This story is part of , our podcast featuring interviews with actors, artists, celebrities and creative types about their work, career and current obsessions.
Angela Santomero knows kids and TV. With an advanced degree in child developmental psychology and instructional technology & media, the chief creative officer of 9 Story Media Group has spent over 20 years plotting out award-winning educational shows for preschoolers — including Nickelodeon’s Blue’s Clues and PBS’ Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.
Santomero sums up her overall approach to kids programming in two words: radical kindness. She says it’s all about telling kids stories that get to the things that connect all of us. And she does that by creating characters who showcase kindness — to each other and to themselves — and who actively listen to what kids have to say and respect them. “If you grow up with that level of kindness, you really will use your voice to change the world,” Santomero said in an interview for CNET’s I’m So Obsessed podcast series.
But she also says it’s about being smart in regard to what your kids are watching. Researchers say kids spend as much as six hours a day staring at a screen — and that was before led to school closures and remote learning. But there’s no reason parents should feel guilty about having their kids looking at screens — as long as they approach screen time by making sure they’re choosing the high-quality media. She also says the best educational programming fro kids prompts them to walk away from their screens and want to take on activities in the real world. It’s a concept she calls “view and do.”
Parents have so many choices, she says. It’s about “using media versus letting media use you. We have the power now to choose what we want when we want it … So what are we choosing?”
And when it comes to choosing, she says parents should think about it as a healthy green smoothie. “There should be something in it that’s entertaining — the sweets, right — because we know that they’re not going to want to drink it if it’s not there,” she says with a laugh. “There’s the greens, the healthy good stuff, right, which is the education and the vision. And then the protein is that interactivity. Do we get them thinking? Do we get them doing? Are we inspiring them?”
In a wide-ranging interview, I also spoke to Santomero about the programs she’s been working on to showcase diversity, inclusion and community as the US goes through historic social change, and the work she’s doing with characters like Daniel Tiger — inspired by kids TV pioneer Mister Rogers — to help preschoolers cope with frustrations caused by the COVID situation.
And of course we talked about her obsessions: media, writing, researching and yoga.
Listen to my entire conversation with Santomero on Spotify or Apple Podcasts. You can also subscribe to I’m So Obsessed on your favorite podcast app. In each episode, Patrick Holland and I catch up with an artist, actor or creator to learn about work, career and current obsessions.