Miriam sends the stork packing;Primary;Reviews;Books;Personal, social, and health education

16th April 1999 at 01:00
LIVING AND GROWING. Channel 4. Two separate units of video and teaching guides. Age range: 5-7 and 7-9.

Dr Miriam Stoppard, adviser on Channel 4's new primary sex education series Living and Growing, is a woman of forthright views and believes children have a right to information that is both "understandable and useful". So it is unsurprising that this series should be a bit different.

Both three-part units are relaxed, emphasising human relationships and family life, friendship and play, in a splendidly easy-going way, using audience-age presenters of mixed race and gender. The two series obviously cover similar ground but with a nice sensitivity to what is appropriate for the age range.

In Differences, the first programme for the 5-7s, two friends discover a cat with new-born kittens under the stairs. They hadn't known the cat was female, so this prompts a list of body parts and behaviour that boys and girls share - arms, legs, toes, laughing, crying and so on - and then a shorter list of what's different.

This is where the brave bit comes: "Boys have a penis" (drawing of penis and scrotum), "girls have a vagina and a clitoris" (the superficially tiny organ is highlighted).

The resource guide is firm about teachers using those technical terms as early as possible in order to have a set of common and correct terms. The use of "vagina" presents a positive view of female sexuality, rather than the more usual "boys have a willy and girls don't".

Differences goes on to state that human beings "need their different sex-parts to make a baby". That's about all the direct sex education there is in the programme, which neatly comes back to the kittens at the end and emphasises thatthe most basic difference of allis that each of us is an individual with different likes and dislikes.

The second programme introduces a young couple expecting a baby. Fertilisation is described, but not intercourse. The testicles are "sperm factories", the ovaries "egg factories". Belly buttons are explained, storks and gooseberry bushes dismissed gently, and there's a lovely sequence where we see the new baby and its parents in hospital.

The series for the older age-group follows the same format, but with different presenters. Changes deftly prepares the audience for puberty and "How babies are made". Here young presenters question a selection of adults, who are in a range of different relationships, about why they like each other. This leads on to the concept of a sexual relationship and "making love". There is a brief animated drawing of couples making love and we are reminded that sex is just one of many ways of touching.

In the last programme of this second unit, another couple is expecting a baby and we watch the moving foetus on an ultrasound scan. Later there is an animated version of what happens during birth, followed by an actual birth. Both units have taken sex education out of the laboratory and set it very explicitly in the context of personal and family relationships, observed from a child's point of view.

There is sometimes a slight whiff of a politically-correct Utopia about the families and relationships depicted. But Stoppard and Co have made a sensitive series which breaks new ground clearly and tactfully.

Living and Growing units 1 and 2 videos pound;14.99 each; teacher's notes pound;4.50; resource books for both units pound;6.95 each. All available from Channel 4 Learning: 01926 43644

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