TV for kids comes of age

If you have kids, you know this already. If you don’t have kids but are planning to, you will know soon enough.
And if you have grandchildren, you are most certainly a champion hummer of theme songs from shows such as Blue’s Clues, The Big Comfy Couch and Max & Ruby.

Which means you also find yourself, at the oddest times, singing that lilting little ditty, “You’re watching Treehouse . . . .”

Like me, you may be from a time when your own (now adult) children spent much of their television face time with the likes of Bert and Ernie, their sponge-worthy little minds largely at the mercy of the venerable Children’s Television Workshop, and maybe even a rather dull Mr. Rogers.

(And, please, let’s not even pretend that we didn’t count on television to help us raise our kids — who among us hasn’t parked a child in front of the tube for an hour or so, thus raising a generation that learned a big chunk of their manners, social mores and cultural references from the dysfunctional personae that are Oscar the Grouch, and Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote.)
So, what a surprise, all these years later, to discover — with the help of a young granddaughter, in my case — that children’s television has grown up.

The evidence is right there on Treehouse TV, best described as Sesame Street on steroids, a 24-hour channel devoted not only to entertaining your baby, but to educating and socializing the little sprog as well.
Treehouse, which debuted in 1997 and airs on Channel 56, bills itself as “worry-free” television for pre-schoolers — that is, kids six and under — and is owned by the Canadian-based Corus Entertainment conglomerate, which also owns YTV and Discovery Kids Canada.

Treehouse claims to have five million Canadian viewers and says its unique mandate (there is no round-the-clock U.S. television show just for pre-schoolers) is to provide entertainment that addresses the developmental and social needs of its demographic, and thus its mix of puppets, live action and cartoon characters delivers a lineup that includes Dora the Explorer, Berenstain Bears, Ants In Your Pants, Dragon, Thomas the Tank, Bob the Builder and 4 Square.

Treehouse also takes its shows, live-action versions, on the road — in case you hadn’t noticed the crowds at her recent Vancouver appearance, Dora is a kindergartener’s rock star.

And then there is This is Daniel Cook, a show about an inquisitive red-headed boy who, in many ways, is what makes Treehouse and children’s programming these days so different.

And so much better.

Because Daniel Cook isn’t a puppet, and he isn’t a cartoon.

He’s a real boy, a freckled dynamo from Ontario who possesses all the requisite inquisitiveness of your average eight-year-old.

In This is Daniel Cook, he takes on the everyday fun stuff that most kids would love to do, but maybe can’t or won’t.

The little host has explored beehives, made chocolate, ice skated with the champions, tried yoga, visited a fire house and picked up a pen with award-winning writers.

Season 2 of This is Daniel Cook premiers next Monday, with 65-plus new six-minute episodes airing daily Monday through Friday in various time slots.
Among Daniel’s new adventures will be dog sledding, whale watching and writing a song with one of the Barenaked Ladies.

As with all things Treehouse, there is an online component, where kids can interact with Daniel in his backyard playhouse.

What makes This is Daniel Cook progressive, and worth noting — and it’s a theme found in most children’s programming these days — is that he acts his age.

Visiting with Toronto Mayor David Miller in the show’s first season, Daniel was moved to ask: “David, why can’t kids have dessert before dinner?”

He’s neither a smart-mouth Muppet nor a condescending adult with a teaching certificate spelling out the ABCs for a captive broadcast audience.

Daniel doesn’t sit on the sidelines and listen to other people tell him how to do things. He asks questions and does stuff himself, unscripted.

You know, just like a real kid.

Good to know that children’s television has finally come of age.

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