As parents, the temptation to plunk your young children in front of the TV for half an hour of blessed respite can occasionally overwhelm your desire that they only consume high-level educational programming.
And while there are some terrific children’s shows out there, they can be difficult to identify in the 24-hour barrage of colourful but mindless fluff.
Fed up by what they felt to be “appalling” options for their son and daughter, a couple from Norwich, England decided to forgo the endless channel surfing and create their own quality children’s program.
Jezz Wright, an educator, and his wife, Julianne Martin, enlisted the help of an animator friend to launch Jack and Holly, a series of 15-minute cartoons that aims to be both entertaining and chock full of learning moments.
Wright explains his inspiration for the series:
“It was a wet, rainy afternoon in Belfast in November when my son asked me if we could see a cartoon of Santa Claus. I couldn’t find a DVD that explained the magic of Christmas anywhere that was aimed at the preschool market. So my wife said, ‘Alright. We can do this.’”
Their decision to take action resulted in their first video, a 70-minute “Christmas Countdown” that explores the festive meaning behind the holiday (Hint: it doesn’t include a list of stores that offer the best deals on toys and electronics.)
Another series explores the mysteries of the cosmos by using a fleet of slightly sarcastic aliens.
While the animation is well done, its simplicity forces viewers to focus on the dialogue. And that's the entire point.
“We wanted to steer away from the current crop of fast cuts, very brightly coloured, and slightly aggressive children’s programming. We wanted to harvest that into a softer, more old-school type of animation,” says Wright.
“We were just fed up with all the unnecessary nonsense children’s heads are filled with. We wanted to make something we felt happy about our son and daughter sitting down to watch,” Wright tells the Daily Mail.
“The massive problem with TV for preschoolers in the U.K. is that you are either sending them to la-la land with the Teletubbies, or making them hyper watching programmes like the Power Rangers… TV effectively becomes virtual e-numbers for children with nothing remotely stimulating for them.”
Wright ensures there’s nothing e-numbing about Jack and Holly by writing and producing each episode himself. It’s a true family affair with Martin providing the voice of Holly, and their eight-year-old son Cillian giving voice to Holly’s best friend, Jack.
Something in the formula appears to be working. Despite a minuscule marketing budget, their videos have racked up 500,000 hits with a particular interest coming from U.S. audiences.The episodes are available for download online, but the couple has recently launched their own online channel, a feat that allows anyone with a smart TV device (like Apple TV or Roku) to stream their programs directly onto the small screen.
So far, Wright and Martin have kept their enterprise a strictly not-for-profit affair, with small proceeds from their online DVD sales going to children’s charity.
That doesn’t mean they’d turn down the chance to amp things up a notch.
“With the right investment we certainly believe the business could potentially be worth more than £500,000 (just over $800,000 CDN) within just a year or so. From there who knows? We’ve been told the sky’s the limit,” says Wright.
In the meantime, parents can’t go wrong by revisiting some old classics like Sesame Street, Blue’s Clues and Bill Nye the Science Guy. Proof that smart and entertaining shows are not mutually exclusive.
Watch the video below about a mother's challenge putting her child to bed without TV.