By Helen De Cruz
My son just turned two. Like other toddlers, one would say he’s got terrible taste. He loves brightly colored toys, mostly cars, and he loves movies about cars and nursery rhymes. We don’t own a television, but thanks to YouTube and DVDs, he’s got a fair amount of screen time – which I still try to limit to 15 minutes a day.
Now I stumbled on a really intriguing phenomenon, just by watching toddler movies with him, through the suggestions that YouTube offers: there are lots and lots of carefully choreographed amateur movies in which cars, or other plastic toys feature and a simple story is told (see movie for an example). Although it’s possible for any amateur to make a stop motion move these days, the creators of these movies (who seem, by their voices, to be men and women in their 20s and 30s) don’t bother – you can see their hands animating the movies visibly. The movie I linked to, as well as many others of its kind, have millions of views.
The amateurish videos with plastic toys have an obvious appeal to my toddler son, but is the appeal also aesthetic? While it may not seem so at first, if we define aesthetic appraisal broadly as the sensory and qualitative appreciation of objects, yielding a distinct sense of pleasure, I don’t see a reason not to call his appreciation aesthetic. He finds the cars funny, the scripts engaging (some of these videos are 10 minutes, which is long for the attention span of a toddler!), and so on.
Craig Palmer and Kathryn Coe have argued that the aesthetic sensibilities of young children, far from being a mere foreshadowing of what adults can aesthetically appraise are in fact crucial to their development. Aesthetic feelings give children the right motivations to engage in learning activities, in this way, singing nursery rhymes support speech and so on. She thus argues that Disneyland and other amusement parks key in on children’s aesthetic sensibilities, which explains their success.
I’ve noticed my son has started to engage in elaborate pretend scripts with his toys, in a way similar to the videos, even modulating his voice to play the different characters. I found this quite early for him to be doing that, so maybe the amateur videos have helped him to develop such forms of imaginative play.