research

The Power of Talking to Kids

“Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.”

-Maya Angelou


I have spent a lot of years as an executive in children’s content at public broadcasters. I’ve interviewed lots of young girls, and talked to them about many topics. Recently-with the Dream Gap research from Barbie- I wanted to chat with more girls. Such interesting research! Mostly, I talked to young girls I know, to see what they thought of the results of this research: that by the age of 5, girls begin to lose self-confidence in their intelligence and abilities. This was more than for my job, it was for me, other women, and girls for the future! A lot at stake.

As always, the girls had a lot to say, and I loved how quickly they came up with reasons for the results. Two young girls said that boys see boys when they watch TV...that most lead characters on shows are boys, making boys seem like they are smarter, because they are leaders. The girls are right. In North America, 65% of protagonists in kid’s shows are boys, with girls only being the main character about 35% of the time.

I spent last weekend with one of my best friends, her young daughter and her daughter’s bestie. The girls spent almost the whole time choreographing dance routines, so I wasn’t sure if they would be interested in this research. But it only took them a moment to talk about how they mostly hear about men in school. The historical leaders, presidents, prime ministers, heroes, astronauts and other people they are told about. They don’t hear about famous women nearly as much. They said they want to hear more about women leaders!

On my way home from the weekend away, I chatted with two 10 year old girls on my street about The Dream Gap Project. They agreed that girls would feel smarter if they saw more role models, and felt strongly about changing the names of all the schools. “They are all named after men,” one said. “That’s why we have to fight for girl power, ” said the other.

I felt so girl powered up after the weekend that I just wanted to say “Thanks, Barbie” for doing the research that can get lots of girls talking. All good movements start from the ground up, so we need our girls to feel empowered. Now we just have to find ways to make girls more present on tv shows, in school, and at the forefront of the world around them. I’m totally in and feel like I have to do my part. Girl power, indeed!

Because we love talking to kids, here’s a video we shot at the Center for Scholars and Storytellers with boys and girls reacting to the Dream Gap research.

Directed by Eliza Rocco

Kim Wilson, Co-Director, Center for Scholars and Storytellers

Disclosure: This blog post was written independently and reflects the author’s own views. It was written in support of the Dream Gap project and was paid for by Barbie.

To learn more about Barbie's work to close the Dream Gap click here.

From Beer to Big Bird to Blue’s Clues: Research has Impact

Beer

What do selling beer and selling the alphabet have in common? They are forever tied together by the simple genius of Joan Ganz Cooney. Given the challenge to try to make something good out of television that could positively impact young lives, she first made one clear insight- kids loved to watch commercials. “Children all over the country were learning beer commercials so they were learning something, but could it teach something of potential use to children?” asked Cooney. Clearly, the songs, jingles, and production of the commercials kids were seeing were attracting a young audience, but Cooney didn’t stop there. She did what would lay the foundation for perhaps the most important kids show of all time. She did research.

In the summer of 1967 Cooney took a leave of absence from her job at WNDT and, funded by Carnegie Corporation, traveled the U.S. and Canada interviewing experts in child development, education, and television. At the end she had a document to work from:  “The Potential Uses of Television in Preschool Education” and from that sprouted not only the show, “Sesame Street” but also the Children’s Television Workshop, a model for working and creating.

Research had impact.

Her research and work continues to impact children not only in America but worldwide. Doing research and really understanding her audience and their needs also ended up being great for business because the show really worked for kids. They were selling the alphabet and kids were buying in.

Fast forward a few decades to “Blue’s Clues,” another show that revolutionized television for kids. And like Sesame Street, the creators of Blue Clues also spent time before the creation of the show thinking about child development and how it plays into making content for kids. They did research.

Todd Kessler, Angela Santomero, and Traci Paige Johnson—the trio that developed Blue’s Clues—wanted the show to be entertaining as well as educational. Santomero held a master’s degree in child developmental psychology from Columbia University but the novice team also enlisted the help of educators and consultants to craft a format that reflected the latest research in early childhood development.

Integrating this research into every episode, the show emphasized problem solving skills and audience participation in a way no other children’s program has before. While “Sesame Street” used bite sized content to connect with the audience, “Blues’s Clues” used a narrative, and empowered preschoolers to help the host, Steve, figure out clues. Not surprising, Blues Clues was also a runaway success, both with kids and from a business view. .

So the next time you watch one of those catchy beer jingles online or on TV, we hope you think of Joan Ganz Cooney and her desire to “sell the alphabet to preschoolers” or think of the amazing creators of Blues Clues who changed the model for getting preschoolers to interact with the screen. Because for both, research had impact.

Kim Wilson, Co-Director, Center for Scholars and Storytellers

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