Media Initiative For Children

Cartoon series promotes tolerance and diversity among young people

With any number of digital television stations and websites to choose from, kids in 2009 have never had it better. Now Early Years - the organisation for young children (formerly NIPPA), have joined forces with the American Peace Initiatives Institution (Pii) to give children something that they can learn from as well as enjoy.

A series of cartoons, produced by Belfast animation company Street Monkey, have been developed as part of the Media Initiative for Children (MIFC) with the aim of acquainting young children aged 3-6 with concepts like bullying, racial discrimination and cultural difference.

'Pilot research was carried out on the MIFC in February 2004,' explains Eleanor Mearns of Early Years. 'Research was led by professor Paul Connolly from Queens University and showed positive results after only three weeks. The MIFC was then launched in March 2004.' 

'Kim Joins In'
Aims to foster acceptance and respect for and encourage the inclusion of children who live in minority ethnic communities.

© cartoon copyright of the Peace Initiatives Institute

The five cartoons that make up the Together In The Park series are aired on UTV, Channel 4 and RTE three times a year over a three week period, and are also packaged for pre-schools in both Northern Ireland and the Republic.

'The five one minute cartoon messages are broadcast with the aim of developing community support for the programme and creating recognition of the approach before it is implemented in early years settings and classrooms,' continues Mearns. 'We have found this to be very effective.

'The characters were produced to appeal to and attract young children’s interest, and represent young children’s experiences around diversity. The accompanying resources [including a DVD of the cartoons], along with training for adults, provides practitioners and teachers with an appropriate tool as well as the skills and knowledge to help young children develop positive attitudes to difference.' 

'Tom Helps Out'
Aims to foster acceptance and respect and encourage the inclusion of children who have a disability/physical difference.

© cartoon copyright of the Peace Initiatives Institute

Traditionally cartoons and other children's programmes have been used to educate and inform - with everything from Sesame Street to Blue Peter providing children with practicial life lessons as well as keeping them entertained. 

Whilst dealing with recognisably universal themes, the Together In The Park cartoon messages will be most relevant to a young Irish audience. According to Mearns, they are the first of their kind to be produced in Ireland. 

'It is part of Early Years remit to help practitioners and teachers develop inclusive policies and to support children in developing positive attitudes to difference. To our knowledge this work is groundbreaking. It is the only programme that deals with these issues for such a young audience, and has been rigorously evaluated. We see it going from strength to strength.' 

Click here to watch the remaining three cartoon messages on the Early Years website.

Early Years - the organisation for young children.

Lee Henry