Curating Creativity Among Youth

Posted by Donna Thompson-Brent on Thu, Mar 05, 2015 @ 11:44 AM

The Art of the Brick ExhibitNathan Sawaya, the artist behind The Art of the Brick exhibit that recently opened at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, takes creative fun seriously. While the exhibit includes innovative displays, and big bold print on the signs, it’s not interactive in the traditional “please touch” mode of museum play. In fact, kids can’t touch the displays, but they can bring their own building experience to bear on the very act of observing. More than most other materials and tools that traditional artists use, kids can relate to the art of making these playful masterpieces. At a moment in culture when The LEGO Movie continues to captivate and STEAM dominates curriculum discourse, this exhibit is situated for success.

But we took away another important insight from Sawaya – one that he champions in a short video at the start of the museum-goers’ journey – creating will make you happy. In the companion book to the exhibit, he writes, “The creation of art should never be opposed. Not just because the world could do with more beautiful things, but because there’s a mountain of evidence that shows that making art will improve your life in surprising ways…” And he continues, “Creative ideas are gifts, like windows that open up for just a short time.” Sawaya suggests LEGOs as therapy, and play as purifying. He elevates an important idea in kid culture to one that makes sense to even the most jaded adult.

Our favorite lessons for brands and organizations, content creators and innovators?

  • Don’t assume creative play ends early. Continue to see both creativity and play as viable platforms for even the oldest youth.
  • Don’t just romance kids with products – entice them with process. If you have the chance to walk through this exhibit, take note of the wheels turning among kid art aficionados. The sheer number of LEGOs used can make a kids’ head spin. And parents praised the careful way Sawaya organized his many, many bricks (any parent of a LEGO fanatic can only dream!).
  • Finally, consider creativity as career, not just a means to one. Sawaya spoke eloquently of losing his love of “lawyer-ly” things, and taking the bold, brave leap to full-time employment as an artist. So often, we suggest that creativity will lead to success in academic or professional endeavors, rather than recognizing that creating can be a valuable end in itself.

Tags: Art, kids, play, Youth, Teens, tweens, Legos

Are Watchover Voodoo Dolls the Next Craze for Kids and Tweens?

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, May 29, 2014 @ 11:15 AM

Predicting the next kid or tween craze or collectible is far from easy, and assessing a contenderVoodoo Doll Collectibles often requires a highly tuned gut more than a simple list of rules. Still, practice makes perfect and we thought we would give you newbies to the kid space a starting point, and you vets a compelling case study to add to your own collection…Watchover Voodoo Dolls

Watchover Voodoo Dolls are keychains featuring little people made of string. The characters range from ninjas and karate pros to little girls shopping and to test-taking students. Each one comes attached to a tag which provides the character’s name, but more importantly, the way it will watchover its owner…Keeper,  a soccer player, promises to be “your last line of defense against all those who try to beat you at your own game.” The Student purports to “help you enjoy the best days of your life and ensure your future is as debt free as possible.” They’re
sold in novelty shops, on eBay, and on Amazon.

So what does our latest favorite kid/tween collectible get right? Here’s what we think…

  1. Cute+cool.  For kids and tweens, the best collectibles are the ones youVoodoo Dolls can show off to your friends…and most of the time, you see your friends outside of school. So collectibles for this age are, not surprisingly, small. Little can inherently lead to cute, and cute, depending on your age, can be a bit uncomfortable. So what do the best collectibles do? They combine the cute with the cool (subscribers can see our JFM 2013 Trendspotter for more on this timeless and timely trend, inspired by the work of scholar, Gary Cross). These dainty dolls deal with strong feelings and emotions, making statements that might be wise beyond the years of their young owners. But containing these weighty sentiments within these tiny trinkets makes for just the right juxtaposition. They are safe but bold, mature but manageable for the developing kid and tween psyche.
  2. Material matters. As scholars like Robin Bernstein contend, the material that children’s toys are comprised of conveys a “script” for the play experience. Are these toys or objects of desire to be treated gently? Are they precious or rare? For kid and tween collectibles, a little bit of breakability isn’t all bad….This might seem counter to the wishes of
    protective parents, but might that not be the point? The best collectibles tend to feel like they require cherishing – much like the dirt-attracting fibers of these miniature Voodoo figures. They aren’t fragile in the traditional sense, but they do require more careful handling (the notion of protection put back in youth’s hands) than the average keychain.
  3. A dose of danger. So many of kids’ collectibles are relatively benign. But for kids and tweens, a bit of subversiveness often makes for a more salient item. This encroaching on the occult is an evergreen theme in kid culture – think Ouija boards and magic eight balls. But collectibles often have an air of the rare and mysterious to them too.  Pokemon cards have their exotic look (especially when they first emerged on the scene, in the early day of the anime explosion). Or the mischievousness of Garbage Pail Kids. Or the taking of a regular top and overlaying it with slightly threatening personas, as in Beyblades. Watchover Voodoo Dolls do a great job fulfilling kids’ and tweens’ fascination with the mystical and dangerous (voodoo), while keeping things light and positive (watchover). These dolls serve as symbolic mantras that kids can carry around with them. More like a lucky rabbit’s foot than an actual voodoo doll, the power behind these objects comes from the ideas they represent more than just their aesthetics.
  4. Priced right. A collectible might have an air of preciousness about it, but to incentivize a trend, it’s important to get the price point right. In the U.S., these dolls linger between the $7.50 and $10 price point. They are just expensive enough to matter (something has to be at stake for a collectible to “count”), but cheap enough that they’re within the range of many tweens’ allowance.

Tags: youth research, toys, kids, play, Youth, collectibles, tweens, dolls

Reflections From a (U.S.) Youth Researcher Abroad

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, May 22, 2014 @ 12:02 PM

Recently, our family spent spring break in Italy with two boys of our own, and two nephews allItaly under the age of six. While technically “off the clock,” I couldn’t help but bring my researchers’ eyes along for the ride. This is by no means a scientific study, but this fresh look at youth and this, admittedly, random collection of observations and reminders has left me with ideas and inspiration for the past few weeks. I hope they do the same for you!

  • The slides are steeper.  In the town where we stayed, the fountain at the piazza’s center was backed by a modern playground comprised of colorful slides, bridges and tunnels, and climb-able trucks and trains. By all accounts, this play space looked like it could have been in Chicago or New Jersey, or anywhere else in the world. Except for the slide. It was STEEP! As if our American-ness wasn’t already apparent in this off-the-beaten path town, the way we gawked at the tall yellow slide signaled that we were not from “around here.” But what insight can possibly be gleaned from the slope of a slide? Like so many European TV programs (if you ever have the chance, see the brilliant David Kleeman’s presentation on the big risks that children’s television takes in other markets around the world), risk looks a little different outside our borders. There was hardly glass on the ground, and no dangerous characters lingered by the swings, but this playground didn’t have signs signaling appropriate ages, and it had one heck of a drop from the top. The fun for kids from this whizzzzzzzz came from taking off, however tentatively, one’s cloak of nervousness to experience the joy and
    bravado that comes from tackling a phobia. More was at stake on this slide than on their safer American counterparts. Too bad for all the undercover superheroes in the U.S. just waiting for their chance to fly.
  • Play is a language. The highlight of our vacation, at least for me, came not from watching the sun set over a grove of olive trees (although that was nice) or a glass of vino with family (nice as well) but watching my six year old son negotiate a game of tag with a new friend. Beyond a “bon giorno” and a cautious “hello,” the two children had little to discuss. But they were able to gesture and smile their way through a fairly recognizable game of tag (with my son’s new Italian friend sometimes hugging instead of simply tagging!). It reminded me that play is a language all its own, and it travels. The impulse to play is something that adults sometimes try to manage, promote and steer, but the desire to connect in un-productive leisure represents something more powerful than many adults can understand or facilitate. Play pushes its way through barriers of all sorts, including language barriers, to become the language itself.
  • They have the same Legos everywhere. Globalization and consumer culture are weighty issues—and ones that marketers often view very differently than the many critics who consider the loss of local flavor (in addition to many other potentially deleterious effects). But there was something amazing about the way that characters and properties bond children across the globe. Beyond Cartoonito’s decidedly dark rendition of Heidi, many of the shows on Italian TV were familiar to our kids. This universal culture might have its downsides—and in the least, suggests we should treat these ubiquitous exports as sacred symbols—but it also serves to make children comfortable across strange lands. When my son saw his favorite Legos in the window of a toy store in downtown Chiavari, he was home.
  • “New” can be nice. It could be these specific kids, or it could be this cohort of youth, but the differences in pizza, ice cream, language, and environment and even in other people didn’t seem to faze our young travelers. The excitement came from the same sources it typically did—from really, really good gelato. Or a particularly challenging playground bridge. Or that steep slide. But without making a big deal about what was different, our kids seemed to think that most things were pretty much the same. Kids are shockingly adaptable if we allow them to be. For all the concern that modern parents face about fixing schedules and helping children adjust to new experiences, kids not only survive but often thrive when they must encounter and integrate the “new.” It goes without saying that this is where learning and growth live—not just for kids, but for adults as well.

Tags: toys, food, travel, kids, play, parents, Youth, TV, culture, youth media, speaking

Where is the Magic in Childhood?

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Apr 22, 2014 @ 11:55 AM

A few days ago, Bunmi Laditan, author and mommy blogger, wrote a piece on the magic of childhood.  Laditan argues that parents should stop trying to create magical moments for their children and tone down extravagant gifts, decorations, and bedrooms.  She's not saying that parents shouldn't spend quality time with their children or create fun moments, childhood, Laditan argues, is alreadChildhood Magicy a magical time so why do parents feel the need to construct larger-than-life magical moments?

While Bunmi’s point-of-view seems to buck the tide of Millennial moms and dads committed to creating the kind of cherished childhood that they never really had themselves (think princesses actually coming to your kids’ birthday parties instead of princesses that simply populate their plates!), we do think she makes an important point about children more than about moms.

Laditan points out that children can find almost anything magical.  Childhood is filled with moments of fascination and delight that parents have very little control over:  seeing your first snowfall, meeting your first friend in school, finding something to be passionate about (if only for a few minutes).  Even when kids are given an engaging game or offered an over-the-top toy, they often play on their own terms. 

It’s clear that kids can create their own magic, but perhaps even more importantly, they should.  Being presented with a magical moments is exciting, but discovering and owning it feels even better.  The experience of finding magic in unexpected places inspires kids to experiment and take risks. And for marketers and content creators, watching how and where they experience magic is as important as knowing what it is.

The notion of leaving a little bit for kids to finish or find on their own isn’t new in innovation.  Products and properties that provide little direction can open up endless magic.  Characters that let you contribute to the story keep you engaged and interested. Play products that imagine a child who participates, not just performs a static script tend to get more use. Understanding that almost anything can be magical opens up numerous possibilities for how we position products and brands in kids’ lives. 

Tags: play, free time, youth media

Lollipop Seeds that Sprout for Kind Deeds

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Apr 16, 2014 @ 09:20 AM

Lollipop SeedsWhen it comes to creating family traditions, many of today’s families – especially those headed by Millennials – seek less to recover the past than to adopt great new ideas. The Elf on the Shelf is not necessarily a new tradition but one that many kids consider timeless, while many of their parents take pride in knowing they’ve identified a great opportunity for family fun, and have created a tradition along the way. In our recent work with Millennial Moms, we found that they seek out ways to celebrate the little moments in their children’s days and calendars in ways that are more engaging for kids than any generation before them. Far from cynical about family-focused holidays and kid-events, they see them as sacred. At the same time, they look for ways to bring fun and play into these special days.

Enter a new idea for Easter that we think sits at the center of the Millennial family Zeitgeist. Cherri Prince, an alum of the advertising world (and, in full disclosure, a friend of YouthBeat!) has decided to bring her own family tradition to the world in the form of a new book and idea called Lollipop Seeds that Sprout for Kind Deeds. The concept:

  • Before Easter, kids must do something kind for someone.
  • The night before Easter, parents and kids join together to plant seeds in the backyard or in a pot.
  • The next morning, if kindness occurred, the seed will bloom into a lollipop garden!

In addition to a sweet treat, kids get a great lesson in the power of kind acts. And moms not only get the joy that only comes from watching kids get surprised, but they also have a great story to tell other moms – another element of the experience that Millennial Moms find hard to resist.

Tags: play, family, holiday

What’s the Power in Parentology?

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Apr 08, 2014 @ 03:50 PM

ParentologyToday’s parents have more information than ever about parenting; but that might be part of the problem. At least according to Dalton Conley, author of Parentology: Everything You Wanted to Know About The Science of Raising Kids But Were Too Exhausted to Ask. Despite the sub-title of his book, and the blurbs on the back cover from Tiger Mom’s Amy Chua, and Bringing Up Bebe author Pamela Druckerman, Conley doesn’t necessarily intend to add to the long shelf of self-help books. (In fact, he points out the “one” place where he agrees with Chua in his book, suggesting he doesn’t, in most cases, and he identifies himself as more of an “Italian papa” than a French mere.) Instead, he promotes and chronicles a “new” approach to parenting: “parentology.” While he is a sociologist by training, and does tap into some of the key, recent texts in that field (see our blog post on one of his cited works, Annette Lareau’s Unequal Childhoods), he suggests his parenting journey is one based more on improvisation. Conley outlines three components of the parentology philosophy of “highly engaged child-rearing”:

  1. Accesses all relevant research
  2. Makes a practice of constantly weighing said research against one’s own experience and common sense
  3. Invents unique methodologies on the fly and fearlessly carries them out in order to test creative hypotheses about best practices for one’s own particular offspring

As antonyms to parentology, Conley lists: “Old-world parenting, traditional parenting, textbook parenting, tiger mothering, and bring up bebe.”   

Conley’s genre-bending book reads more like a memoir than a parenting manual. And as the former Dean of NYU, a sociologist by training, and a New York City dad, his story is hardly representative of those of that imaginary “typical” parent that marketers and researchers so often rely on for “authentic” insight.

So what does a book like this help us know or understand about parents or their kids that they’re raising today?

  1. They seek out research. Sure, most parents aren’t consulting social science journals – and wouldn’t necessarily know where to look if they did – but they do have more and more “research” at their fingertips. Instead of googling a second opinion, Conley seeks out experts in the relevant field.
  2. They recognize research’s limits. Even the most academically-inclined among us must admit that the research doesn’t reveal magic bullets when it comes to parenting or to understanding kids. Conley’s journey manifests a reality that many students come to know: just when you thought one theory held the key to your conundrum, another theorist or study counters it. This doesn’t suggest that there’s no point in consulting studies and experts. But it does suggest that the search for the holy grail of putting an infant to bed with ease, potty training, college applications, etc. just doesn’t exist. And most parents come to the realization, much like Conley does, that at some point your gut really matters.
  3. They know that kids are messy-- I mean unique. We admit it – most kids aren’t reading the same textbooks we are. They don’t often fit into neat developmental models, and while it’s incredibly satisfying when these theories help us predict or explain something we see in the world, the truth is that most kids are messy. There, we said it. They fail to comply with the “rules” that experts purport. Or worse, they play fair for one or two days, or maybe even a year, and then they defy their parents by growing, changing and evolving in directions that are sometimes unpredictable. Parents know this. Marketers reluctantly admit this.
  4. They have to laugh. Conley reminds us that part of parenting resilience must include a sense of humor. It’s not only important to laugh with your kids, but to sometimes take great joy and find the kind of humor that you can’t find on any screen in the ridiculousness that is sometimes childhood (and parenthood). We think Conley’s work works because it doesn’t slip into cynicism or snark (except when it does), but rather maintains the loving, knowing tone of a father who has failed as often as he succeeded and kids who make the world complex more often than they simplify it.

We think these are attributes that many of today’s parents – especially Millennial moms and dads – share. And we wonder if “parentology” might not be an approach to parenting with more longevity than the methods that have made it to the mainstream in the past few years.

Tags: youth research, play, parents, parenting

Mario’s Magic

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Jan 17, 2014 @ 01:12 PM

MarioWith the immense popularity of Nintendo’s new Super Mario 3D World for Wii U, we thought it was time to think about what makes Mario such an important and popular character among kids, tweens, and teens (and the namesake of kids’ favorite video game since YouthBeat’s launch in 2008).

For our YouthBeat readers who weren’t around then, Mario first appeared in the 1981 arcade game Donkey Kong.  Since then, he has appeared in over 200 video game titles and the Mario franchise games have sold millions of units.  Mario, and the characters and world built around him, have surrounded youth in the form of cartoons, comics, films, toys and countless objects of play and design.

So, what makes Mario (the character and the franchise) so popular?

  1. Mario Lets Kids Learn as They Go.  No matter the Mario title, players are slowly and methodically introduced to the key movements and elements of the game.  Not only does this help players develop skills, but it also encourages players to challenge themselves and push further. With each new level, there are new skills to learn.  And for mastery-loving kids, this chance to get good and test your skills serves as a recipe for success!
  2. Mario Can Fit Many Forms.  Mario has done a lot of rescuing over the years, and he has shown that he can be a hero in any setting.  Whether it’s a classic side-scrolling platform (Super Mario Brothers), 3D open adventure (Super Mario 64), a race (any Mario Kart), or a fighting game (Super Smash Brothers), Mario has the ability to adapt to any type of game.  Mario, an archetypical hero with a rags-to-riches story (he is a plumber who rescues princesses), begs you to root for him in every scenario in which he appears. 
  3. Mario is Familiar. While conventional wisdom might suggest that new is necessary to keep kids interested, Mario suggests another model.  Mario serves as the guide to new genres that kids can explore. He represents a typical hero (he is a plumber who rescues the princess) whose quests are filled with tragedy, comedy, and overcoming monsters (Bowser!).  Within the larger Mario franchise, there are numerous fighting games, RPG games, and racing games.  Everyone can find a game to love in the Mario universe. 
  4. Mario is part of the Family. Mario is about as family-friendly as video games get (little violence, cute images, and simple humor).  With the release of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Nintendo has also been using Mario to bring families together by making the games cooperative.  With Super Mario 3D World, parents and kids can work, learn, and play together.

What lessons can content creators and marketers alike learn from Mario?

  • Incorporate learning and growth.  This allows entry-points for all ages and skill levels. 
  • Think outside the box.  Moving across different platforms enhances appeal, not detracts from the franchise’s DNA.   
  • Think about family.  Cooperative play not only encourages family time, but also makes games more social and fun.

Now, who’s up for some real life Mario Kart?

Tags: youth research, Gaming, play, culture, youth media

5 Ideas from the Elf on the Shelf

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Dec 06, 2013 @ 12:57 PM

Just after Thanksgiving this year, many households around the country welcomed a houseguest. It wasn’t an aunt or uncle from across the country. It wasn’t a college friend with their kids in tow. It was an Elf. And he showed up on a shelf.

Elf on the ShelfThe Elf on the Shelf tradition can be traced back to 2004, but has taken hold in households as if it had been around for decades. For the uninitiated, the Elf on the Shelf (whose story has been told through a self-published book written by mother and daughter team Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell, and later turned into a holiday TV special) serves as Santa’s special envoy in the homes (and increasingly in the classrooms) of children everywhere. The Elf, assigned to the child, watches on Santa’s behalf, eager to catch good behavior or naughtiness! The child gets to name the Elf, but beyond that, the Elf decides where he’ll appear each morning. These Elves can get pretty creative, as shown in this video featuring the 125 best Elf ideas. We think there are lessons to learn from this phenomenon, which returned youth’s attention to the magic of the season just at a time when the getting of gifts often garners more attention than showing Santa you’re “good.”

  1. Don’t underestimate the power of surprise. While the Elf on the Shelf might have been compelling as Santa’s steadfast seer, he matters more because he’s “new” each day. Consider ways to keep the surprise and delight into your everyday offerings.
  2. Remember the power of being good. Young kids are obsessed with the rules, and interested in good versus bad. But often, this timeless trope is twisted – we forget that children want recognition for their good behavior as much as they seek to avoid getting in trouble for the bad. Find ways for your brand to catch them acting their best behavior. See Sprout’s wonderful campaign for kindness as an example. http://www.sproutonline.com/kindness-counts
  3. Keep it simple. With promotions in general, complexity is sometime mistaken for depth. The Elf on the Shelf premise might have meaning, but it does it through the most basic of mechanisms. Make sure your own “events” make participation and the pay-off as easy as possible.
  4. Build on existing traditions. The Elf on the Shelf may have been a novel idea, but it leveraged the legends of elves, Santa and the naughty list to keep the communication simple, and to ensure a place in the home during the holidays.  
  5. Get parents in on the action. While we don’t necessarily have an inside track on elves’ criteria for choosing their holiday homes, we can imagine that they prefer the ones where parents get involved in the fun. Remember to make your promotions not simply parent-friendly, but make them exciting and enjoyable for mom and dad.

Tags: play, family, holiday, parenting

Great Kid, Tween and Teen Experiences: Lessons from a Summer Vacation

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Jun 26, 2013 @ 01:40 PM

Last week, I took a family vacation with my husband and two sons. I managed to abandon my email and phone for seven surreal days, but couldn’t keep my YouthBeat hat completely off! This family-focused resort revealed more than a few lessons on how to create great family experiences that cater to kids, tweens, teens and parents alike.   Family Travel

  1. Make them work! Okay, this might not sound like part of the formula for a great vacation, but it’s an element of the family experience that is often overlooked. Many of the most fun moments parents and kids spend together involve a little bit of risk and a few tough challenges – that great white water rafting trip, the time your family dressed up in funny costumes and won a prize, or a ride on a zipline or a swing on a trapeze. Great family experiences are often centered around constructive competition, fearless feats and valiant victories. When families push themselves together, they grow together. Do your products or experiences promote productive fun?
  2. Give each their own. Each family has their own unique equation that constitutes the correct mix of “parent only” time and “all together” time. Great family resorts offer options. Kids, tweens or teens can check in at the “kid club” but also engage in family game night. A movie under the stars can be the perfect time for bonding or a chance for parents to leave their little ones with their friends in their PJs. Parents can take pilates while tweens take part in beach Olympics. This sense of choosing when to be together, with breaks for personal passions make family vacations (and experiences) feel fulfilling for all involved. And keep in mind that a great family moment sometimes involves other families! Most often, great family vacations involve meeting kids, tweens or teens from somewhere new. They can involve socializing for parents, too.  So don’t think that families only want to focus on each other when they’ve opted in for an all-together event. Do your all-family spaces encourage mingling? Would your customers expect to find like-minded moms and dads in their midsts?
  3. Stay silly! Let’s face it – families are funny! And when it comes to all-age vacations, it’s pretty tough to capture “cool” in a way that feels right for kids, tweens and teens. But even while humor differs with age and gender, creating an environment where youth and families feel free to be silly is a surefire way to keep the mood light and to bridge the generation gap. The same holds for family brands. Families are much more likely to understand that getting together can be goofy. And it’s a relief to release parents and youth from their need to look like they have their act together – especially when they’re on an escape from the everyday. Do your all family experiences or products act as outlets for silliness?
  4. Celebrate youth realities, not fantasies. Of course, family vacations can and should be the stuff of dreams – pristine beaches, characters come to life, etc. But the best family experiences are ones that meet kids, tweens and teens where they are. In other words, they don’t try to convert them or counter their natural tendencies. Making the teen club a lounge off the beaten path makes more sense than insisting that adolescents acclimate to adult spaces. Giving kids breaks versus wondering why they can’t keep up. And eliminating waiting and lines whenever possible keeps kids coming back for more. Are there ways to make your space feel more understanding of youth? Are you hiring people who embrace the quirks and foibles of real kids, tweens and teens, or simply hope they are someone that they’re not?
  5. Make it healthy – with a dose of sprinkles! The old model of family fun had parents and youth indulging with reckless abandon – eating without inhibition, lounging versus lunging. But today’s fit families (featured in our June/July/August issue of the YouthBeat TrendSpotter) are most satisfied when they can feel good about their good times. That might mean getting a workout while they get moving with their families. Or finding food that makes them happy and healthy at the same time. And finally, it can mean giving back while getting to enjoy a new place. Even the most indulgent experiences can leave kids and families feeling better at the end. Are there ways to build your fun family experiences on the foundation of mental, physical or spiritual fitness?

Wherever your family spends the summer, enjoy! And tell us what lessons you’ve learned from quality time away with the kids!

Tags: Education, play, outside, free time, kids tweens teens, culture, parenting

Phineas, Ferb and Old School Funny

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, May 06, 2013 @ 11:02 AM

Disney’s Phineas and Ferb may not have the power to unseat SpongeBob Squarepants as top cartoon, but the series and its title characters take the second spot to the porous perennial favorite. And while they might fall behind the lovable sponge from under the sea, Phineas and Ferb should hardly be seen as taking a backseat to anyone…

phineas y ferbPhineas and Ferb might be a relative new kid on the cartoon block, but its sensibilities stem from old school cartoons. But each cartoon convention gets a fresh twist in this show starring two boys whose faces defy a circular shape. First, it’s always summer vacation for Phineas and Ferb. Today’s elementary schoolers might be more likely to move from the school year to another structured setting (camps of all kinds, enrichment programs, etc.) but Phineas and Ferb fuel the fantasy of a summer day with nothing to do. They take the classic Rube Goldberg devices found in cartoons like Tom and Jerry and give them a playful purpose. Each plan comes from their own hands, and the intention is authentic entertainment, taken to the extreme – from a miniature golf course and an oversized roller coaster on their lawn to a backyard beach (complete with island music and an impromptu surf competition). Phineas and Ferb includes genuine good guys and bad guys, battling in each episode. But the evil Doctor Doofenshmirtz’s devices seem more likely to turn up on an infomercial than to truly help him take over the world! All the better for the young viewers who revel in seeing Doofenshmirtz’s silly plots get foiled by the unlikeliest of heroes, Phineas and Ferb’s pet platypus, Perry. (The popular platypus served as the front man for the app “Where’s My Perry?” a version of the popular app, “Where’s My Water?” Phineas and Ferb include sibling rivalries, with big sister Candace constantly trying to catch her scheming little brothers in the act. But unexpectedly, the two step-brothers who star in this show seek to include Candace (along with the other members of their eclectic gang). Phineas and Ferb works because kids route for them, but not because they’re bad – because they’re just so good. And as an added bonus for mom and dad, Phineas and Ferb exemplify the kind of creative, constructive play that gets mom and dad’s approval.

The show follows a formula that delivers on the “I knew it was going to happen” that kids love, like when someone asks the boys if they aren’t too young to be a rollercoaster engineer, for example. Each episode includes a song and dance that allows for a silly segue to the next scene. But the predictable plotlines include enough imagination to make each episode feel like an adventure. At the end of each simulated summer vacation day, it’s the boys’ preposterous planning and casual cool that make this cartoon a modern makeover of the classic toons of the past.

Tags: play, digital drugs, TV, youth media