I am pleased to recommend three videos to help kids get physical and have fun over the summer months and one that introduces young viewers to the wonders of the physical world.
This theme was inspired by a comment from my friend and avid Chicago Parent reader Katherine; she told me she had taped my March 2005 review of Denise Austin’s kids’ exercise video on her refrigerator door as a family exercise reminder. Now it was very nice to receive a gold award from the folks at Parenting Publications of America, but I’m just as excited to receive the high honor of having my column posted on a reader’s fridge.
I hope this information on hip-hop dance moves, preschool-friendly monkey business, extreme sports and a beautiful salute to the seasons makes the cut with your family.
POPULAR MECHANICS FOR KIDS: X-TREME SPORTS AND OTHER ACTION ADVENTURES, not rated, March 2005, $12.98 VHS, $14.98 DVD; ages 10-14.
Water skiing, street sledding and off-road racing may be more vicarious thrill than real exercise but I still count this video in my "let’s get physical" theme. The action and the interviews include Damon Stoudamire’s basketball tips and Pedro Martinez’s pitching advice and can inspire youngsters to action.
The Popular Mechanics for Kids series has developed a built-in set of expectations—slick production standards, TV-style pacing and entertaining educational content. The youthful correspondents are somewhat stereotypical and the graphics and such are a bit much for my tastes. But the educational value of this entertaining title is solid. "X-Treme Sports and Other Action Adventures" answers questions about everything from cross-country running to snowboarding with the thoroughness one would expect from Popular Mechanics magazine.
Sylvia says: B. I like the way girls are encouraged to get physical in this series—they learn how to be goalies in the National Hockey League. Remember the NHL?
OFF DA HOOK KIDZ, rated G, March 2004, $24.95 DVD; ages 7 and up.
Talented and articulate young dancers make up for the cheesy set and low-budget look on this dance instruction tape. Off Da Hook Kidz features choreography by Fenton "F-Troop" Fulgham, who looks like a cuddly version of Samuel L. Jackson and claims to have worked with famous entertainers such as Ricky Martin. The moves and the lyrics are cool and more appropriate for kids than what they may be watching on music videos.
Off Da Hook Kidz is like karaoke or play instruments—it lets youngsters pretend to be stars. The moves matter here, and the step-by-step instruction is quite clever. I think the choreography could be recycled for school assemblies or special performance projects. This video can also be a fun way to get a party started or to help a youngster feel more confident. There is a bonus CD by young rapper Stevee who has appeared with big names such as B2K and Monica.
Sylvia says: B+. F-Troop provides family friendly access to hip-hop music and dance with a great workout along the way.
THE MONKEYDOOS: GALLOP, HOP & STOMP, not rated, March 2005, $14.95 VHS, $14.95 DVD; ages 2-6.
This is the video that gets it just right. With a dozen clever songs, "Gallop, Hop & Stomp" reminds me of the old singalong tapes I played for my kids when they were small—just with a lot more going on. The mix of computer-animated monkeys, real kids, nature scenes, dancing and crafts is impressive and well done. Maureen Straub, the grown-up host, has a very pleasant voice and the kind of child-friendly face that invites trust and cooperation.
I am always nervous when a video promises a jungle scene because it can be racist, stupid or offer bad information. But in this video the scenes of tigers and elephants make sense as a backdrop for a diverse and adorable group of kids. The youngsters mimic the animals with movements designed to develop motor skills and encourage group play.
The crafts are cute and not just an afterthought and the kids look like they are really having fun. Note to grown-ups: Don’t try the frog hopping thing unless your knees are in better shape than mine.
Sylvia says: A. A clever mix of music and activities and a nice way to encourage children who might be physically timid to let loose and play hard.
BABY EINSTEIN: BABY MONET DISCOVERING THE SEASONS, not rated, March 2005, $15.99 VHS, $19.99 DVD; ages 2-5.
I personally dislike those videos from companies that promise to help make super babies if you let the babies watch their products from birth. It is our policy at Chicago Parent to discourage video viewing for children under 2. But I think this is a great production for preschoolers. Consider this: the sights of the changing seasons, beautiful Monet paintings and the most classic of classical music, Vivaldi’s "The Four Seasons"—OK you got me.
Sylvia says: A. This is a sweet way to introduce the seasons, classical music and appreciation of art to your preschooler.
Sylvia M. Ewing is a mom and a writer. She also is a producer at WBEZ Chicago Public Radio.