The Purple One receives warm hug of support from child-development experts

October 26, 1993|By Hartford Courant

The conclusions can be put so simply that a preschooler could grasp them: Barney, the purple TV dinosaur reviled by many adults but loved by millions of kiddies, is good. And Barney-bashing, the fad now sweeping America, is bad.

Here's another one, too, for all of you parents out there: The repetitive and saccharine qualities of the PBS show "Barney & Friends" -- the very elements that some adults find so annoying -- are exactly what preschool kids need.

Those are among the initial findings of a study for Connecticut Public Television by Dorothy and Jerome Singer, child-development experts at Yale University (who, incidentally, don't think "Sesame Street" is as great as lots of other people do).

"Barney & Friends" is "nearly a model of what a preschool program should be," wrote the Singers, psychologists who are co-directors of Yale's Family Television Research and Consultation Center.

The Singers supervised a team of adults that evaluated the content of 30 episodes of "Barney & Friends" during the summer, in the first phase of a project aimed at measuring the educational effectiveness of the show. The study, for which CPTV is paying Yale about $40,000, will continue into next year using test groups of kindergartners and preschoolers (the audience it is aimed at).

CPTV co-produces "Barney & Friends" with a private Texas company, the Lyons Group, which originally created the character for a series of commercially sold videos.

Among the Singers' findings about the show:

* The show features several keys to educational success -- including cognitive and physical skills, music and "multicultural exposure" -- and it offers "dozens" of learning opportunities "that could be of significance in preparing preschoolers for the formal demands of schooling."

* The show has "an atmosphere that is emotionally upbeat . . . and establishes a context of love, trust and mutual caring."

* "The fad of 'Barney-bashing' . . . reflects a cynical lack of awareness by some adults of the urgency with which infants and preschool children require consistent periods of exposure to expressions of love and comfort and a sense of security."

* "Something very basic is being met here -- a loving, caring, predictably benign presence for the child, once a role played by grandparents or uncles or aunts when extended families lived in close proximity, but now much less available because of family fractionalization and mobility."

The study also praised the show's "theme-based approach." Children can better absorb new ideas because of the show's repetition of key ideas on one theme during the whole half-hour, it said.

This approach differs from "Sesame Street," Dorothy Singer said in a telephone interview last week.

" 'Sesame Street' jumps around from one idea to another. What I like about Barney," she said, is that "there's a theme for every show, and they are consistent with that theme."

This consistency, she said, is "good for a child, because he doesn't get the idea the first time, so you have to repeat it and approach it in different ways -- because kids have different learning styles."

Public television executives have said in the past, when comparing "Barney & Friends" and "Sesame Street," that Barney is aimed at younger kids than "Sesame Street."

Dr. Singer also addressed the criticism from some parents (and, yes, there are lots of parents who support Barney vocally) that the show is too icky-sweet.

"You know when people say it's sweet and syrupy?" she said. "Well, isn't that what kids need at this point -- just a lot of trust and confidence and goodness? They learn pretty quick that it's a tough world out there.

"But if they've got all of this foundation of trust, they internalize it, and they cope much better than a kid who has had anxiety from birth."

And, as to the Barney-bashing heard in print publications, television and society at large, Dr. Singer said she can't understand it.

"We are just trying to figure out why people are so angry about this program, and so vocal," she said.

"To go against something that seems to be creating goodness -- and not to be voicing these same objections to the kind of lamebrained cartoons that kids watch, or some of the violent shows, or the Beavis-Butthead thing . . . I'd like to see the energy focus on that instead of a show that isn't doing any harm to anybody."

"I mean, it can't harm you to watch this program," Dr. Singer said. "And if adults are bored with it -- it's not for adults; it's for kids."

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