Miss Piggy, Kermit, Fozzie the Bear, Animal, The Swedish Chef. All are iconic characters that shaped our childhoods. And all came from the amazing minds of Jim Henson, and his team of creatives. So, it’s no surprise that I jumped at the change to attend the Henson Family Hub Summit at the Jim Henson Studios.
Today, our children continue to be entertained by shows and characters like Sid the Science Kid, Splash and Bubbles, and Dinosaur Train that come out of Jim Henson Studios.
According to John Tartaglia, an actor/puppeteer, Splash and Bubbles, “taking these characters and turning them into characters who could carry these themes for shows like Fraggle Rock taught me growing up.” As a young kid, Tartaglia wrote Jim Henson a letter telling him he wanted to be just like him. How cool is that to make your dream come true!
Our summit schedule gave us opportunities to talk with the creators of amazing shows, including Sid the Science Kid, Splash and Bubbles, Julie’s Greenroom, Dinosaur Train, Dot. and Word Party. It was so cool to hear just how important it was for them to maintain the Henson Legacy, while also ushering in more representation on screen.
Executive vice president of Children’s Entertainment Halle Stanford told us that, “in shows we’ll have single parents, or grandparents raising the kids so all children can see themselves.” Shows like Dinosaur Train center around a single parent, an adoptive family, and helps normalize all types of diverse families.
In Sid the Science Kid, the show features a mixed family and presents science as accessible to all. Moises Roman, who is part of the team behind the show points out that their mission is to help children develop a keen sense of who they are, and not be talked down to either because things have changed. “What we believed about children for the past 30-45 years isn’t what is now true. Words mean things, and kids figure out the details.”
As a member of LA School Children’s Development programs, Roman spearheads campaigns to tie in the Henson shows into educational experiences. “We do a science camp at Head Start to integrate the show into the curriculum with activities,” he said.
Many of these activities are on the studio’s site for their shows hensonfamilyhub.com.
With the current state of Arts Programs nationwide, the Henson Family programs recently partnered with Julie Andrews. Together they are offering access to the Performing Arts through their televisions. Johanna McKay, the theater program consultant, elaborated that in conversations with Andrews it came down to “working with kids to see diversity in our students, and diversity in how they’re being raised.” Because reflecting the world we live in, and how united it really is serves to show the importance of all kids getting the same opportunities in education. “Julie kept bringing it back to ‘what are the kids learning?” McKay shared There’s a push to have the arts and science collaborate, but if you look at the ABC’s. There’s always a song to it. Singing is also a way for our kids to participate in something and use their voices.”
On Julie’s Greenroom, now streaming on Netflix, you can watch Andrews teach children all the aspects of performing arts on stage, and in their lives.
The eight preschool shows currently in production are fantastic platforms for families to build online communities centered around the themes presented in the series. Utilizing the curriculum activities, the interactive experiences online, and family time, viewings of the shows really seeks to cultivate a more integrated push for representation. Even shows like Word Party includes toddlers as they learn how to assign emotions, and learn as they are exposed to stories and experiences. It’s truly amazing!
When I was a little, I remember learning emotions, and what was funny from Kermit and Fozzie Bear. It is wild to see how this is something that keeps evolving in the company. And always in the spirit of the first dreamer, Mr. Henson himself.