"Have you heard about the recently released DVD This Is America, Charlie Brown; It is eight American History episodes done Peanuts style and it's only $15.00 on Amazon. My daughter LOVES it."
So naturally when I had an Amazon coupon burning a hole on my desk (a searing black hole; really I had to do SOMETHING about it, didn't I?), I doused that fire with good old Charlie Brown. And wow, wow, wow. We love it. Very good stuff. There are episodes on the Mayflower, the writing of the Constitution, and the history of NASA. Among others.
One thing I've been impressed by is how NOT dumbed-down these shows are. The Constitution one has you listening in on the Founders' debates, and it's complicated, fascinating stuff. Should lawmakers be elected by the people? The Peanuts gang is riveted by the debate, and so are we. Mighty refreshing to see makers of kids' shows assuming the kids actually have functioning brains.
The other DVD set we've been enjoying lately is something I ordered from Netflix. I've been waiting thirty years for this. OK, maybe not exactly thirty, but pretty much since I was old enough to notice that it had disappeared from my PBS line-up. Oh yes, that's right. The Electric Company. They turned it on, and they gave me the power.
Unlike, say, Captain Crunch, The Electric Company is every bit as magnificent as I remembered from childhood. This is where I met Bill Cosby, Morgan Freeman, and Rita Moreno. Also that nice guy with the glasses, and the funny girl with the long dark hair. And Letterman! And commas! And the plumber who has come to fix the sink!
My kids think it's a riot the way I keep hollering HEY! I REMEMBER THAT!!!!!! from the next room. But more than the groovy (oh so very groovy, with those clothes, those hideous orange and brown sets) cruise down memory lane, these DVDs score points with me for their really classy way of approaching reading instruction. It's fun, funny, smart, and simple. Good reinforcement for spelling and punctuation ("Punct-punct-punct- PUNCT-uation! They are the little marks that use their influence to make a sentence make more sense!"), too.
I've been letting the girls watch one episode a day. Beanie has just recently progressed from hesitant sounding-out of Bob Books to honest-to-goodness reading with Henry & Mudge. The Electric Company came along at just the right time to help her make the leap. For example, in episode one, two of the characters have an argument (mediated by Bill Cosby) over whether the letter G says guh or juh. They take turns presenting examples for their respective sides. I'll hear Beanie muttering under her breath, repeating the words the characters say. "Game. Gym. Gum. Large."
Meanwhile, Rose is picking up some quite useful spelling and grammar reinforcement. A sentence appears on the screen (in adorably archaic graphics): "The boy who is sitting is sleepy." A comma drops down from above. (It only wobbles a little.) It plops behind the word boy, and then another comma follows suit, landing next to sitting. Simple and effective, and since this occurs in the middle of an engaging song, the lesson isn't boring.
And that's the first episode, which is clumsier than subsequent ones. The graphics get (a little) better; the commas get less wobbly; the skits get funnier; the improv gets more polished. And the clothes? Even groovier.