be real though: Montessori, obviously, was not of the era of television, I'm sure she never envisaged a world in which moving pictures would be displayed on a box in the front living room when she wrote her books. However, this IS the 21st century and 'most' families (not all) do have a television and 'most' children have probably watched something on one these days.

I am not going to talk about the pros and cons of television viewing, this post is not about that debate. I will talk about that another day. This post is about the 'quality' of viewing.

From a Montessori perspective, children are unable to extrapolate abstract reasoning, therefore, for a young child to be watching hours of princess fairytales is against the grain of her thinking. Which  suggests to me that television before the age of around 3 or 4 is going to be primarily abstract: Teletubbies (do they even exist now?) with overgrown coloured jelly babies and a smiling baby trapped in a sun? Cloud babies? Waybuloo? I'm really not sure that this would be anything other than abstract. I think, true Montessori would be to postpone television at this age and be outside enjoying nature and immersed in reality (I actually think she'd rather see children doing that per se, but we all know that kids like wind down time where they do switch off and they also like to go to the cinema or watch movies with their friends).

However, once that differential has been reached, then what kinds of television watching is there out there that promotes a positive and peaceful image?
I know that my children enjoyed Nina and the Neurons, Storymakers, Ballamory, Big cook, Little cook from CBeebies. We still don't watch CITV for advertising reasons (that'll be another blog post!).

From a movie perspective, I began my parenting by being quite strict with movies. If the movie was first written as a book, I would give my eldest the book to read first. This did work for quite a while due to the fact he was an avid reader at 6, so was able to read Harry Potter and we read the Hobbit with him and Swallows and Amazon, King Arthur and Huck Finn. It meant that when he first saw the movie cover for Harry Potter he was totally disappointed that the images he had in his head of the characters were totally different to the ones portrayed by Alan Rickman and Daniel Radcliffe, so we were able to postpone the viewing of the movie for another couple of years.
However, his brother was not quite the same reader and it was also very difficult to control an eight year old's viewing with his six year old brother around. Hence his brother probably began his Harry Potter enlightenment at a younger age than he.

Their sister, when she began her tv watching was not convinced about Mulan or Pocahontas, she wanted to watch HP as well, so I have never been asked to buy 'Princess' movies or 'Barbie' movies, even the Hannah Montana dvd she was once given for a gift has remained unwatched.
So, to be asked today what movies have a positive image for girls I think my answer would be:

From the age of six onwards:

Harry Potter - Hermione rocks, there are no two ways about that! This movie unequivocally demonstrates you can be clever and cool!!!
However, I would only suggest that the first one were suitable for this age, I would leave number two until the child were a little older. The last ones I feel are quite dark and, I think it depends on the maturity of your girl as to whether you felt she could cope. The thing to remember is that we, as adults, will see things in a whole different way to a child and what we read into something, they will not bat an eyelid at if it is only suggested (acting something out is a whole different thing!)

Despicable Me. Those cute little orphans kick some real butt and it's a great image of being able to change into a nice person, how love wins through in the end and how money isn't the answer to all. Oh and no one dies!

The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe - again a tale with little Susan being triumphant and strong over her brother, but putting his cruel behaviour toward her out of her mind to save him. It's a tale of trust, love and bravery.

A Series of Unfortunate Events (I'd leave this until around 8 or older as it can be a little dark, but the books are great fun for a confident 7 year old) Violet doesn't let the evil Count win. Another tale of female bravery, sibling unification and some wicked and cunning schemes into the bargain!

Annie - I know, very 70's but my dd absolutely loves Annie. There's nothing better than singing along with her and watching her melt old Daddy Warbuck's heart. Oh and the fact she wins over Rooster adds to the impact!

How to Train Your Dragon was a good one for her. There are some positive female role models in it, but it also has a great underlying theme in believing in who you are and what you can do. She and her brothers also became hooked on the books and her elder brother could speak fluent dragonese from the age of 10 lol!

I guess Monsters Vs Aliens has the female lead and again, there is team spirit and 'not feeling you can't do something because of what you look like' theme (maybe I'm reading a little too deeply into that :-)

For your older child, maybe 8 and up, there is Percy Jackson and the Lightening thief. There is some fighting, but no one dies and it's based on Greek myths which, as my middle child who didn't seem to want to read, read the whole series over and over and won his school's achievement cup for his reading ability and knowledge on The Greeks, I guess isn't a bad thing. There is a female lead in that and she knows how to wield a sword. There is also an underlying theme in this about dyslexia and finding out who you are - maybe this would be overlooked by a child though.

For your much older girl, teenagers, there is Bend it like Beckham. Now, it's been a long time since I watched this, but I seem to recall there was a little bit of swearing, but it is a story of two girls who are football mad and how they overcome their difficulties to follow their dreams. There is cultural and some relationship issues in the film.

Also for teens there is The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants - which I adore myself as a bit of a feel good chick flick with all the girls coping with a huge variety of every day issue that they manage to get each other through with their deep friendship.

Oh and there's always the Anne of Green Gables series. I have watched the first two movies with my 7 year old (the ones with Meghan Follows in) but the third and fourth that they made just for tv, that is a loose adaptation on LM Montgomery's stories are not suitable. She may enjoy them when she is older, but they are very loose to the books.

Of course, if you can get hold of them, there's always Little House on the Prairie which I remember watching as a girl and wanting to be like Laura. She always knew how to hold her own, had a wonderful loving family and I wanted to be her!

Other television series that my children now enjoy (again from 8 onwards) are Merlin, Dr. Who and we often like to watch things like Frozen Planet, Yellowstone and other documentaries.

I know that this is a very small list and you may have other suggestions. I am particularly keen to hear from those of you that may have suggestions for the 6 - 8 age range for girls. As I said, my dd was never particularly bothered by watching things that were different to her brothers, so I never really did my research into this age group specifically for girls.

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