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screen time

We Need More (Jewish) Screen Time, Not Less

kid with ipad

A minor catastrophe befell my children’s lives April 1 when Curious George swung from Netflix over to Hulu—we pay only for Nut-flakes (as they call it). George was the one show I felt good about letting my 3-year-old watch…that my 6-year-old also likes. The themes around curiosity and finding out how things work means they get engaged with early science and ingenuity ideas and learn that it’s OK to make mistakes.

Where I live—San Francisco’s East Bay—is one of the global vortexes of crunchy enlightened helicopter parenting. Screen time is even more carefully metered out than sugar or gluten. And I’m not mocking that—outside play, imaginative play, reading, and social time with friends and siblings are the ideal for great reasons. But screen time is not only a great addition to the menu, it’s also a proven way to ignite kids’ interest in science, math, reading, nature, and being a good person.

I’m a GenX-er who grew up on heavy doses of “Sesame Street” and “Schoolhouse Rock”—and thank goodness. I was reading early on, and it seems that I remember a lot more about civics than many voters out there!

So I was more than happy when Sesame brought us “Shalom Sesame,” which is a fantastic holiday-centered Jewish show for preschoolers that teaches about Hebrew, Jewish rituals, Israel, and family traditions.

Inspired (and advised by them), my team and I at our nonprofit studio BimBam (formerly G-dcast) produced animated videos and apps mostly around the holidays and weekly Torah portions over the last eight years. People liked our stuff. Yay for us!

But when we started focusing on parents as an audience, we found out they wanted something a little different. If they were going to take non-existent time out of their busy schedules to watch a YouTube video, it had to be super-relevant to their everyday lives. And if it was something for the kids, it had to look and sound awesome—as good as whatever those kids love already. They gushed about “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” everyday strategies. They loved “Super WHY!” for reading, and the foreign language exposure in “Dora the Explorer.” Plus they wanted something packaged in a way that fit their lives—accessible everywhere, anytime.

We know—as millions of parents do, intuitively—that media is one of the best ways to get kids excited about new ideas. My kids love everything I let them watch on Netflix and Amazon and YouTube (what’s TV?) but the social emotional learning there is rare, “Daniel” excepted. So we made a new show, “Shaboom!”, which uses all the best elements of children’s entertainment and education and combines them with Jewish learning—singing, comedy, magic, and more.

shaboom!

Judaism lags behind the secular world when it comes to using media to teach social and emotional ideas—aka values. Not because we don’t have the goods, either. From Pirke Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) to Orchot Tzaddikim (The Ways of the Tzaddikim) we have a tradition replete with wisdom about everyday life, parenting, and improving our middot, or character traits. And yet this stuff is relatively niche in mainstream liberal Jewish circles. It shouldn’t be!

Yes, our holidays are awesome—they’ve got great stories, foods, dress-up opportunities, and my personal favorite, religiously-commanded backyard forts.

But at the same time—and studies back this up—emphasizing values that kids can practice every day is what’s really “sticky.” Talking about welcoming guests—and practicing with your kids in specific ways, like greeting friends cheerfully at the door and sharing toys—helps families adopt hospitality approaches that matter every day, not just once a year.

When we focus on social and emotional competencies, we help kids become better, more “successful” people, in their schoolwork, hobbies, and relationships. Practicing these skills using Jewish techniques makes me a better person, even in my middle age.

So “Shaboom!” is our new ride down the rainbow into social emotional learning here at BimBam. Each week we will release a new episode about eight minutes long for kids. The first episode is on Welcoming Guests (Hachnasat Orchim). Check it out on our YouTube channel here. Upcoming episodes will cover Gratitude (Hakarat Hatov); Honor or Respect (Kavod); Taking Care of Nature (Bal Tashchit), and Courage of the Heart (Ometz Lev). In every episode, the “magical sparks” Gabi & Rafael work to fix the world while focusing on that theme. Lots more information on the show and resources for each theme created by us and our partners from around the Jewish world are at BimBam.com.

shaboom!

I’m a mama to a 6 and a 3-year-old and I run a startup full-time—believe me, I know about hectic everyday living. I know how challenging it is to attract kids to meaningful and educational media—or even to keep their attention. But I can’t think of a better way to spend our family’s screen time than by learning about Jewish values that make us happier people working on a better family life and world around us. Let’s raise mensches!


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