The time has come to talk about CBeebies. We’ve been through a lot together, CBeebies and I. It has seen me through early starts, bedtime routines, sickness and a loft conversion, when for two long months there was only one inhabitable room in the house. Thankfully it was the one with the TV in it. CBeebies was there for me when I was pregnant and too tired to entertain my toddler; when I needed him to stay in one place for 15 minutes so I could settle the baby or have a quick shower; when he wouldn’t nap but needed some downtime; when I needed some downtime – the list goes on.
I think I may have seen almost every show at least once. Most of them are great: they’re fun, educational and pleasantly short. My son learned to count with the Numtums, started recognising letters courtesy of the Alphablocks and learned to draw zig-zag lines from watching Get Squiggling.
If you are a fairly new parent and your child is still a bit too young for kids’ TV (seriously? Are they ever too young? Are they ever young enough for us to be watching the news or Buffy the Vampire Slayer while they’re in the room? That is perhaps a different discussion) then I present to you:
A comprehensive beginner’s guide to CBeebies
Good for transfixing tiny people
You really need to be two years old or high to appreciate this trip fest. This slightly scary looking cut out animated baby goes on magical adventures (read: drug-induced flights of fancy) with various bizarre animal companions, the most disturbing being Nibbles the Rabbit, who claps his ears together and laughs like a cross between Goofy and a drag queen. However, my eleven month old daughter beams when it comes on and is frozen to the spot until it is over. Perhaps besides drugs, it was made with subliminal messages coded into single frames that are transmitting some kind of ninja killer robot skills to my daughter. We will find out exactly what as soon as I accidentally speak the trigger word, I’m sure.
Good for bedtime
In The Night Garden
This program is designed to appeal to babies and toddlers and, basically, send them to sleep. It does this by going on for half an hour (!) and nothing much happening in that time. The basic plot of each episode is: everyone says their names a lot. They run around the garden till bedtime. Derek Jacobi tells the whole story again, this time with illustrations. Igglepiggle is the last to go to bed.
Abney and Teal
The makers of In the Night Garden thought they’d have another pass at bedtime TV and make it shorter with more of a plot. Although still quite random, Abney and Teal appeals to me as it is a fantasy about who might live on a little island in a lake in a park. As a child I used to row to just such an island in the nearby canal and have picnics there. I wouldn’t have been surprised to meet turnip-shaped Neep (who does like to say his name a lot, In the NIght Garden-style) or bubble-blowing walrus Bop. But my favourite character has to be Toby Dog with his accordion, who has a special song for every occasion – except it is always exactly the same song.
Good for a laugh (for the adults)
Nuzzle and Scratch
I have been watching this one since the Boy was very small. I think he still doesn’t get it, but really I watch it for me. I think the show’s essential awesomeness is summed up by this line, which recurs in every episode, just with a different costume each time: “Ah well, two alpacas dressed as town criers, off to buy sponge fingers… What could possibly go wrong?”
Okay, you got me. I snuck Peppa in even though she is not on CBeebies (you can catch her on Channel 5’s Milkshake every morning several times), but she is just such good value I couldn’t leave her out. These five minute stories about bossy, hyper-confident Peppa are fun for kids, but there is so much to amuse adults as well. In one of my favourite episodes, Peppa and George cheer delightedly when they have to stop for roadworks once again on a car journey, as it means they can watch Mr Bull and his big machines at work. The voice over says: “Peppa and George love it when Mr Bull digs up the road.” The image zooms out to reveal a long line of cars, variously beeping their horns, waiting behind them in a massive tail back. Voice over continues: “Everyone loves it when Mr Bull digs up the road.”
Good for learning stuff
I have said plenty about the Numberjacks on this blog, so I thought today I’d highlight its younger brother, the Numtums. This one is for beginners: the Numtums are cute little furry creatures with numbers on their tummies (aha!). Each five minute episode features one number and looks at it from various angles: how the number is written, various arrangements of that number of objects, how you count up to it and where it fits in to the number line. All this passes by purely visually without much comment. This program started my son’s number obsession and at 20 months he would want to watch it over and over, especially number EIIIIIIGHT!!!
Good for when they’re a bit older
Charlie and Lola
I love Charlie and Lola. My son has only just started to understand it, as it is very story driven, as well as being visually inventive and beautiful. Each episode begins with Charlie telling us: “I have this little sister Lola. She is small and very funny…” Lola goes on to demonstrate in each episode exactly how small and adorably funny she can be. She interprets the world in her own marvellous way, reinvents language and is generally delightfully imaginative. Charlie, meanwhile, seems to do most of the childcare. Just adding in “Mum says” to your parenting might fool social services, Charlie, but it doesn’t fool us. We know you two are alone in that house together. What happened, Charlie? Did your parents just leave one day and never come back? Anyway, when you feel able to talk about it drop us a line.
Good for winding you up and making you shout at the TV
Grrrrr. I’m getting annoyed already and I haven’t even started writing this bit yet. Everything’s Rosie used to be a staple of our CBeebies watching in the early morning. At first I quite enjoyed it. It was colourful and joyful, there were people but also talking animals and trees, it was fine, it was mellow. So Rosie had ribbons instead of hair – I could forgive that, maybe it wasn’t her choice. But slowly, it started to make me feel claustrophobic and even a bit sad. Then it made me angry. The characters live in a playground amid green rolling hills. They have picnics with smoothies and sandwiches and muffins. They invent a postal service and put on shows and play hospital. Slowly, the questions crowded in:
Where does the food come from? Is there a supermarket?
Why isn’t there already a postal service? Do they ever get mail?
The three children are very young – why are they not in school?
Then the questions got bigger:
Where are their parents? They live completely on their own.
Where is the wider world? There are no shops, hospitals, bus stops, libraries, schools.
Where are all the other people?? No one comes in or goes out of this playground.
My annoyance peaked when Holly (who can’t be older than about 6) is sitting crying in one episode, dressed in a nurse’s uniform. When Rosie asks what is wrong, she says: “I can never be a real nurse!”
“NO, you can’t!” I shouted at the TV, to my toddler’s great surprise, “Because there is NO SCHOOL and NO UNIVERSITY and there are NO OTHER PEOPLE IN THE WORLD TO NURSE!”
When I’d calmed down a bit I decided I couldn’t do it any longer. Everything’s Rosie was coming off the viewing schedule. We switched over to some pre-recorded Peppa Pig instead. Five minutes with Daddy Pig made me feel much better.
“Daddy, what do you do?”
“That’s a little hard to explain, Peppa. I take large numbers, transmute them, and calculate their load-bearing tangents.”