Media: A friendly magazine for BIG kids

Media: A friendly magazine for BIG kids

My niece and nephew recently popped by for dinner at which time I was delighted to bestow on them copies of the children's classics Treasure Island and Little Women, which I had picked up at a fete. I had dreamily anticipated much excitement as I handed the somewhat time-beaten books over. They indulged me with polite thank-yous. Then when they went home, they forgot them! I was forlorn.

As Diary of a Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney wrote for Time, "adults often push books that they loved as children", and children aren't always receptive to that in the same way that my eyes roll whenever my father pulls out his Tommy Emmanuel music DVDs. I also appreciate that we are not all born with a love of books; that it is not woven into our generic makeup like blue eyes and frizzy hair. My book love was born from spending hours on end alone in hospital with asthma and encouraged by a well-read mother.

But even author Maggie Alderson's little girl, Peggy, did not inherit her mother's proclivity for page-turning with Alderson lamenting on her blog last year, "while surrounding her with books, I fear I have also let her watch far too much television. As an only child, I thought it was company for her, but I fear it is has zapped her concentration span." Hence, Alderson has published a children's book that fits the description as her daughter's favourite Ottoline titles: "pleasing small hardbacks with as much illustration as text and kooky characters".

While J.K. Rowling proved that there is still a lot of life in books for our "digital natives", magazines also provide opportunities for children and parents to interact with printed matter. My 10-year-old nephew, curious about animals in particular, was quite happy with his subscription to CSIRO Scientriffic magazine. Another magazine, recommended by Ellen-Maree via Twitter, is The Horrible Histories. The key is engagement – choosing media that caters to your child's interests but exposing them to new concepts, ideas and knowledge in a way that keeps them interested.

"I often use kids' magazines when teaching students in the middle to upper primary school years," says Squiggle Mum blogger Catherine Oehlman, also a contributor to the Childhood 101 Play Grow Learn ezine. "Even reluctant readers will happily flick through a mag, stopping at stories and articles that grab their attention. I like Australian Geographic's mags for children, and it's great to see new publications like BIG becoming available too."

BIG Kids Magazine is a 60-page, bi-annial (April/October) creative arts publication, website and blog for children and their parents. With a senior editor who is eight years old, and a feature writer who is 11 (who recently wrote a tutorial about how to make claymation animation), it challenges hierarchies while inviting artistic adults in, too, such as Lea Redmond of the World's Smallest Post Service and Austin Kleon's Newspaper Blackout Poetry.

"It was the initial enthusiasm and big "Yes!" of Jo's son, eight-year-old senior editor Luca, that provoked our impassioned response to the idea," says the magazine's co-creator Lilly Blue. "We love the idea that parents and children share the BIG pages and that they might provoke conversations and side-by-side creativity. It is interactive at heart and we love that kids draw directly on the pages to immediately personalise it and make their unique mark."

So, as with many popular children's films and television shows, there is potential for both adults and their children to enjoy magazines when they cater to a diversity of interests and are shared together. Co-learning is of the essence until children are old enough to seek out information themselves.

"Really great programs are always loved equally by kids and parents," says Oehlman, who also believes parents and educators have a role in helping kids become critical consumers of advertising.

"To be honest, I think marketing to kids through media is low and I much prefer intelligent marketing to parents. However, I also think as parents and educators we have a responsibility to help our kids become critical consumers of advertising. We need to teach them to ask questions such as, 'Who made that ad?', 'What do they want us to buy or do?', 'Would that be a good choice for us?'."

The key to positive media engagement for Oehlman is education and response: does it open up her children's eyes to parts of the world they cannot ordinarily experience, and does it make her kids want to get up and do something as a response to what they've read or seen?

This is precisely the response the editors of BIG Kids are looking for. "Hopefully these collaborative projects inspire similar projects to be created between siblings or parents and kids on kitchen tables or bedroom floors," says Blue.

See also:
'Television can help children with language,' The Australian 
 A good magazine for kids (an oxymoron?) 

Girl With a Satchel