Last weekend I visited a friend who has 6-year old twins. I happened to spend some time watching cartoons with them and I was highly impressed with what I saw. Having no TV myself, and not usually in the company of kids, I’m not quite up to date with the latest shows (let alone cartoons). What took me by surprise was the content in the cartoons – it beats what was showing in my day, by far. I was quite impressed with the amount of educational material that’s out there. There was a lot on building things, helping others out, investigating suspicious activity, but beneath that, were subtle messages – environmental concern, scientific method etc.
It got me thinking that these are such formative years when children are looking for inspiration, learning from everything and anything. The stuff that I watched when I was that age still remains with me (as much as I try to forget it), and has shaped my world view to a certain degree. Things like Captain Planet, Inspector gadget and Pingu come to mind. I remember at about 6 years of age I wanted to become a musician, dancer or doctor (I didn’t really understand my mom or dad’s professions so could not aim for that). It kept on changing as I grew up and realised that there were more professions out there. I then wanted to become an astronaut. Then a spelunker. Then a toxicologist. Then a meteorologist. It all really depended on the latest occupation I discovered.
There are a lot more science cartoons now – Dex Hamilton: Alien Entomologist, Spliced, Oh No It’s an Alien Invasion and the like. It’s quite exciting that science has penetrated its way down to such crucial ages, when kids need to be inspired and are quite open minded. What is really cool now is that kids can have a diverse range of options to choose from. I can imagine a 6 year old wanting to become an entomologist just because of Dex Hamilton. Or even knowing what an entomologist is!!
What I’d like to see more of, is cartoons based on the earth sciences. Finding Nemo was amazing – coral reefs, clownfish and sea anemones finally got centre-stage. Apparently it has also encouraged more people to become marine scientists. I’ve heard of SpongeBob Square Pants, and I think the idea is pretty neat (I’ve never seen it so really can’t comment). I reckon earth sciences are interesting enough – there’s potential for lots more stories. I can already perceive a cartoon where people go back in time – starting from the Holocene to the Pleistocene and so on, and in each episode they are in the midst of some geological event (say for example the Younger Dryas, Last Glacial Maximum) and they also get see the creatures at the time. The Ice Age movie franchise did a great job portraying the most recent ice age, and we need more of that. But we also need a little less of the artistic licence taken, for example dinosaurs in an ice age, super-speedy continental drift caused by some squirrel. Sticking more to the science will still keep things interesting.
I’ve never really been a fan of TV but hey, if you are going to watch it, might as well make it educational! The next generation will be better science educated and more environmentally aware and make much better decisions than we have done in the past. Here’s hoping.