Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

The Global Economy

The Global Economy

Spring 2014 Television
Ages: 8 - 14 yrs.
Rating: TV G

History comes to life in the town of Colonial Williamsburg. The concept of this historic area of southern Virginia is to offer visitors a chance to go back to colonial days to see, hear and experience what life was like in the 18th century. Costumed characters run shops and taverns so visitors can watch and interact with them at the market, the theater and in church. This is also the idea behind the innovative and interactive series, Colonial Williamsburg's Electronic Field Trip.

Seven times a year, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation offers a "trip" back through history via Public Television stations and educational channels. The programs now also stream live on the Internet along with a whole host of related activities and information. Two teen hosts introduce stories that illustrate and recreate important events, places and concepts in America's past. The tales are then acted out, sometimes including puppets, to make points, impart information, and include students and other viewers in the learning experience.

In one of the offerings, The Global Economy, the mercantile system and slave trade routes of the late 1700s are explored through the eyes of a ship's cabin boy, his father (the captain) and several rat puppets. The series is suggested for grades 4 to 8, but the puppets in this episode make it seem targeted to younger children. Some of the dialogue is simply meant to amuse, the rest illustrates the lesson at hand as the actors employ the language of the times, albeit slightly ponderously in places.

Since the show is initially aired live, students can call in questions during breaks in the narrative and be answered by the characters and an expert. Although there are sometimes small technical glitches (a phone call was dropped and a couple of cues were missed), the set-up offers a chance for kids to be active participants in the live show. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is to be commended for tackling such an ambitious and inventive presentation. Not only does the "electronic field trip" make the history lesson much easier and fun to learn, it gives kids a chance to get excited about being part of history.

Ann Oldenburg   ©2014 Parents' Choice
Ann Oldenburg, lecturer and interim director of the journalism program at Georgetown University, writes about television, food, workplace issues and other pop culture topics. A University of Florida Gator with a degree in journalism, she began her career at The Washington Post and spent more than two decades with USA TODAY. She and her husband have three sons and live in McLean, Virginia.

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