Learning outside the classroom: North Fork Family

Children learning outside the classroom. (File photo)

August is a wistful month on the North Fork. We try to make each day last as long as possible, savoring the summer’s wonderful things to do, eat and see. As August winds down, my family looks on the bright side: relief from sticky weather, reunions with teammates, and soon, activities like pumpkin picking and costume-creating. I feel lucky that our kids look forward to the first day of school, too, and that we’ve been able to instill in them a love of learning that transcends the classroom.

I’ve always associated the fall with education. As temperatures drop, it seems natural to look inward, to challenge the mind after a few months of challenging the body. And while school is certainly a bedrock of learning and exploration in our family’s life, the North Fork is full of opportunities to celebrate children’s natural curiosity beyond school walls.

Learning beyond the classroom was certainly on my mind when I proposed to the North Fork TV Festival that they present a family program for the first time. Entering its third year at the historic Greenport Theatre, on Sept. 8 the festival will offer North Fork families an exciting opportunity to learn about making shows for kids that entertain and educate. (Yes, it’s possible to do both!)

The state of New York has long been home to the best in children’s television. Sesame Street? Created in New York. Blue’s Clues? New York. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood? Wonder Pets? Same. Given my professional background in children’s media and my North Fork Family blog, North Fork TV Festival founder Noah Doyle suggested I program the event. I knew immediately which children’s TV creator to invite: Jennifer Oxley, co-creator of the PBS Kids hit show, Peg + Cat.

Jen is a really inspiring person. She has made imaginative films and TV shows for over two decades, including 15 short films for Sesame Street. She has written and illustrated picture books, and she has won Emmys and other awards. Jen was even chosen to create the new look of Clifford the Big Red Dog, which will return to TV in 2019. But Jen is also a New York-based mom of two young children, and she understands kids’ inquisitive nature. North Fork kids — and parents — will get to ask her questions on Sept. 8, and they’ll learn that with their natural curiosity (combined with hard work and an ability to collaborate with others) is an asset in a creative career.

What’s it like making cartoons for your job? Did you draw all the characters yourself? Who gets to do the voices? How long does it take to make an episode? Why does Pig like triangles so much? Kids can ask these questions and anything else they want to know. I’ll be onstage, too, moderating the Q&A with the audience. We’ll watch two of Jen’s short films, one live action and one animated, and we’ll watch a spectacular episode of Peg + Cat, where the main characters fly off on a wild adventure and solve a really big problem. At the end, we’ll have a little dance party!

Audiences learn a lot from Peg + Cat, a zany, music-infused animated show where the main characters solve problems with math and creative storytelling. Energetic, organized Peg always has a different approach than her sweet sidekick Cat, who is easily distracted. They collaborate easily, modeling the ability to collaborate with others in good humor while working toward your team’s goals. Social and emotional learning is a key priority for early childhood education, in addition to foundational skills like numeracy: Peg + Cat teaches all of these and more.

If your kids love cartoons, if you’re curious about how children’s TV gets made, or if you just want to do something fun and educational with your family after the start of the school year, I hope you’ll join us at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 8 at the Greenport Theatre.

Ticket information (with a special discount code) is available on North Fork Family’s Facebook and Instagram, @northforkfamily.

Sara Berliner is the founder of North Fork Family. Her column appears monthly on northforker.com. Find her on Instagram and Facebook @northforkfamily. She lives in Cutchogue with her, yes, #northforkfamily.