Let's face it - children's television is a blessing and a curse. While it can be a godsend, keeping the kids occupied for useful stretches of time, there's always that niggling concern about what their eager minds are being exposed to. So, how can you be sure that both you and your child are getting the best from Australian television?
Tara Colegrave is the presenter of CBeebies, a television channel on Foxtel that is devoted entirely to entertaining and educating children aged six and under. Raised in Brisbane, Tara is a qualified teacher, with a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Education in sociology and drama. She brings a unique insight to her role as presenter on a channel that is, in itself, a unique concept in children's television.
"There's often a sense of guilt about sitting kids in front of the television, but I think parents also get a lot from quality children's programming. Parents are so busy - they've got so much going on that sometimes they don't have as much time as they'd like to think of creative things they could do with their children to benefit their learning. Some of the things I do on television are simple and fun for parents to do too.
"There are some really original and interactive shows out there for kids. TV doesn't have to be passive - it can inspire creative thinking and fun."
CBeebies is the number one children's channel in the UK. In Australia, the channel is totally free of advertising. With the underlying theme of Lighting Up Little Aussie Learners, all the programming, from 6am to 7pm each day, is aimed directly at preschool aged children. Most importantly, all the programmes revolve around educational entertainment.
Parents place a great deal of trust, some say too much, in the mass media to play a part in shaping young minds.
Tara Colegrave sees her role as a children's TV presenter is to help lead children through an enjoyable learning experience.
"It's all about learning through play. I'm there to be the fun, entertaining and exciting friend and guide that says, 'come and play'." It's a real journey through the shows, then in between the programmes I provide information and activities, so it's very interactive."
Being a full-time teacher, Tara has a distinct advantage over other television presenters. She has the opportunity to regularly observe preschool aged students, and present in a way they will understand, paving the way for optimum learning.
"To be a really good presenter, you've got to know your audience. You can't put it on. Kids know when you're faking it, so it's got to be real, and it's got to come from a genuine place. For me to be like that, I've got to understand my audience.
"When I teach kids at this age, I pay close attention to their language skills, their energy levels and their attention spans. So, when I'm presenting, I'm imagining those little kids on the other side of the camera, and I try to reflect that level of excitement, and level of understanding when, for example, I'm explaining how to do a new dance."
Parents place a great deal of trust, some say too much, in the mass media to play a part in shaping young minds. Concern and debate about what constitutes responsible broadcasting for children, particularly in regard to advertising, is constant.
Brendan Dahill, Director of Television for BBC Worldwide Channels Australasia says that, as a parent, he fully respects the huge amount of trust placed in children's television broadcasters.
"If parents are entrusting us with their children, and the kids are entrusting us with their time, we have to give them something amazing in return.
"There's a lot of debate around kids advertising - what's good advertising, and what's bad advertising. By not having ads, CBeebies simply short circuits the whole debate."
Replacing advertisements between programmes, Tara Colegrave presents educational and interactive segments to help link the shows, and reinforce some of the themes.
Tara says, "During the links, we try to reiterate the information the children learn during the shows. For example, a show called Harry and Toto looks at opposites. So, we might walk around the CBeebies house and demonstrate things like 'open' and 'close'. 'Inside' and 'outside'."
While shows on CBeebies offer an international perspective on the world, it's also important for children to see and hear things that are familiar and comfortable while they learn. So, as well as an Australian presenter, CBeebies focuses on aspects of Aussie life like the environment, climate, birds and animals, as well as popular pastimes and celebrations.
Children can have great fun catching up with old friends like the Fimbles, Little Robots, Teletubbies, Brum, the hugely popular Charlie and Lola, as well as the ageless classic, Andy Pandy.
Catering to different developmental stages and areas, a whole new world opens up to viewers through a number of other programmes that, until now, have never been seen on Australian screens.
- Harry and Toto are best friends, but they're also very different. Harry is a hare who is really fast, while Toto is a very slow tortoise. When they play together, they inevitably learn about opposites.
- Boogie Beebies is an energetic preschool dance show that encourages children to have fun with dance and uses action words - stretching, twisting and swishing - to express themselves through their bodies.
- The vibrant treetop community of 3rd & Bird is alive with singing, whistling and dancing. Each beautifully crafted episode sees Samuel and Muffin Lovebird encounter problems relevant to preschoolers, such as making a new friend, learning a new skill or going somewhere for the first time.
- Aimed at four to six-year-olds, Jackanory Junior draws young children into the heart of stories from some of the best modern authors. Beautiful animation brings the books' illustrations to life, and the stories are told by actors including Martin Clunes, funnyman Kris Marhsall and Oscar-nominated Sophie Okonedo.
- Me Too! is an engaging, live action series for preschoolers. Every day stories delve into the parallel worlds of the child, left to play or go to childcare, and the adult at work. Me Too! teaches time, numbers, shapes and recall, while helping children discover the adult working world.
Children's television is perhaps at its best when parents enjoy the shows as much as their child. Whether it be fabulous characters like Charlie and Lola; the superb animation of 3rd & Bird and Jackanory Junior; or the familiarity of characters like Andy Pandy, loved by generations of children, the opportunity to learn together through play is priceless.
Tara Colegrave says, "It's wonderful when parents and children are able to share these experiences from a really early age. It helps establish good communication between parents and children. A three-year-old can relate when they see their parents are genuinely enjoying something with them."
So, perhaps the best way to ensure you and your child are getting the most value from kids' television is to watch, learn and enjoy it together.
Discuss TV and your child with other Essential Baby Mums.