PYJAMA PARTY, 65 min.; YAY! YAY! IT’S PICNIC DAY, 50 min.; BIRTHDAY FUN, 60 min. Produced by Deepa Rajagopal. Smart Cookie. Educational DVDs, $8.99 each. www.smart-cookie.com
“Are there more cookies, Amma?” asked Uddanta, my 6-year-old son.
He was referring to Deepa Rajagopals’s Smart Cookie DVD series for preschoolers. Rajagopal gets two enthusiastic thumbs up and a big shout-out from preschoolers and their parents! Her educational videos, targeted to toddlers and preschoolers, are sure winners.
My one-and-a-half-year-old toddler, Tavasya, and the all-knowing Uddanta were spellbound by the ebullient, engaging children onscreen as they sang, played, danced, and romped through Pyjama Party, Birthday Fun, and Picnic Day.
Rajagopal, a software-developer-turned-stay-at-home-mom and producer of these DVDs, for children brings creativity, imagination, and naturalness to her production. She is an innovative educator who uses various unstructured methods and time-honored traditional songs and jaunty rhythms to spark the curiosity and learning abilities of the very young. She introduces a merry band of children who giggle, laugh, and converse irrepressibly while learning new words, numbers, shapes, and colors, and practical lessons like sharing, being tidy, cleaning up, and marveling at new happenings each day.
Filmed mostly outdoors in a free unfettered environment, the children revel in looking at an anthill, splashing about a water tap, and frolicking on the soft grass as they learn to make a fruit salad or plan a surprise party for their friends. Several episodes take place in a living room, kitchen, or dining room. These natural environments are a welcome change from the artifice of overpriced structured spaces and an overdose of primary colors in other productions for children.
The children here seem unselfconscious of the camera. The presence of adults is very subtle; they are there merely to add a suggestion, or gently direct the children’s fun and learning process.
Songs about pav-bhaji and triangular samosas are a definite hit. Now my kids want me to make these snacks at home and I am busy researching the recipes online! The children’s Indian accents and use of terms like “Amma” and “Appa” are a refreshing change from the constant “Mom” and “Dad” refrain I hear everywhere else.
Graphics are intelligently used, the editing is superb. The lip-synching is a little out of joint and maybe Smart Cookie could lose the clown with the rumbling voice, who dulls the proceedings. The children’s voices in the singing could be more articulate. I found the children from India spontaneous and utterly engaging.
A shared viewing of these DVDs by parents and their little ones affords limitless opportunities for communication. Rajagopal’s simple and unpretentious approach makes it easy for preschoolers to relate to her videos. My kids and I would like to see more. Perhaps an episode that shows interaction with grandparents and other members of the family.
Summer holidays are coming and working parents with kids at home during the long hot months will appreciate a healthy supply of Smart Cookies.
—Anuradha Kishore Ganpati