Family: Parents – Make Your Voice Heard

In the mid-1990’s, Canada’s oldest educational TV service, TVOntario launched two popular blocks of children’s programming. GisE8le’s Big Backyard, then known as The Nook, was a big hit with the pre-school crowd. The Space ran after school.

But these weren’t just ordinary television shows. They were commercial free, like all other TVOntario programming.

While most of station’s funding is provided by the Government ($58.8 million in 2005-06), TVOntario is also funded by public donations and viewer contributions generated by on-air pledge drives. So they do not need to run advertising.

Parents appreciated the lack of advertising, but the biggest difference between TVOKids and other children’s television was the way the programming on the television station was closely tied in with the
content of their award-winning website. This added an interactive element to the educational content of the TV broadcast.

TVOKids and TVOKids.com have earned a reputation as trusted on-air and online destinations for kids. All programs and web activities are rooted in Ontario’s curriculum and are developed with guidance from education experts.

TVOKids is there to help kids not only succeed and thrive in school, but to make learning fun and engaging. Nominated for three Gemini Awards, TVOKids.com is a wonderful educational resource for children up to 12 years old and their parents.

Maybe it’s good for them, you might be thinking, but is it like “broccoli for the mind” (good for them but they hate it)? Will you have a hard time getting your kids to watch?

You need not worry. TVOKids.com receives half a million visits each month – so it’s obviously popular with the kids. They can learn by playing games!

The website even offers an interactive guide for parents and teachers, explaining how you can use the TVOKids programming together with the website to help kids practice and improve in different school
subjects including math, science, English, French, health, physical education and the arts.

But children do not need parents help to them navigate through the website. It is fun and safe to explore on their own. They can play a large variety of educational games, write and post their own blogs (open letters to other kids), enter free contests, send cards and letters to their friends, click links to other cool websites that have been carefully checked and approved by TVOntario staff and look at the schedules to find their favourite TVOKids shows.

A Show for Parents

Since the beginning, Ontario parents have been impressed by how effectively TVOKids reaches out to their children. The station received quite a bit of feedback from parents suggesting that the broadcaster create a tool to help them – the parents – get and stay involved in the lives of their children through their learning years.

TVO responded, by using the lessons they learned through their many years of producing TVOKids to create a resource especially for parents of kids aged two to 12. This new education-focused parenting website is called TVOParents.com. The cornerstone of this website is Your Voice, the first live, exclusively online interactive parenting show. Your Voice launched Tuesday March 6, 2007, on TVOParents.com, and airs live every Tuesday from 1 to 1:30 pm EST.

One of the key audience groups TVO set out to reach was new Canadians: to help you become more aware of what your kids are learning in school, and to show you how you can get involved in your children’s education.

Your Voice combines the power of the internet with the immediacy of live interaction to provide expert advice in real-time for parents and caregivers on how you can help your children succeed in school.

Your Voice host, Cheryl Jackson, has many years of experience as a journalist in TV and radio: first, as a writer/producer for CBC Saskatchewan; then as a producer/reporter for CBC Toronto. Her achievements include the Canadian Investigative Journalism Award for a three-part documentary on healthcare and the Saskatchewan Motion Picture Industry Association Best Writer award for a one-hour Rough Cuts documentary on family farming. Cheryl has two daughters, aged 11 and 14, and a 17-year-old son.

Cheryl explained her objectives on Your Voice. “We’re trying to find all sides of the story, because we’re talking about our kids. It’s too important to leave anything out, whether it’s how they play in the
schoolyard, or Dad having to go back home to work and send money here. It all affects kids and how they succeed at school.”

How Does Your Voice Work?

Every Tuesday, Cheryl welcomes education and child development experts to explore topics such as when kids should start reading, web safety and bullying in the schoolyard. During the show, Jackson and guest experts take questions from parents via email or phone. Parents can also share their opinions and experience with other parents – through an online chat.

At the end of each show, an open-ended segment with parenting expert Beverley Cathcart-Ross called “Ask Away” allows parents to ask their own personal questions on any topic. The topics change every week, but it will always be something useful and interesting. The first segment was about Immigrants and Education.

Chris d’Souza, equity officer with Dufferin-Peel District School Board helped examine the experience of new Canadians navigating through the Ontario public school system. With barriers like language,
customs, and culture, the show talked about resources available to help you and your children understand and succeed in school and discussed the roles of newcomers in the schools and in the community.

Your Voice’s lead producer, Zeelaf Majeed explains, “We tackled this topic early on in our schedule because we recognize how very important education is to new Canadians. Many immigrants come to this country to provide a better life for their children, and part of that dream is to equip their children with an excellent education. But many immigrant children are slipping through the cracks, and we wanted to get to the heart of why this is happening, and what parents can do to help their children succeed in school. We learned a lot from new Canadians we interviewed. An Iranian parent said that his kids had to learn to play “Western” style, because in Iran, roughhousing in the schoolyard is acceptable. Here in Ontario, a child could be expelled. A Chinese parent we spoke to said that it wasn’t enough to offer ESL and other support resources to students. He wanted these services for the parents too, because Chinese parents traditionally are very involved in their children’s school work. One little girl spoke about
feeling lonely.”

After the episodes about schoolyard bullying and Online Predators Majeed observed, “With every show, there is always something memorable. In the “Bullying” show, our expert, parenting guru Michele Borba, told us that not only are bullies not going away, they’re
getting younger, and the tactics meaner. So we wanted to know why, after years of anti-bullying strategies in the schools, the problem is only getting worse.

“In the “Online Predators show,” our expert, Samantha Wilson, president of Kidproof Canada, gave a great piece of advice: If you want to keep your children safe from predators, “never let them into a chat room.” It sounds strict, but that is where online predators lurk and lure. Samantha advised parents to think of the internet as a place, so that you are monitoring your child there just like you would at the playground. She says online safety is not a technological issue, it’s a parenting issue.”

How You Can Get Involved

The idea behind Your Voice is that you do much more than listen to the host discuss the topic with her guests. They want you to participate – to submit questions by phone or e-mail, to chat with other parents on the sidebar that runs on screen during the entire show. But if you’d rather just watch and listen, thatfine too! Although Your Voice airs at 1 pm, the show is always available for parents to access at TVOParents.com, in bite size pieces/segments, on your own time. And TVOParents.com site supports show topics with research articles, blogs, printable tip sheets, and more.

As a truly interactive event, TVO hopes that the show will be guided by the interests, fears and concerns of the parents.

To make sure that the content of TVOParents.com reflects your needs, please use the discussion boards on the site to share your thoughts with TVOParents.com staff and with other parents. With the site in its infancy, now is the perfect time for you to let them know how they can shape and improve their tools and content.

To submit questions to Your Voice for the live webcast, you can send an email (by visiting the Your Voice page at TVOParents.com) or call 1-888-891-1195. Or, they can always just explore past Your Voice episodes and discover more about the education system at TVOParents.com.

CNM