DVDs spotlight social skills

Video - October 2006


Sylvia M. Ewing

The way in which children interact with their peers plays a big role in forming the kind of person they will become. This month's video selections are not only fun and entertaining; they encourage children to get along and cooperate with others.

As we get into the groove of fall and new friendships at school, now is a good time to watch productions that try to strengthen one's social skills, as is stressed in the brilliant and beautiful British offering featuring siblings Charlie and Lola. Meanwhile, beloved, reliable characters introduce new problem-solving skills in "Thomas & Friends." The always-educational Popular Mechanics for Kids offers peer role models, and families can enjoy truly accessible fun with features for children with disabilities in "Tot-a-Doodle-Do."

CHARLIE AND LOLA 1 and 2, not rated, September 2006, $29.98 DVD set; ages 2-7. This British Broadcasting Corp. production has been praised within the animation industry for creating a charming world. The look is a mixture of animation, paper and fabric cutouts, and old stock footage. It's distinctive and fun enough to hold the attention of children older than the preschoolers-I know I was mesmerized. But the premise of the story is the real gem, starring Charlie and his little sister. Lola is funny, feisty, unreasonable and clever-all the things that make our siblings our best teachers and our partners for life.

There are two DVDs of this show, which airs on cable. In volume one, Charlie has to jolly Lola to make her feel better when she is "ever so unwell, and may never smile again." I love the British humor, which never talks down to kids, and I love the relationship between these two. This is a relationship right up there with classic literary siblings like Max and Ruby, Little Critter and Baby Sister, and Arthur and DW.

Sylvia says: A. A wonderful series, no commercials and lots of bonus features make this DVD set a great deal.

THOMAS & FRIENDS: ON SITE WITH THOMAS, not rated, $19.98 DVD with train, $17.98 DVD; ages 2-5. Thomas the Tank Engine is a true phenomenon, and new editions are eagerly awaited by the boys I know. But I really encourage parents to share Thomas with girls, too. Stories of adventure, friendship and moral lessons know no gender, so grown-ups should not impose their own stereotypes on them. In "Thomas & Friends: On Site with Thomas,' old friends and new come together at the construction site of a new school on the island of Sodor. Patrick has an ego attack that the friends have to work out, and there are mysteries and adventures alike packed into this half-hour, which is just enough time for young attention spans.

Sylvia says: A. This video has challenges, trains and construction equipment-a potent combination, done well.

POPULAR MECHANICS FOR KIDS: LIGHTNING AND OTHER FORCES OF NATURE, not rated, August 2006, $14.98 DVD; ages 5-14. The always-reliable Popular Mechanics series keeps older kids interested and is still purely entertaining enough for little ones to enjoy. The youthful hosts offer peer-to-peer communication as they go behind the scenes in a variety of settings. This time around, the team takes on teaching about the power of the natural world. This is a great way to alleviate kids' fears of storms. We learn the science behind a lightning storm and escape an avalanche, but my favorite part by far is a look at the inner workings of one of my annual childhood destinations, Niagara Falls.

Sylvia says: A. Makes learning fun and shows that the world is an amazing place, where the sky is the limit for kids who are curious.

TOT-A-DOODLE-DO! SCHOOL, not rated, $19.95 DVD with craft kit, $14.95 DVD; ages 3-7 (www.totadoodledo.com). This is a real boost for helping a child with the concept of making and keeping friends because there is an entire crew involved in each DVD. Hosts Alia, Penny, Molly and a diverse group of kids called the Tot Crew are our guides. The format is a winner. The team introduces us to a teacher and a classroom, then offers several segments on do-it-yourself crafts. Parents can watch with youngsters or provide the basic art materials for kids to do the simple arts and crafts projects. This is a very accessible series because it includes symbols and pictures to help nonverbal kids participate.

Sylvia says: A. It's important for all kids to see positive images of themselves, and "Tot-a-Doodle-Do" makes it happen in a fun way.

Sylvia M. Ewing is a mom and a writer. She also is a producer at WBEZ Chicago Public Radio.

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