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Kids TV Review: Ask the Storybots

Our original plan for our Little Buddha was no TV until two and then only 30 minutes a day of educational programming.  Lofty, right? Yeah, I know.

No matter our original plan, it all went out the window when he was diagnosed. (Although it probably would have gone out the window anyway, you have to pee, right?) We spent a lot of time in the hospital. There were days when he wanted to walk around and play, and most days we could spend a few hours at a time reading books, but other days all he wanted to do was cuddle and lie there.  On those days TV helped.

He was too little to really get what was going on during a show, but the music and colors seemed to distract him from the pain, aches, and nausea. It also gave us a chance to relax. We would explain plots, sing along to the music and gave us something to do other than worry.

It helps now too. With GooglePlay and Netflix's ability to save some programs for offline viewing, we've been able to use his favorite episodes to distract him during procedures, like ultrasounds, and doctors appointments. It makes life easier for us and these normally very distressing times less upsetting for him.

So, in no particular order I thought I'd share what we like and dislike about some of the shows we've watched.

First up--Ask the StoryBots.

Ask the StoryBots is an Emmy award-winning original Netflix series based on the StoryBots "multi-platform learning program" developed by JibJab studios. It has a number of companion products available on Apple devices, which I know nothing about because I don't have one--but I was recently informed that they are currently developing an Android app. (Yay! Expect a review when its out!) Their books, video and games are also available on The show is aimed at ages 3-8, but my 2 year old loves it.

The StoryBots are small robots which venture forth from our computers, tablets and phones into the "outer world" to research and eventually answer children's questions. It is a great premise for educational programming, and it does actually educate. By the end of an episode you do get an answer for questions like, "Why is the sky blue?" and "How do airplanes fly?"

Like most successful shows, StoryBots follows a predictable formula. Each episode begins with  Team 341B reluctantly being called into Hap, their superior's, office to hear a child's question. Then Beep, Bo, Bang, Bing, and Boop run off to the outer world in search of an answer. The first attempt to ask someone who they assume has the answer, always fails--but they are set on the right path. As they pursue their answers there are small vignettes of music or skits that relate to the theme of the episode. When the StoryBots finally get their answer the go back to Hal and turn in a tape which neatly ties up all of the concepts they went over.

My son really likes Ask the StoryBots. It seems to hit his big three: computer animation, music, and variety. There are a lot of jokes, some he gets and some not, but it is very cool to see how his understanding changes over time and after developmental leaps. He can watch the same episode 9 times and on the 10th viewing he suddenly gets that potatoes aren't supposed to talk and starts laughing his little head off.

As an adult I also enjoy the show.  I love the guest stars, like Kevin Smith, Weird Al and Garfunkel and Oates. The music is actually good, almost a little too catchy, I find myself humming it at odd times. My favorite StoryBot is a blue bot who sounds like Tommy Chong. It is a show you can actually watch with your kid, which is great because then you can discuss it after and reinforce the concepts introduced in the show when you see them in the real world.

My only real complaint has to do with Storybots' first attempt to answer a question. Per the formula, they go out from Hal's office under a bad assumption about the theme. For example in the first episode, "How does night happen?" They ask a knight about night, since, you know, night/knight... When they explain their assumption the person they are asking for help immediately laughs at them. Not a fan of this.

I feel that kids need to be encouraged to ask questions and share their theories, even if they may be mistaken. For me this is tied to a much larger issue in our society and how we socialize children. Think back to elementary,  high school or even college and how often you or others in your classes were afraid to ask questions or answer them because you thought you'd be laughed at or embarrassed in some way. This socialization begins early and I don't want my son to be afraid of asking for help or laugh at others when they do. I usually try to distract him during this point in the show, or talk about how that isn't nice and it is always okay to ask questions.

So, aside from that one caveat, we really enjoy Ask the StoryBots. It is entertaining, educational, and stands up to repeated viewings. You can take the concepts introduced in the show and expand on them as you see the phenomena in the real world. I can even see this as being helpful in home-schooling, you can plan a lesson around an episode. The StoryBots website even has a section for accredited teachers with activities, math games and supplementary videos.

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