'Come back, Enid Blyton. All is forgiven...'

12th July 1996 at 01:00
I am not a crank, but I will not allow children's videos in the house. I currently look after three pre-schoolers, and I do sanction limited, selected television programmes. Playbus, of course, and some of the early years' schools programmes are excellent. My toddlers love Numbertime and Words and Pictures, and they are particularly addicted to Come Outside, in which a lovely cuddly lady with a naughty dog and her own polka-dot aeroplane shows them how the world works "Iand today Aunty Mabel is looking into sewageI"

When my own four children were small we did not have a television. All right, perhaps I am a bit of a crank. I had an idealised view of family life and motherhood. I wanted to bring my children up on C S Lewis, Mary Norton and Tolkien. But I have come to see television as a useful part of my minded children's day, as long as they learn good viewing habits. We turn on for specific programmes, turn off when they have finished, and discuss afterwards. The availability of videos mean many small children now spend hours viewing instead of playing or reading.

My school, with others in the area, is surveying parents and children about their reading habits. When the idea of teaching reading using "real books" was introduced, the objective was to inculcate a love of books, rather than just teach the mechanics of reading. Ten years on, we know very few children read for pleasure, and we suspect we know why. They and their parents spend their leisure time watching television and videos, and playing computer games. There is no family tradition of reading and probably little opportunity for quiet concentration.

One of the questions staff and governors have been exploring is, does it matter if children's craving for stories is being met by videos rather than books? If my small charges think The Jungle Book is a musical, and that A A Milne's Rabbit is bright green with an American accent, should I be shocked? When I hear a five-year-old humming Tchaikovsky, is it terribly snobbish of me to be disappointed when told "It's my Sleeping Beauty video"?

We no longer assume when talking to children that they all come from two-parent families with a Mummy who stays at home and a Daddy who reads bedtime stories when he returns from the office. Perhaps we should stop trying to swim against the cultural tide, as well as the social one. Abandon the idea of reading for pleasure and just teach functional skills which will allow children to access information and scan a computer screen. After all, even A-level English students seem to be unable to cope with classic texts without videos to bring them to life.

The staff are not convinced. When I, as devil's advocate, suggested that they should follow parents' example and put on a video at the end of the school day instead of reading a story, they were appalled. What, waste all the years of training that allow every primary teacher to read a text upside down whilst showing the pictures, AND keeping a eye on Darren?

But I believe the rot has set in. I recently collected a six-year-old from school on the day of his class trip. "It was a very long way on the coach, " he told me. "Did you all sing?" I asked, conjuring up fond folk memories of 357 Men and their Dog going to Mow. "No, we had a Michael Jackson tape."

Come back, Enid Blyton. All is forgiven.

Joan Dalton is a governor in the Midlands

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