Scott Kara: Local learning from the box

Luke Nola, centre, and Chris Stapp, right, on kids TV show Let's Get Inventin'. Photo / Supplied
Luke Nola, centre, and Chris Stapp, right, on kids TV show Let's Get Inventin'. Photo / Supplied

In the world of Kiwi kids' television there is a young Maori fella called Kayne and his bubbly and bright sidekick Morgan, who can hold their own against anything Dora, Disney, and those trippy freaks from Yo Gabba Gabba can throw at them. All these two presenters on locally produced channel Kidzone24 (Sky Channel 46) need to entertain and educate the little ones is a couple of old toilet rolls, some tape, a piece of string and paint. With those few humble objects you can make some binoculars, don't you know.

And last week, my five-year-old daughter was rummaging in the rubbish bin looking for cardboard toilet rolls to make her own pair after seeing the Kidzoners make theirs. She was focused, determined to do it herself - and she's still wearing them around her neck this week. Now that's what I call quality, educational children's TV - and it's made in Dunedin.

Which is why I was curious about new organisation The NZ Children's Screen Trust pushing for more locally produced shows made specifically for Kiwi kids. Made up of people like presenter and producer Suzy Cato and former Children's Commission Dr Ian Hassall, the trust is advocating "more diverse and accessible local content for kids on our screens - whether it's television, film, or digital media".

Which is great. But while Kidzone is not made up of solely Kiwi content, with British shows like the madcap Captain Mack and animated series Little Princess also in its schedule, it does a pretty good job of engaging with New Zealand kids by getting out into the community and into their homes. And what about Small Blacks TV? It's a quality show, fires the kids up early on Saturday morning before their big game, and gets them up close and personal with their AB heroes. That's as Kiwi as it gets, innit?

Not so, reckons Dr Maya Gotz, a German expert on children and the media, who was here last week for a series of seminars. She told TV3's late night show Media3 that children's television in this country is more American than in America. Harsh.

But you can see her point given the dominance of Nickelodeon and Disney shows on Sky, many of which are my two girls' favourites like the sweet Sofia the First.

And Hassall puts it like this: "Kiwi kids are at risk of growing up without understanding what makes our nation, and them as citizens, special."

However, is pouring loads of money into specialist kids' current affairs and news programmes, and things like targeted children's music shows, as the trust is proposing, really the answer?

Really, the glory days of Under the Mountain, which I was a huge fan of, growing up, are over. Yes, there is a place for those sorts of shows but kids these days can get their drama fix from playing shoot-'em-up games with their mates. Or even, shock horror, finding a nice quiet corner to read a book (or Mum's e-reader). There are so many other entertainment options and media formats open to kids in the big bad world of 2013.

Luke Nola, the creator of local TV success story Let's Get Inventin' who was also interviewed on Media3, believes the answer lies in reality shows for kids. Much like his show, it's all about making it entertaining and, most importantly, engaging and interactive because young audiences insist on having a community to connect with. And as Nola says, reality TV is not as expensive to make as dramas.

As a parent, I like TV, because - I admit it - I use it as a third parent sometimes. It's a great babysitter for when you really need to get something done. But I want my kids to be watching something that's fun, ideally educational, and safe.

Then again, I'm also a fan of the tried and true old-school tactics of telling them, "Go outside and play. There's a whole heap of cicada carcasses on that tree. Off you go."

Now that's educational and loads of fun, all in one.

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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