Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I love Mozart; She Loves Balloons.

I had an argument with my three year old today. It went a little something like this:

Setting: Living Room. Puts on Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

Annelie [listening intently]: I know that song! It's I love Balloons, I love, I love Balloons!

Me: Um. No. Its Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

Annelie: No, its I love Balloons, I love, I love Balloons!

Me: No, I'm pretty sure its Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

Annelie: No, it goes like this, [shaking maracas while singing and dancing around the living room] I love balloons, I love, I love balloons!

Me: No, I'm fairly positive it doesn't.

Annelie: Annie sings it. Its the birthday balloons song. That's how it goes. I love BALLOONS, I love, I love BALLOONS!

.... and on and on and on. We're both pretty argumentative people and I was determined to win the argument (in case you are wondering, our argument did not in fact end with I'm right, you're wrong, nanny nanny boo boo, although I was certainly thinking it, and I'm pretty positive she was, too).

When I bought my kids some Disney Little Einstein DVDs, I thought I was going to be helping them culturally. A show that mixes classical music and art? Oh, I am SO there!

But now, my kids can't appreciate a single, recognizable classical song unless there are stupid lyrics involving balloons and clapping for them to sing along with. I'm not going to lie... I have mixed feelings.

I LIKE the fact that my kids know where Venice is, and can recognize it in pictures or movies because that's where Rocket flew. Forget looking at Mommy's pictures of her trip to Venice... at ages 3 and 4, my kids just don't understand that - or care.

Who needs real photos of the Rialto Bridge...
my kids only recognize it because of rocket's gondola journey

And I LIKE that my kids recognize the art of Van Gogh and John Singer Sargent because they've seen it on the show, heaven knows they certainly don't like to look at it when I pull out my art history books from college.

But I mostly feel like I'm dumbing down their experience with the Arts. Is it worth playing a movie that has Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No 5 in D Major ... when the obnoxious little cartoon kids are singing, "Use your hands for turning, turning turning, clapping clapping, up down?" Because now, whenever my kids hear that song, they don't appreciate it musically, it just becomes as stupid as a Barney song.

When it comes to teaching my kids about classical music, I think I prefer the Disney of long ago. I was never bored of Fantasia - to me, the gorgeous animated faeries, and centaurs and those adorable dancing ostriches and mushrooms made classical music fun. And heck, who doesn't recognize the Peer Gynt Suite no. 1 Morning? I think that was song is played in every single cartoon I watched as a kid, whenever a character woke up in the morning... But thanks to the Little Einsteins, when my kids hear it, they sing, "I love my baton, yes I love my baton, yes I love, I love, I love my baton," and I want to gouge my ear drums with a spoon.

When Gracie was two, her absolute favorite thing to watch was Peter and the Wolf.

Its a story told in music, without any stupid lyrics and obnoxious singing kids. For me, it's movies such as this, that make classical music fun for kids, without dumbing down their experience.

Other moms out there, tell me, where do you stand on shows such as The Little Einsteins? Do you feel that it helps your kids learn and recognize classical music and art when they wouldn't otherwise, or do you feel that they are getting a dumbed-down version that may hurt more than help?

I'm curious! Of course there are no right/wrong answers... just opinions, so please share! And are there books and movies that you like better, when it comes to teaching your kids about art and music? Do share those, as well!



  1. I'm personally all for classic Disney. My kids LOVE the original Silly Symphonies and I'm trying to get my hands on a copy because it's now OOP. We just keep checking it out from the library. They also love Peter and the Wolf. We do own the original and Fantasia 2000, and they like them okay, but they prefer the symphonies. Doesn't bother me so long as it's not Barney. :oP

  2. I never really thought of it that way but I totally understand where you are coming from (although Julie doesn't sing the annoying words, she does relate The Little Einsteins to pretty much any classical music I play)I am going to check our library for Peter and the wolf and I am also curious about the silly symphonies (= thanks for the post!

  3. I LOVED Peter and the Wolf. When we were really good in school, they used to pull out the old projector and show it to us. Honestly, in time, I'm sure they will forget the silly lyrics and learn to love the music for what it is. I still love that the Little Einsteins make art, artists and classical music something fun that even they can enjoy. I don't think it's dumbing them down at all. I think it's a nice convention to get them to remember a tune :)

    On a similar note, the only reason I remember the tune to the Canadian National Anthem is because my high school pirated it as our Alma Mater. I have no ideas what the real lyrics are past "OH CANADA..." but I still remember the words to our Alma Mater...hee hee.

  4. I have only watched one episode of Little Einsteins, but I give it a solid thumbs down. I had high hopes for the show for all the reasons you gave, but I couldn't get past the inaccuracies in the one I watched. Well, that and the over-contrived plot that made absolutely no sense. I don't remember all the details, but I do remember that the rocket was flying over Mt. St. Helens and then immediately over the Redwood Forest. Umm... isn't there a whole STATE in between? There's, like, 300+ miles between the two points. And then when they get to the redwood forest they keep seeing a tiger? Because tigers really live in forests?? I haven't watched another one since. And honestly, Liv gets plenty of exposure to the arts on our visits to the local art museum. We only make it about 10 minutes before she wants to go out and play in the fountains outside, but those 10 minutes are enough. When we walk in the gallery I ask her which is her favorite piece, and why. And sometimes I walk to a picture and say, "Oh, what do you think is happeneing here?" There are no wrong answers, and Liv loves being always right so it totally feeds the ego.

  5. Just a follow-up comment to my previous - I don't think that we have to "dumb down" things to appeal to our children. Your girls totally look up to you, and when they see you getting excited about Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and choosing to listen to it for its own merits (not becuase of a cartoon), you're making an impact on them. Manufacturers would have us believe that we need to purchase/view their dumbed down products so that the arts/sciences/anything intelligent is appealing to our children. What makes it appealing to our children is our own excitement about it as parents. Okay--offa my soapbox now...

  6. Sasha - No need to run off the the library to grab Peter and the Wolf... the video is right there in this post! Just put it on for them!

    Anne (aka Casserole) I LOVE your soap box speech! And I agree with it completely! Thank you!! My kids haven't done museums yet (well, not for fine art) but I can't wait until they are old enough to behave well in one (and not rip the pictures off the wall or knock over statues and all that)!! I hope they'll be excited too!

  7. I grew up on Disney and remember loving to watch my favourite fairy tales come to animated life. As far as shows like Little Einsteins I think that in order to really get everything you can out of them, you have to do the extra legwork, dig out the art history books and show the featured artist and his or her other paintings, play the music by itself and talk about the composer and what types of instruments are being played.

    If it's just left to the DVD to introduce the artists and composers then the art and music just become memes for our kids to auto repeat until they actually having something real to connect it to. Sounds like you're doing that already.

    Now, I'm not a big fan of Disney in general, all the marketing they do towards kids is very off putting for me so we try to steer clear of the Disney channel, the Disney store and toy store sections with all the movie tie ins. I'd rather she engage herself in pretend play that isn't centered around increasing the assets of a multi-billion dollar company, but that's just me. I don't judge or look down upon anyone who feels different, we have lots of friends and relatives who buy into it and that's OK with me.

    Now that I've come off as a judgmental no fun at all I'll step off my soap box

  8. No, not judgmental and no fun at all! All people and parents are different, so its nice to see opinions!

    We're the same way when it comes to Disney. I love them, because I grew up with them, but my adult self is very different than my child self, and the Disney company sickens me more than I love it. With that said, I still let my kids watch the fairy tale movies... but I do make sure they know the real stories (4yo loves Anderson's The Little Mermaid, just like I did at 4, even though it is heart-wrenchingly sad!)

    I used to teach art history for elementary school kids... toying with the idea of adding a segment with projects on this blog... might be fun for parents and kids!

  9. I don't have a musical bone in my body and unfortunately do not know much about classical I think it's great that my kids are being exposed to it via Little Einsteins! Due to my ignorance, LE's are doing a better job than I ever could - even if it a little warped by silly songs.

    To tell you the truth, I haven't actually sat, watched and paid attention to that many episodes but I think the series is inspired by musicians and artists rather than it being a straight-forward teaching about them.

    My eldest son LOVES the show - it's not crazily huge here in terms of merchandise at every turn which makes me like it even more... and I think it's better than some of the other stuff that's on.

    I think it can be a springboard to greater day the girls will appreciate the music for what it is (and won't sing about the balloons they love), especially
    since you are so passionate about it.

  10. I wanted to throw in my two cents with an alternate perspective. I'll start by saying, yes, I'm pretty sure we can all agree about the Disney juggernaut and them being in, well anything, to make themselves more money, but stop and consider, not every child has a parent who is art/music savvy, or maybe fine art and classical music are just not their cup of tea, if not for the Little Einsteins, there might be a lot of children out there who would ever be exposed to Mozart or Van Gogh. Sad to say, for many different reasons, most kids have more access to a TV than they do to museums. If they are going to be watching TV, why not try to introduce them to the material in a fun and engaging way? Better that than to have never been exposed at all, right?

    It may seem implausible, but my sister in law, who grew up in Wisconsin, in Milwaukee, which is obviously not rural, she tells me that she was never exposed to literature and art in her school system. She's in her late 20's. It's kids in environments like hers that probably do benefit, if only a little, from shows like this....

    OK...I'll be quiet now :)

  11. Cathy - "I think it can be a springboard to greater learning" ... Okay, yes, definitely a great point!

    And Alyssa - I hadn't considered that some kids aren't going to have an exposure to the arts other than kid shows on TV (especially with so many budget cuts in public schools - removing the arts programs from a lot of schools completely)

    And I do have to say, I love how they LE use terms such as Crescendo and Diminuendo to make the rocket go and slow down... those are definitely not words we use around the house!

  12. I doubt they are educational at all. That being said I let my kids watch them, you know why? Because I get 30 minutes of peace. :) And it's better than exposing them to a bunch of violence, sex and gore.


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