Storytelling: The Pre-school Parent Trap – Report

Posted on: Friday 03 July 2015 4:55pm by Tracy Warren


  • We need to feed the kids a sense of optimism. If you use something real, that they can recognise, it resonates, they get it and buy into it. Its aspirational even though they may not understand the narrative.  The stories you tell are their equipment for life.
  • There is a gap for 4-7 year olds. People are picking and choosing Nick Jnr, Netflix and YouTube as their kids have outgrown CBeebies.
  • It is easier to write up and bring it down than write down and bring it up
  • Is it a parent trap or a broadcaster trap? Broadcasters are responsible for the programmes they show. Parents need to take censorship responsibilities.


Dave Ingham braved his place on the panel amongst a group of wonderful women to discuss the challenges and possibilities faced when storytelling to 4-6 year olds begging the question, is it possible to take more risks?
Mellie Buse – Executive Producer, Adastra Development Ltd

Melllie opened up the session and contributed to some fabulously interesting and insightful conversations (and was proud to admit that she can sing the books of the old testament).

Dave Ingham – Writer and Owner, Loud Productions Ltd

The success of Boj (Cbeebies) proves that writing with authenticity and showing elements of the parents traits in the child allowed both adults and kids to relate to the show.

Dave is currently working on new episodes of the Clangers for the UK and US markets. Fortunately, without lip-syncing issues, narratives were localised to suit the UK and US markets with Michael Palin and William Shatner respectively. A nostalgia inducing multigenerational event in its own category for the whole family to enjoy.

Dave admitted being guilty of self censorship and not submitting material on the assumption it wouldn’t be accepted. He also admitted his love of the ukulele and (sshhhh) an aversion to the word ‘pubes’

Lucy Murphy – Creative Director, Azoomee

Lucy started her career at London Weekend Television and a combination of Cilla Black and Jeremy Beadle made her move into kids TV.

Bing was pitched to the BBC as a reality show for pre-schoolers that would enable them to deal with their own feelings and discuss it with their carers. It was born out of frustration of the lack of stories available that reflected an actual child’s life. The BBC bought into it and gave the team editorial freedom. They rejected educational feedback as it went against the authenticity of the show. They didn’t want to show things that weren’t resolved. They made the show in a way that was told in real time so kids wouldn’t dip in and out. The camera always stayed with the protaganist and the kids were hooked.

The ideal is for the educational establishment to move towards a more risky and realistic view of topics such as resilience. Bing covered issues such as death and divorce which allows parents to open up a conversation. There is a wonderful opportunity to push this further to the 4-6 year olds.

Lucy is currently working on a production for 5-9 year olds.

Alison Peirse – Film Studies Lecturer, University of Salford, Freelance Scriptwriter and Script Consultant

Alison’s hard drive full of hard hitting music has been replaced with Shaun The Sheep and adventure time with a almost 2 and 5 year old in the house. It is the only show that seems to cut across the ages with her daughters with the 5 year old claiming CBeebies as being too babyish for her.

As they transition into school life, younger kids are actively looking at programmes with older children. Why admit to liking Peppa Pig when you can be scared and enthralled with Tracy Beaker, Adventure time (she loves being frightened) or My Little Pony?

Alison’s found Netflix and YouTube is dominant in her daughter’s peers (4-7). They use it independently on their own devices such as tablets, phones etc, leaving the TV to the smaller children.
Fiona Scott, Postgraduate Researcher, University of Sheffield

Fiona is currently doing a PhD in children’s viewing habits so was perfectly placed to supply the science. Also, she confessed to be the only person in the world to still watch Neighbours.

Discussing the cognitive stage at 4 years old, the panel discussed why they need their own content:

  • Early physiological studies suggest 2-7 is the stage where they undergo cognitive changes.
  • Ages 4-6 they can pay more attention to the screen.
  • Ages 0-3 occasionally glance at the screen and pick up words whilst playing.
  • Children change at a different pace so its not straight forward. The move towards paying more attention necessitates the need to have a narrative and stories.
  • As children get older they stop watching tv with adults.
  • They can deem certain programmes to be too baby-ish but they will watch it. This is influenced by siblings.

Children are able to recognise modalities and certain features in programmes ie. if Bugs Bunny gets an injury this is different from an injury in real life.

They are starting to recognise emotion in a more realistic way which begs the question can we afford to take more risks?

Alison Stewart, Head of CBeebies Production, Animation and Acquisitions, CBeebies

Alison has spent most of her career inside and outside of the BBC and confirmed that there is a lot of expectation from parents on the responsibility and duty of care from the broadcaster. If a young child is watching tv unattended, they can feel deeply wounded if the child finds a programme upsetting. It may be a lesson for the child but CBeebies needs to consider they will be watching by themselves so need to factor this into their scheduling.

Most pitches are aimed at the 4-7 market with a many ideas too edgy for CBeebies but not edgy enough for the older audience. Emotional conflict, jeopardy and things that are too scary for CBeebies. CBeebies do programming for 0-6 year olds.

If you are working with international partners for funding and co-production, level and tone can be an issue.  There are good programmes on death and divorce that are done very sensitively such as German production The Little Boy And The Beast (ZDF).

Norway make beautiful dramas dealing with serious emotional issues and these are deemed ok for their preschool audience. North America are more careful, especially around drama for pre-schools.

The trap for parents can be that kids have choices with Netflix and YouTube. At the age of 4 they reach a turning point by starting school and mixing with older children. They will still watch ‘baby’ tv but will not admit to it.

A brilliant new project coming soon that allows you to effectively build your own channel for your kids. ’My BBC’ will enable personalisation so parents can help children collect programmes, apps and game. You have a page for each child that you are responsible for and can adjust to content as they get older.

Little known fact… when Mellie and Alison were both doing drama together at uni, Alison played the role of Mellie’s mum.

Final note

Katie Morag is a great example of a beautifully made and well received BBC Scotland production.

If you haven’t seen it, check out the recent C4 documentary ‘Secret Life of 4 year olds’. A enchanting and illuminating world of worts and all.

A great conversation that could have gone on all morning but the hour gave the audience a lot to think about. Excellent production thanks to Rebecca Fox and Jocelyn Stevenson.

Full details of the speakers are available in the Session Guide.

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Tracy Warren

About the author

Tracy Warren

Tracy Jayne Creative, Freelancer

Tracy spends her days photographing young people and writing children’s books.  She is currently working on a long list of tv programme ideas and collaborating with others on factual impactful programming.  She has recently discovered a love of blogging, food photography, children’s fashion photography, cinematography and editing.  She has been living in… Read more