A few posts back, I wrote about my dislike for The Backyardigans, and was frankly surprised at the amount of responses I got. Apparently, they have some staunch supporters. I still cringe when the show comes on TV, but I don't deny that it has great appeal for some and the idea behind the show is a good one. (So let's hear a big WOOT! for The Backyardigans, you crazy pseudo-animals, you.) But what really disconcerted me was the animosity displayed for a programme that I named as one of my top picks, In the Night Garden. Not only do some people dislike it intensely, but apparently the message boards on Treehouse are awash with people trying to get the show banned from the air. So, I felt compelled to add my support to an unfairly vituperated show.
I will admit that when I first saw the show, my immediate response was to change the channel. There was no story! The characters were speaking nonsensically! The show seemed to be moving at an interminably slow pace! Our bedtime routine is long enough without adding something that makes is seem longer!!
I am only a little ashamed to admit that it took the wisdom of my mother to make me see the error of my ways. She mentioned how she liked watching it with my (then) 3-year-old at bedtime. I am not sure of my exact reaction, but I think I rolled my eyes and said something along the lines of "How can you stand that crap?!" I am SUCH a good daughter.. On her recommendation, I gave the show a second chance. And then a third. And a fourth. And I have to say that it has really grown on me. It is also the only show that my swiftly growing 4-year-old will sit still for all the way through.
In the Night Garden is best described as a televised lullaby, or a TV interpretation of a nursery rhyme. It's target audience is 1- to 3-year olds, and it uses literary devices such as repetition, rhyme and music to build familiarity, which equals comfort and confidence, in the toddler set. The programme is not primarily intended to be educational, although it includes short simple lessons in understanding feelings and developing life or social skills. The creators, Anne Wood and Andrew Davenport, wanted to make a show that helped children to relax and the end of the day, and to achieve calming relationships with their parents.
What really grabs me about this show is how successfully they have accomplished their goal. If I could see what my toddler was dreaming while he is asleep, I imagine it would look very much like the Night Garden. The unthreatening characters like Makka Pakka and the Tombliboos who speak an invented language, the brilliant colours of the garden and the lulling music all contribute to the overall effect of a dream-like state where magical things happen. It's enchanting.
People have criticized its use of "nonsense words" - some have even gone so far as to say that it is shows like this that cause speech delays in children. (Now that truly is nonsense! Talking to and reading to your children is what teaches language, not TV. If TV is the only thing teaching your child to talk, then you have bigger fish to fry). The nonsensical speech is a dream language, and a creative way of interpreting how children might communicate in their dreams. One could also argue that it's the international language of children. Certainly, you don't have to be english-speaking to understand the basis of the show.
People have derided it for not being educational. The writers have already stated that that was not their primary goal. Not all shows have to be educational. (Goodness knows I haven't watched Clueless 20 times because I find it instructive.) Personally, I feel that parents - myself included - are getting too caught up in the educational value of things. We are so concerned with giving our children the best start - sign language! music lessons! ballet classes! tutors! - that we forget that kids need a chance to just be kids. They need to enjoy something purely for the fun of it. And, in this increasingly fast-paced world, they need some downtime too. And my downtime does not include being shouted at in Spanish. Not to mention the fact that it is a bedtime programme. I don't read Goodnight Moon at three o'clock in the afternoon, nor would I expect you to watch In the Night Garden when you want something fun and challenging to watch with your kids.
I urge parents who say they can't stand In the Night Garden to give it another chance. Sit down. Breathe. And remember a time before the harsh realities of the adult world started to press in. Relax in a still brightly-coloured world for a moment or two. It just might do you a tremendous amount of good. Throw in a cuddle or two with a cute 4-year-old boy, and you'll be looking forward to the programme. I guarantee it.
Picture credit: In the Night Garden UK