This week saw the return of the great Justin Fletcher, complete in clown form, in a brand new series of Something Special. Imagine me screaming this sentence, much like Buddy the Elf upon hearing that Santa’s visiting Gimbels, “Santa’s coming! He’s coming here tomorrow! I know him!” Yes, I was genuinely that excited, perhaps more so than my toddler, but not as much as my husband.
Unlike Buddy, I don’t know Justin Fletcher, I just know that he creates a brilliant world of fun and magic for so many children and makes my son very happy. I am sure he is not the only transfixed tot whose early words included tumble tap and who still, aged 2 1/2, answers most questions with a very Aunt Polly, “Yessss,” complete with the Makaton sign. (I’m kind of hoping he drops the accent part eventually to be honest.)
S wasn’t really properly into television – much to our dismay – until we stumbled across Something Special one weekend morning about eight months ago. My husband reported that S stopped what he was doing – most likely smashing something – and stood, transfixed, watching Mr Tumble and his friends sing, play and create all sorts of slapstick havoc. He was sold.
A few days later, I nipped upstairs to grab something I needed for our morning out and returned to find he had climbed onto the sofa – no easy feat for him at that point – and was once again glued to the screen and story, while attempting the signing and singing, smiling his little face off.
What’s more, when we began watching it with him, we could totally see the appeal. Prior to having S, I had the typically clichéd opinion that kids TV was nothing but annoying bright noise and their presenters much the same. Obviously, though some programmes are pretty irritating, I’ve hastily backtracked now; not least because CBeebies is like my village, virtually babysitting my son at times and doing a much better job of teaching him things than I do.
Something Special really is just that – and is so much more than bright noise – here’s why:
1. It’s completely inclusive. Children with disabilities all too rarely get to see themselves represented on television. Something Special gives those featured a brilliant and unique experience, as well as including those watching by showing special needs in such a normal way.
2. It teaches young and older children that it’s fine to be different, normalising children with special needs in a completely natural way; something sadly lacking from the majority of television programmes.
3. It teaches signing – without the time, cost and commitment of a baby signing classes. I wish we had introduced S to the show as a baby instead of buying a signing book, promising myself I would teach it him, then being too busy and harassed to manage more than two signs in total. (Though these were still useful admittedly!)
4. It’s funny – containing actual humour – for adults too. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Granddad Tumble as a rock star or Aunt Polly attempt a scooter ride, seriously. And if you like Laurel & Hardy, you’ll definitely be unable to get through an episode without even one chortle. (Apart from when you’ve seen said episode for the fiftieth time, admittedly.)
5. It’s interesting. The boy obviously knows what makes kids tick, and the programme feature everything a child could want: from beaches, to airports, to farms – someone has done their homework – so you don’t have to!
6. It’s structured perfectly for children, each episode featuring regular songs and enough repetition for them to become familiar with its pattern, alongside a different adventure each time to maintain interest and learning.
7. It helps with speech. Both signing and singing can help improve memory and speech and Something Special has both. I have no doubt that, despite occasionally cursing Mr Tumble to high heaven as my son warbled the Hello Song for the fifteenth time in his cot instead of falling asleep, the programme has increased his vocabulary and confidence in his abilities – there is nothing quite like the sense of achievement from learning the Friends Song by heart – true story.
8. It doesn’t make a big deal out of communication difficulties or delayed development. Because the programme uses both speech and sign, there is something for everyone and it is positive to its core about all children, no matter their age or learning levels.
9. Contrary to popular myths perpetuated by the likes of me, a child watching television doesn’t at all need to be a lone experience where they are dumped in front of it so that parents can get on with chores. It can be this – it often has to be this – and that isn’t a bad thing, it’s just life. My husband and son watch an episode of Something Special every single evening before bed however; where they cuddle, play and chat and S sings and dances, happily spending the last of his day’s energy. Does my husband sing and dance too? I couldn’t possibly comment… ahem. It is a lovely, bonding ritual after a day apart – they are sharing something special (if you will) and it forms a really nice part of his bedtime routine.
10. It makes my son this happy at Christmas. So thank you Justin and CBeebies – keep up the magic. The magic? Yes the magic (I can’t stop now).
Top image courtesy of BBC