By now, most viewers know LazyTown for its messages of healthy living, balanced meals and positive attitude. Kids around the world have responded to these messages and have incorporated new behaviors into their daily routines. There are measurable increases in the amount of water that kids drink every day, motivated by the show’s hero, Sportacus.
But we also strive to include helpful messages to kids within the context of story lines having nothing to do with being healthy. We scatter those messages in a way that is hopefully seamless; kids can spot preaching a mile away, and we can’t afford to be heavy-handed with those ideas.
I chose a random LazyTown episode – “Scavenger Hunt” – and pulled out several key lessons that kids can learn simply by watching. They’re simple and not terribly deep – but because they’re delivered with basic honesty by trusted characters, they have a chance to be incorporated into the everyday lives of young viewers.
1. Turning an activity into a challenge can make it more fun
By example, Sportacus shows kids that any kind of household chore can be transformed into a game. His attitude is positive, he has a smile on his face, and he throws himself into his activities with enthusiasm. Parents can entice kids into brushing their teeth by inviting them to do it while standing on one leg, or while humming a tune. Suddenly, a boring chore brings a smile.
2. Recycling saves energy and helps keep your home clean
The Mayor of LazyTown and Stephanie explain – in a non-preaching manner – what recycling is and why it’s good for our environment. It’s a brief moment in a very busy, active show, but it presents recycling as a routine behavior that we should all adopt.
3. Develop strategies toward an objective
The show demonstrates that, just because something is hard, or even seemingly impossible, kids can find a way to achieve when they think things through and adapt to new challenges.
4. Toys should go back where they belong when playtime is over
Parents can relate!
5. Garbage goes into the bin, not on the floor
Again, this idea isn’t presented in a preaching manner, it’s something that simply makes sense. No one wants to live in a messy environment, and the show demonstrates that taking an extra moment to clean up is well worth it.
6. You’re never too old to play
Spoken by our resident hero, Sportacus – the idea gives kids an important foundation they can carry with them their whole lives.
7. Balance your sweets with healthy food
Of course, this is a standard LazyTown message, but it’s important to restate it often. We are not attempting to demonize any particular behavior, especially for kids who have a hard time controlling themselves at younger ages. We want them to keep in mind that sweets are fine – in moderation and when balanced with healthy, energizing foods. Kids really can learn to find as much joy in healthy foods as they do in candy.
8. Fruits and vegetables give us energy
Every episode delivers the unmistakable message that Sportacus gains his powers from eating “sports candy.” Our version of Popeye eating spinach, Sportacus tells the kids at home, again and again, he increases his strength from healthy foods. This gives parents a perfect opportunity to bring that message into the home’s daily routine.
9. Teamwork makes every task easier and more enjoyable
The kids in LazyTown show this simple message in nearly every episode. Teamwork is a concept that must be developed – working with others who may see the world differently, combining conflicting agendas, finding a way to agree on a goal. We hide the messages within the story but we always make sure to complete the circle by explicitly stating: difficult things can be achieved when everyone works together.
10. Go outside!
It may seem counterproductive for a TV show to encourage kids to leave their televisions to go outside, but that’s what LazyTown does. A typical episode of LazyTown takes place in exterior locations for least 90 percent of the time. Being locked up in a room, playing video games, on a beautiful sunny day is discouraged. We try to show that there’s a lot to do and see outside, things that no TV show or video game could match for variety and beauty.
Take a seat and watch a random episode of a kids’ TV show with your child – see if you can find some of the positive, hidden messages, and then talk them over. Your child may have spotted some that you missed!