Cable television an untapped resource for kids' creativity
New York — Cable television may be one of the nation's greatest untapped educational technologies. With educators eager to make learning attractive, American youngsters may jump at the opportuniy to create their own television.
''Access cable offers children an incredible educational opportunity: It enables children to produce and participate in their own television. It serves as a creative outlet for their talents and is a demanding intellectual exercise.''
So says Dana Burton, children's reference librarian for the Monroe (Ind.) Public Library, who has helped develop ''Kids Alive,'' a weekly half-hour cable show directed, produced, and planned all by children. ''Kids Alive'' is part of a growing push to use cable television as an educational tool.
By 1983 nearly 25 million households will be wired for cable and will receive 20 to 100 different channels. Accessing one or several of those free channels for public use enables communities to meet the needs of special-interest groups - particularly children.
The cable operator for the area may provide the studio, the technicians, and staff assistance; the community provides the ideas, videotape, and kids.
Cable television is just one of several emerging video technologies, which include videodisc, teletext, and videotext. Among these, however, cable is the furthest along in development and promises a wide variety of educational uses.
Several communities have turned to the local schools and public libraries to organize cable-education projects.
''In 1976 Monroe Library acquired a community-access channel and created an after-school, out-of-school television program that is completely controlled by the children who attend,'' explains Miss Burton.
''At first children came down to the library out of curiosity, to experiment with television, and to re-create what they'd seen on TV. Now, the children manipulate the media with their own creative energy, producing shows ranging from sophisticated satire to animal care.
''A child coming out of 'Kids Alive' will have the same skills as someone coming out of high school who has taken video classes.''
Not only public libraries, but public schools and concerned community groups can access cable for children.
KIDS-4 is a children's access channel, steered by adult volunteers but run by and for children in Sun Prairie, Wis. Sharron Garret, executive director of KIDS-4, comments that KIDS-4 was founded in 1978 on an ideal - that children's television could exist ''with no violence, gratuitous sex, or hard-sell advertising.''
By 1980 Sun Prairie, a suburb of Madison, Wis., had become the first community to set aside an entire cable channel for children. Through the efforts of Sun Prairie residents and the American Council for Better Broadcasting, KIDS- 4 is recognized as the model for cable produced by and for children.
Forty children chosen yearly by audition create KIDS-4, a 1 1/2-hour-a-week program that includes a children's news show and consumer show. When KIDS-4 is not being televised, ''Nickelodeon,'' an all-day chidren's channel of Warner Amex Satellite Entertainment Company, is available.
Says Miss Garrett, ''The children learn real-life skills. They learn how to be technicians, scriptwriters, directors; they learn writing, speaking, cooperation, leadership, and budget planning for production. They're in front of the camera, too, delivering speeches, interviewing people.''
In Millville, N.H., near Salem, the local public grammar school has incorporated the idea of cable as part of an integrated arts curriculum. The Millville School offers its children the skills and technical insights of visiting professionals who teach workshops in video, poetry, drama, and dance.
The video curriculum is a sequential one: third- and fourth-graders learn about film and photography, and the fifth- and sixth-graders learn technical skills that culminate in the once-a-month cable program called ''I Like Kids Creating.''
In 1979 Continental Cablevision offered Millville School cable time, staff expertise, and video equipment. Children began producing shows on their own. Projects included interviewing Joan Mondale and covering the New Hampshire primaries, with adults involved in postproduction criticism.
Sandra Methven, a teacher at Millville, points to recent regional test scores that indicate that ''once being involved in the filmmaking, the children made definite improvements in other academic areas.''