March 20, 2012

Little Einsteins

Little Einsteins
Series created by Douglas Wood
3-6 Preschool Disney Junior
TV Series / DVD
Fiction / Art / Music

Little Einsteins is one of those shows for children that, in concept, shouldn't actually appeal to children - it features classical music and art (mostly paintings but tapestry, mosaic, pottery and sculpture have all received episodes) and spans geographic locations from ancient Greece to Denmark. Yet, children love it. Though it sounds, conceptually, like a show designed for parents, full of classical art, music and "big words", the execution is aimed entirely at preschoolers.

The four heroes range in age from 4 to 6, and each has a particular skill, though none are pigeon-holed by their aptitudes, (the dancing girl loves astronomy, for example). This makes them fairly well-rounded and relatable to kids in that age bracket. What's even more impressive, is that these young heroes engage in age-appropriate dialogue that is both authentic and challenging (scary woods are "daunting" and their missions are often "quests"). The show provides plenty of context to help the young audience figure out potentially difficult words, making it an excellent form of vocabulary acquisition.

At the beginning of each episode, the characters introduce the mission's art and music. The pairings range well beyond basics like the Mona Lisa and Swan Lake (recent episodes have featured Gustav Klimt with Dvorak, and Kandinsky with Mendellsohn) and are clearly aimed at introducing preschoolers to unfamiliar pieces while keeping the experience accessible and fun. To that end, words like "crescendo" and "staccato" are illustrated by bumpy rides down snowy hills and zooming trips through space. The characters address the audience directly and appeal to them for help, drawing them into each episode through physical activity (the team's rocket is powered by "pats") and terminology (tempera paints, turpentine) that they otherwise would not encounter until they were much older.

The skill with which all of this is accomplished is impressive, and though the pace may be slow for adults, it's perfect for kids, allowing them time to digest information without being ponderous. Even better, the quests contain familiar fable and fairy tale motifs, adding yet another layer to the already rich mix. The result is an adventurous cartoon that introduces preschoolers to art, music, literature and vocabulary. While I wouldn't just plop a child down in front of the TV, it's a great series to watch together with lots to explore and discuss.

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