Last weekend my son spontaneously asked to watch the ballet on CBeebies… well, I say spontaneously, he had already been told he wasn’t allowed computer games, or a harry potter film or you tube or joy, but the fact remains my boy asked to watch ballet. There is no other channel where this is even an option. Ballet on any other channel is swathed in pink tulle and is clearly FOR GIRLS. I was more than happy to hand the flag of gender diversity over to CBeebies for the afternoon. Earlier in the day I’d already rolled out of bed with the four year and plonked her in front of the CBeebies prom so I could go back to the important business of pretending to be asleep and assuage my guilt at this neglect because she was watching something ‘worthwhile.’
When I gave up on trying to recapture sleep I came down and watched some of the Prom with my daughter and it was like a reunion with old friends. I realised that both my kids are leaving the comforting, kind and brilliantly diverse world of CBeebies behind them. I wasn’t expecting this to make me so sad. Watching the gang singing and dancing felt like seeing long lost family members - not siblings or anything, but definitely like second cousins you used to play with at family gatherings.
The people involved in CBeebies are wonderful. They have educational psychologists, speech and language therapists and a whole host of other professionals consulting on their home grown programmes. I doubt many of the programmes on the Disney Channel are evidence-based. I’ve discovered many of my favourite people on twitter and some who write some of my favourite comics also write for CBeebies. As for the presenters, oh the presenters… I’ve have developed full blown crushes on at least three of them. If you want to see the dark heart of Mumsnet just search for Mr Bloom and watch the depravity unfold. There have been periods in the last seven years of child rearing where I have spent more time with Sid and Andy than with my husband. Speaking of which, let just make a little time for a number rap or two.
So little of the television my kids watch these days is worthwhile. It’s there to pass the time, it might be clever and witty, post-modern and self-referential but it doesn’t try to develop them, it doesn’t care. CBeebies cares. CBeebies nurtured my kids, it showed them worlds rich in variety, with a diverse range of people and creatures of all ages, shapes, colours and abilities. Mr Tumble was a goddamn hero to my kids and as a Speech & Language Therapist I realise the way Something Special has normalised the use of key word signing and made it part of the everyday vocabulary of the under fives, is something very special indeed. CBeebies has offered my kids a world where every opportunity is open to them. Thanks to Jessica on the CBeebies Prom my daughter now wants to be ‘Boss of the Orchestra’ when she grows up. Maybe Mr Tumble can show me the signs for ‘Conductor’ to help her out a little.
The standard CBeebies has set for itself is so exceptionally high no other channel even comes close. Nick Jr resorts to days and days of non-stop Peppa Pig, just to compete. On CBeebies there are shows set in caravan parks and harbours, castles and sheds. The programmes are kind and respectful about difference and diversity. They are also bloody brave - Bing kills a butterfly, Topsy and Tim say goodbye to their Nan’s dog at the vets; not every story has a happy ending. The strength of acknowledging this with the under fives has been a lifeline for our family. I’ve used these episodes as a springboard for discussing the hard times our family has been through. These stories have helped my children articulate how they feel in their dark days.
Only on CBeebies is there a sense that the programmes are made to ensure that they are helping children to develop an understanding of the world around them and how they can live in it. It’s not just a mass of colours and sound to fill the time between the ad breaks. On CBeebies women are scientists, pirates and footballers. Men are carers, ballet dancers and story tellers. People with physical and intellectual impairments are shown whole and happy, not instruments of pity to wring a few more coppers out of us on a charity night. It's bloody fantastic.
I would love to stay snuggled up on the sofa watching CBeebies with my kids. I am sad that we are moving on but sleepovers and singing lessons, dance and drama, beavers and ballet have become our new routine. Nevertheless, before we say goodbye entirely, I would like to say a huge thank you to the myriad creative minds who have charmed, educated and entertained us for the last seven years. I hope many more generations of children get to spend time in the wonderful worlds of CBeebies.