Dec 29, 2011

What You Can Learn From The Most Engaging Children's Show Ever

Blue's Clues is a children's television show which aired on Nickelodeon from September 8,1996 until 2006.  The main character was an animated dog named “Blue” and the show's host who was a man named Steve.  It has been called “one of the most successful, critically acclaimed, and ground breaking children's television series of all time.”  

Malcom Gladwell, in his book The Tipping Point called the show “perhaps the stickiest television show ever.”  By sticky, he means irresistible and involving.  It became the highest-rated show for preschoolers on commercial television, and received nine Emmy awards.

Within 18 months of it's premiere, virtually 100% of preschool parents in America knew about Blue's Clues.  In 2000, the show had generated over $1 billion in licensing products.  More than 10 million Blue's Clues books were in print by 2001 and over 3 million copies of CD titles had been sold.  By 2002, 13.7 million viewers tuned in each week.

There is much we can learn in Children's Ministry from Blue's Clues.  Here are some “clues” from Blue's Clues that will help you be more effective.

Children connect with stories.  Children's educational shows before Blue's Clues had used a magazine format made up of a variety of segments.  Blue's Clues changed all that by telling one story in a narrative format from beginning to end.  The camera moved left-to-right like reading a story book. Transitions were as obvious as turning a page in a book.  
  • Creatively tell the stories of the Bible.  The way you present the story is important.  Make it engaging and exciting.  The Bible contains the greatest stories ever told.  Tell them in a great way! 
  • Use stories to communicate truth.
Use children's everyday activities and places as the background for your teaching.  The settings and scenes for the show were simple things that were part of children's everyday lives.
  • Use places and things that children are familiar in your lessons.
  • Use everyday objects as teaching tools.  Jesus did this when He taught.  He used birds, flowers, coins, gates, sheep, etc.
  • Keep it simple and age-appropriate.
Use active participation instead of passive viewing.  The premise behind the show was to have children be intellectually and behaviorally active during the show.  Up until the time the show was created, children's educational television had presented their content in a one-way conversation.  But Blue's Clues asked questions directly to the children who were watching and paused to let them think and respond.  The creators believed that if children were more involved in the action of what they were viewing, they would stay engaged longer.  They were right!  
  • Use active learning.  Get kids actively involved in every part of the class time including the teaching time.
  • Ask lots of questions.  Give children time to respond.
  • Kids learn more by “doing” than “listening.”
Kid-test your programming.  Every episode was field tested three times before it aired.  Producers would have groups of children watch the show.  They would make notes when children looked away which meant they were disengaged.  They then went back and adjusted those parts of the show to make them more engaging.
  • Look through the eyes of children when planning.  Make sure elements are age appropriate.
  • During class, watch for when children become restless or start looking around.  Adjust these parts of the programming to be more interactive and engaging.
Repetition is a key to retention.  The same episodes aired daily for five days before showing the next one.  Children's attention and comprehension increased with each repeated viewing.  Repetition was also built into each episode.  For example, in one episode the host says some variation of the word “predict” 15 times.
  • Less is more.  Decide what basic, must know truths you want children to know and focus your teaching on those truths.
  • Repeat the main lesson point multiple times during the class time.
Get the right people on your team.  Characters and voices for the show were very carefully chosen. Steve Burns, the host, was chosen out of over 100 auditions and months of research.  Tracie Paige Johnson was cast as Blue's voice because her voice sounded the most like a dog.  Don't just fill holes. 
  • Find people who are gifted and called to the roles in your Children's Ministry. 
  • Get the right people in the right seats on the bus.
Children enjoy problem solving.  Steve, the host, presented the audience with a puzzle that involved Blue.  The audience then worked through a series of games which were mini-puzzles that were all related to the overall puzzle.  At the end of the show the clues were brought together to discover the answer.
  • Bring problem solving into your lesson.
  • Challenge children to think.  Move beyond simple “yes” and “no” questions.  Pose questions that will spark dialogue.
  • Guide children to DISCOVER answers instead of being TOLD answers.
I would encourage you to rent or buy a set of Blue's Clue's DVD's and watch them for more clues on how to effectively communicate to children.

Posted by Dale Hudson

9 comments:

Great ideas!! I've taught children for 50 yr. and I learned a lot from this article to use with my present preschool SS class. gh

Wow...50 years. That is amazing. Thank you for your faithfulness. I know you have impacted many lives during that time. May God continue to bless you as you serve Him.

I am going to try to use more of these ideas in storytelling in my multi-age group sunday school class! Great ideas!

Thank you for relating these truths to Children's Ministry. I have always loved Blue's Clues - both when it first came out for my son, and now for his nephews and niece. Such simple, loving instruction that relates to children on their own level, without pandering to them. Children know when they are being pandered to, and they know when they are being respected for who they are, and taught accordingly.

Great reminders and validation of what I know but can easily forget in the planning of each weeks worship. These are also good for adults. Adults respond to this techniques, too.

Wonderful information! How well do you think this applies to grade school children?

I think the principles apply to elementary children as well coupled with using resources that are geared for their age level.

AWESOME DALE! Thanks for writing this down it's been in my head for years, ever since watching my first episode! Never as simply stated like you have, of course. Have you seen Sid the Science Kid? I came up with a curriculum strategy based on their principles. That program has an great teaching strategy. 1) QUEST-ion, 2) INSPIRE, 3)EXPLORE, 4)EUREKA! Blessings.

Your welcome Matt. I'll have to check out Sid. Thanks for the lead.

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