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Inspire Curiosity and Independence in Girls with Nature

by Jennifer Klepper

Jennifer Klepper is an ex-corporate attorney turned PTO president, volunteer child advocate and Cwist contributor. She is leading a discussion on inspriring curiosity and independence in girls with nature. Read and Comment »

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Is Your Child as Gentle as a Lamb? As Stubborn as an Ox?

by Donna Friedman Meir & Tara Sorenson


Donna Friedman Meir & Tara Sorenson

Donna Friedman Meir (top) and Tara Sorensen are producers of "Mama Mirabelle's Home Movies" on PBS KIDS. Read more »

Hi there, parents!

As two full-time working moms with two little kids each, we're frankly baffled that you are actually reading this right now...probably in the wee hours of the night, after your child has gone to sleep.

How many of you have taught your kids that a cow goes, "MOO!" A duck goes, "QUACK," and a pig goes, "OINK?" We all do -- somehow it's innate. And for some little kids, learning about animals begins and ends there: with being able to name different animals by sight, make their sound, and learn how to sing "Old MacDonald Had a Farm." But we all know the animal world provides much more fertile ground for preschool learning than great songs or books. It's a world that can be mined to enrich preschoolers' understanding of how animals behave and live and how they themselves behave and live, and to show you parents out there some parallels between animals and us. Perhaps it's closer to the truth than you might think when our kiddies sometimes seem like little piggies who want to stuff their face with food or monkeys who want to climb all over our backs. Think about it for a moment: Those metaphors aren't just expressions.  They have basis in reality.  

So we present the question, can animals teach us about ourselves? Absolutely.  Or, as Mama would say, "It's as sure as the sun shines on the savanna!"

We created "Mama Mirabelle's Home Movies" as a way of deepening kids' connections with animals and the natural world they live in by showcasing the true, rich connections kids have with their animal counterparts. "Mama Mirabelle" takes an innovative, age-appropriate approach to educating preschoolers about the wonders of the animal world. Rather than have each episode focus on a specific animal, (the weird and wonderful banana slug or the ever-elusive pygmy marmoset), we start with preschool children themselves and the questions and issues that are of concern to them. The themes range from why it's important to sleep or eat or take a bath, to what it's like to leave home for the first time or be afraid of the dark.  

These issues are spun into stories with problems and resolutions that not only offer new insights into the lives of wild animals, but also mirror the preschool experience for the viewer. Grounded in a preschool child's world, learning new things about animal life becomes more relevant, more meaningful, more memorable and ultimately, more possible. Viewed this way, "learning about animals" has the potential to be a very rich interdisciplinary experience for young children.

We believe there is so much that the animal kingdom can show not only preschoolers, but also adults. At the end of the day, we'd love to spark children (and children at heart) to explore their world and appreciate all that it has to offer, whether that's the big wide world or their own backyard! 

Thanks for reading, and now observe. Can your child sometimes be as gentle as a lamb? As stubborn as an ox? As proud as a peacock? We are willing to bet the next time you observe your child, you might see him or her in a whole new light.  

We do, every day.


Comments

Gabrielle writes...

Hi Donna & Tara. I am embarassed to admit that I haven't seen Mama Mirabelle yet, but I definitely will check it out.

My toddler loves animals. And, like you said, it's important for him to learn about more than just the usual animal suspects. I subscribe to a magazine for kids that always has great photos of animals from all over the world. I'm just as fascinated by the images as my son is. We'll also be heading to the zoo, since the weather has finally started to change.

BTW, my son is: stubborn as an ox, sly as a fox, slippery like a snake and cuddly as a baby bear (when he's tired, that is). Thanks for your program.

Donna? writes...

Great...thanks so much for writing! It really is amazing to hear the connections that kids have with animals...we at National Geographic have known that for years as we've seen kids and parents respond to our films, documentaries, magazines, etc. with incredible passion and connection. Please do watch the show -- It sounds like your whole family will love it!

Maggie writes...

Dear Donna and Tara,

Our family includes a much beloved black labrador mix named Janey. Some of my sons' (ages 3 and 6, and playful as puppies) playmates are scared of dogs, so we usually keep Janey on the screened-in porch when we have young guests. Janey is trained not to jump (and is good around children) but she is larger than some of our preschool friends, so we don't wish to alarm them. How can we best accommodate our friends who are timid as mice around canines?

Thanks,
Maggie

Donna? writes...

We're just speaking from our own personal perspectives but it does sound like you are handling the situation appropriately. Removing your dog from the play area that your children are playing in is smart and respectful. If, slowly, your child's friends can build a little trust by watching the dog through the window or seeing your child play with him, perhaps over time there will be more opportunity for play...but for now, we think safe rather than sorry is the way to go! (Donna here - Have to admit that I was bitten by my best friend's little dachshund when I was 8 years old. It was a bit traumatizing for all as I got 30 stitches, they had to give the dog away, and our friendship was strained for many years...so my personal bias is keep the kiddies and doggies at a safe distance. You just never know.)

Donna and Tara

Barbara writes...

I live in a suburban area of a major city, but we have lots of wild animals in our neighborhood. There is a fox den under a shed in my neighbor's yard, and we regularly see foxes in our back yard. Just today my dog caught a baby fox. My three-year-old was looking out the window and saw it happen. She was terribly upset. Luckily I was able to get my dog to drop the fox. The fox was injured, but was able to get back to its den. But my daughter was very upset with the dog and was calling her a bad dog and kept trying to hit her. How do you explain to a three-year-old that this is the way of the animal world. The dog was a predator and the fox was the prey. The dog was not trying to be bad, she was just acting on her instincts. Is there an episode of Mama Mirabelle that deals with the prey/predator aspect of the animal kingdom?

Donna? writes...

Wow - We recognize what a tough moment that must have been for both you and your daughter. It sounds like you handled it really well in trying to explain that this is the way the natural world works. There is not an episode of MAMA MIRABELLE that deals with this issue, precisely because we knew it would be upsetting to little kids. It was a topic that would often come up when developing episodes about eating or play or learning, (as many of these concepts include hunting in the animal kingdom,) but since our show focuses on the preschooler and issues that are relevant to their lives, we felt it appropriate to avoid the topic all together, as hopefully hunting is NOT an activity that little kids are engaged in!!

Margie writes...

I love how your show introduces kids to the broader animal world. I am curious why you chose an elephant to be the main guide? Did it have anything to do with Babar being such a popular animal character?

Donna? writes...

Actually we chose Mama to be an elephant because elephants are some of the most maternal animals there are. It starts before birth. Elephant pregnancies are the longest of any mammal - up to 22 months! Once the baby arrives, it stays with mom for a long time and isn't fully weaned for 5 or 6 years! First and foremost that's what we needed this character to be, a nurturer, a caregiver, as well as a character who could be silly and playful and not be afraid to get down in the mud and get dirty with the kiddies! Which Mama just LOVES to do... We set the show in the African savanna because we felt it was a world with an extraordinary diversity of animals and a world that's never been showcased before in a kids' television series. Most kids likely grow up thinking that animals live only on zoos or on a farm, we wanted to show them an example of one of the truly amazing, diverse locations that animals live in in the wild. Hope you like!

-Donna and Tara

craig writes...

Our very soon to be 7 yr. old is regularly have melt downs crying whinning about what I perceive as small matters.He was brought up with the 1-2-3 Magic & we believe he was successful at.
But the whinning has reached epic proportions, all coventional methods have failed. I've had several one on one about this habit & he seems to understand ? For obvious reasons I'll mention there is no hitting or slapping in our house, no drinking drugs etc. A fairly average household. We also have a 1 year old & we have tried to provide additional time with the 7 year old so he does feel special.There hasn't been any issues in school as when I mention his problems at home to his first grade teacher she hasn't seen any silimar behavior at school. Help Craig

craig writes...

Our soon to be 7 yr. old is having regular meltdowns, crying whinning please go brush your teeth,he loses a paper or book & starts to cry, he doesn't want to leave the park when it's time. If there is such a thing an avg. household no drugs, no drinking no hitting or verbal abuse. This negative behavior doesn't follow him to school just at home. We raised him with the 1-2-3- Magic timeout and it seems to have wored through his toddler years. But not now We are at a loss ??? He has a 1 year old brother. We have tried to talk to him & he seems to understand what we are asking. We also spend time away from his brother so he feels special. Help Thanks
Craig

USA Shop writes...

what we needed this character to be, a nurturer, a caregiver, as well as a character who could be silly and playful and not be afraid to get down in the mud and get dirty with the kiddies! Which Mama just LOVES to do... We set the show in the African savanna because we felt it was a world with an extraordinary diversity of animals and a world that's never been showcased before in a kids' television series. Most kids likely grow up thinking that animals live only on zoos or on a farm, we wanted to show them an example of one of the truly amazing, diverse locations that animals live in in the wild. Hope you like!

Racheel writes...

But we all know the animal world provides much more fertile ground for preschool learning than great songs or books.

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