Skip to 0 minutes and 3 secondsIn this session, we will explore some ways in which children are represented on television. We will focus in particular on the genre known as “reality television”. Programmes for children have been a staple of public service broadcasting internationally, first on radio, then on television. Many countries have a public service broadcaster with a remit for educational content, see the BBC in the UK, PBS in the USA, NHK in Japan, ABC in Australia and even commercial channels have found children’s television worthwhile for the advertising revenue they can raise. The rationale was that public service broadcasting, usually funded by the government and taxpayers, should not just entertain, but educate. Take a moment to think about the television you watched in your childhood.

Skip to 0 minutes and 50 secondsWhat educational content or activities did it include? For example, programmes with actors reading storybooks to the audience of children at home, or leading them in singing songs, or demonstrating art projects for children to try out at home.

Your experiences of children's television

Watch the video above. Then, take a moment to think about the television you watched in your childhood. List the educational content or activities you remember it including.

Let us model this task for you now:

Sarah (growing up in the UK) says: ‘I watched mainly BBC children’s television. I remember the segments in the late afternoon/early evening which clustered children’s shows together. I think they started with stuff for pre-schoolers, then as the evening got later were more oriented to young teenagers. I remember the broom cupboard, which was the studio the presenters worked from. We always wanted our own versions of the puppets they used - Gordon the Gopher and Ed the Duck to play with at home…I guess these were modelling communication skills, maybe? Though it was usually the presenter doing all the talking! The puppets just squeaked! I loved the shows that taught you art and craft projects like Art Attack and Blue Peter. We made Tracy Island, from the TV show Thunderbirds, using their instructions one summer holiday. Arts and creativity education were definitely well-covered. Current affairs were dealt with through a children’s news service, Newsround, which must have aimed to develop children’s political literacy. Channel 4 broadcast Sesame Street, an example of American public broadcasting. As a child I didn’t realise how multicultural the show was, but it did a good job with that aspect of citizenship education, promoting inclusivity and social cohesion with songs like ‘Who are the people in your neighbourhood?’’. Looking back, I think Maria, a Puerto Rican woman, who worked at the Fix-It shop, mending radios and the like, must have been my first intersectional, feminist icon!’

Clementine (growing up in France) says: ‘I watched a lot of American shows like Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Two of a Kind. There were French cartoons and Japanese anime. I would watch television in the morning before going to school, in the afternoon after I’d come back from school, and I would VHS (video tape) the programmes I liked to play back. I remember French-Canadian programmes, American ones like the Magic School Bus [based on a book series by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen] and some Australian ones like Ocean Girl and Skippy. They were all dubbed into French. I watched them purely for entertainment. There was also a programme called C’est Pas Sorcier, a French expression which translates into the English equivalent “It’s not rocket science”. Two guys travelled around the country in a truck doing science experiments’.

Over to you! Are your experiences similar to or different from ours?

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This video is from the free online course:

Pictures of Youth: An Introduction to Children’s Visual Culture

University of York