Imagine the perfect blend between calm-mannered, informative Mister Rogers and inspiring, energetic Mary Poppins. Loved by children for her playful nature and adored by parents for her gentle compassion, such a blend exists in Ruby, the bright-eyed, spunky star of the newest award-winning DVD series for kids, Ruby’s Studio. Celebrated for its artistic focus and creative energy, Ruby’s Studio is the affable alternative to today’s fast-paced, harried children’s programming. And at the heart of it all? A recognition for an element increasingly absent in the lives of our future generation: design.
A quick 30-second glance into Ruby’s Studio and you’ll spot a plethora of items not generally found in your everyday children’s show. From an exposed-brick, loft-like art studio to design-driven furniture, every detail has been thoughtfully curated from the brains behind The Mother Company: Abbie Schiller, CEO & Founder, and Samantha Kurtzman-Counter, President. Writes Schiller, “Ruby’s [Studio] was designed with the idea to inspire parents and kids with ideas they could do at home… like displaying art on a clothing line against the wall, or having art materials in bamboo and ceramic bowls on a beautiful modern farm table.” The crew worked with interior designer Tim Clarke to fill in the blanks. “I’m pretty sure that no other children’s show has a Noguchi coffee table,” Schiller jokes.
And although the clean design is certainly reassuring for parents who desire simpler homes, minimal noise and thoughtful design, it’s the kids that are reaping the benefits. Christian Long, creator of Prototype Design Camp for kids, has witnessed firsthand the enormous success that comes with educating children on the importance of design. He writes in an interview with Fast Co., “The results [from our design camp] were a creative array of news networks, school designs, and student movements, but the most compelling outcome was the student experience itself. Reflections at the end of the conference from students included tremendous gratitude, a deep interest in the design process, and most importantly, a motivation to thoroughly create change.”
It is precisely this motivation and interest that encouraged The Mother Company to focus on clean design, rather than the frenzied eccentricities of traditional children’s programming. “I believe really strongly in one of the ideas that follows from the Reggio Emilia philosophy that if you offer a child a primary color-based palette to paint with, they think/imagine/create within the confines of a 4-color universe, but if children are offered as many of the incredible colors of the world as possible, their creative vision expands exponentially,” writes Kurtzman-Counter. “I think that kids who are exposed early to the delights of composition, symmetry, and design definitely develop a thoughtful, considered way of looking at the world.”
The gentle pacing of Ruby’s Studio certainly supports this idea. There are no frenetic drum sequences. No oversized dinosaur costumes. No talking sponges. Instead, there is a silent understanding that Ruby just might be the emerging leader in today’s slow parenting movement. Says Schiller, “Think about it – Dora yells at your kid the entire show. Wow Wow Wubzy is bounding off walls. Yo Gabba Gabba uses strobe lights. Don’t get me wrong – shows with high energy certainly have their place – but in my home, I wanted to find a quality everyday alternative that captured my kids’ hearts and touched on everyday topics that help in their lives.” In other words, Ruby’s Studio provides enrichment first, entertainment second.
Enrichment is a familiar concept in the slow parenting realm. Carl Honoré, author of “Under Pressure: Rescuing Our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting,” defines the movement as bringing balance into the home. “Slow parents give their children plenty of time and space to explore the world on their own terms. They keep the family schedule under control so that everyone has enough downtime to rest, reflect and just hang out together. They accept that bending over backwards to give children the best of everything may not always be the best policy.” Honoré writes, “Slow parenting means allowing our children to work out who they are rather than what we want them to be.”
In a recent episode entitled “The Friendship Show,” Ruby and her friends talk through conflict resolution and explain the importance of supporting one another. Equal parts engaging and enchanting (birds come to life with a simple wave of Ruby’s hands), the result is a slow step in the right direction. “Kids remain entertained without feeling bombarded by noises and images,” Schiller writes. “Those overwhelming sensory experiences are really hard for little ones to process and aren’t good for their development.”
She’s right. A 2011 children’s media study tested 4-year-old children’s executive functions – the ability to pay attention, solve problems and regulate behavior – immediately after watching 9 minutes of either (a) fast-paced cartoon Spongebob Squarepants or (b) the realistic PBS cartoon Caillou. The results were not in Spongebob’s favor. Says lead researcher and psychology professor Angeline Lillard, PhD: “It is possible that the fast pacing, where characters are constantly in motion from one thing to the next, and extreme fantasy, where the characters do things that make no sense in the real world, may disrupt the child’s ability to concentrate immediately afterward. Another possibility is that children identify with unfocused and frenetic characters, and then adopt their characteristics.”
Luckily for Ruby’s Studio, children are already beginning to identify with the show’s gentle-natured role model. Writes Kurtzman-Counter, “Ruby has so many fans already; she speaks to kids like real people – there’s no fake smiles or pandering or over-the-top silliness. Kids love her as a result.”
And so do the parents. With a website full of parent-oriented videos that focus less on the do’s and don’ts of modern parenting and more on embracing the beauty of family, The Mother Company aims to provide a more tasteful and comforting experience for everyone. Says Kurtzman-Counter, “We want to be a place moms can go and trust they are in good hands.”
Indeed, they are becoming that place. Slowly but surely.