When it comes to quality children's programming, Judge Lacey Worrell knows her stuff. Now, if she could just prescribe some meds for Oscar the Grouch...
Where fun and learning go hand in hand!
This could quite possibly be the best television show your kids aren't watching. If Captain Feathersword and Dorothy the Dinosaur are getting a little tiresome, introduce your kids to Hi-5.
Facts of the Case
Long ago and far away in an exotic land called Australia, an energetic group of young women and men, christened Hi-5, were brought together to entertain kids through the wonder of television. In an effort to replicate the success of Hi-5 stateside, new auditions were held, and five new members were cast for shows that now air on Discovery Kids and The Learning Channel. Many episodes and several hard-to-find time slots later, nine of the episodes have finally been released onto DVD.
While the episodes vary in terms of subject and content, the basic structure remains the same. Each show opens with a high-energy song-and-dance routine performed for an in-studio audience of kids who try their best to follow along. The individual cast members lead skits involving pretend play, puppets, problem solving, music and rhythm, and other straightforward topics children can relate to. The show closes with a short story that includes the entire cast and a repeat of the song that was performed at the beginning. In other words, there is plenty of structure and familiarity, but the structure still allows each episode to achieve a unique feel. Each DVD in this release features three episodes from the show that concern the same theme: color, music, or games.
•Vol. 1: Color Craze: The featured song in this collection is "Living in a Rainbow." In episode one animals are the focus, followed by an exploration of nature in the back yard and as far away as the Congo, while episode three addresses how feelings can be described as colors.
•Vol. 2: Music Magic: The featured song in this collection is "Feel the Beat." This disc explores the use of musical instruments, styles of music (including country, disco, and rock), and moving in time to music. A standout feature of this disc shows several of the cast members introducing the audience to stringed classical instruments like the violin and the bass.
•Vol. 3: Game Time: Imagination is the focus as the gang plays outdoors on land and in the surf, finds fun things to do on a rainy day, and encourages viewers to use make-believe as a tool for self-discovery and fun. The Hi-5 cast uses everyday items to create a world of fantasy, and they encourage children watching at home to do the same.
Given the fact that my day job is conducting psychotherapy with children in their homes, I have been exposed over the years to some appallingly bad television—especially the animated shows where it is the norm for characters to light one another on fire and be nasty to their parents. And don't even get me started on little kids who are allowed to play the video game Grand Theft Auto. While only time and further research will determine the true influence of television and video games on children's behavior, it is safe to say that it cannot hurt to at least steer kids toward shows like Hi-5. Here's why.
What makes this show so special is its ability to teach and inspire children's imagination without being condescending. Karla, Kimee, Curtis, Shawn, and Jen speak to the audience in a friendly, upbeat way without dumbing down their vocabulary or the concepts they are presenting.
The show is engaging from start to finish; the technique of speaking directly to the camera is sure to draw kids in. Just about any child watching can find a character with whom to identify, regardless of gender or race. Perhaps Hi-5's strongest asset is its ability to take very simple sets, costumes, and story lines and turn them into something that keeps children glued to the television. Nothing explodes, and no one hits or threatens each other, and—wonder of all wonders—kids will still enjoy themselves.
Adults will appreciate that the songs performed throughout the show are extremely challenging; the cast members are highly gifted performers with amazing voices. It is no surprise, then, to discover that Kimee has performed on Broadway in Miss Saigon and Mamma Mia, Curtis has appeared in Rent, Jen holds a bachelor's of fine arts in musical theater, and Shawn has not only acted in soaps and performed Shakespeare but is also the son of an award-winning choreographer.
Any parent on a budget will tell you that a DVD's potential to be watched again and again is one of its main selling points. No one wants to drop 20 bucks on something that will only be viewed once. It is safe to say that any or all of the Hi-5 DVDs are a solid investment, especially if there are multiple children in the household to consider. Both boys and girls from the age of about two up to about nine or ten will enjoy this show (although those on the older end of the spectrum won't actually admit it!).
As far as quality goes, the transfer from TV to DVD isn't a significant improvement, but the color is bright and the sound quality is decent. These discs feature several unique opportunities to customize the viewing experience. On the interactive menus viewers can isolate segments that feature their favorite cast member, and there is a singalong karaoke option that older children will enjoy. There are also brief interviews with each cast member about their role on the show, and parents may enjoy the packaging insert that describes the educational focus of each segment of the show. Reading through it even once underscores how much thought and preparation is put into each episode, although kids will be unaware of how much they are learning. The only thing the producers haven't figured out is how to make vegetables taste like cotton candy.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Given this show's remarkable ability to encourage diversity without sounding preachy about it, it would have been nice to see one of the DVDs focus on the exploration of other cultures. For you die-hard Hi-5 fans out there, these are the episodes that feature the song "North, South, East, and West," and they are some of the strongest entries in this remarkable series. Fortunately, these episodes still occasionally air on TLC and The Discovery Channel.
Kids used to singing every single word along with The Wiggles may be disappointed that, aside from the opening and closing number, the short songs featured in the middle of the show may be too difficult to remember or sing along to.
Keep in mind that these three DVDs only give you a sampling of what this show has to offer; be sure to catch the other episodes of Hi-5 on the family of Discovery networks.
The Australians are awarded special recognition for giving us Hi-5 and The Wiggles. However, I'd like to sentence the BBC to forty years of hard labor for exporting The Tweenies and Boohbah. Make Hi-5 the next DVD you add to your family's library.
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