A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that because the young heroine of this series lives in her parents' rural motel, her only personal interactions are with her very busy mom and dad, the hotel's two staff members, and the guests -- none of whom devote much time to her. Lacking playmates (especially those her age), Ellen stays busy by playing make believe with her two trusty toys (a feather duster and a radial tire, which her imagination can transform into just about anything), and the many companions she conjures for herself. While the series does celebrate imaginative play, its romanticized take on what's actually a sadly isolated childhood -- as well as its constant leaps to and from reality -- make it an iffier choice for the preschoolers it's aimed at.
What's the story?
In ELLEN'S ACRES, Ellen travels the world, explores outer space, and leaps through time, all from her hotel home. She conjures adventures using her two favorite things -- a feather duster and a radial tire -- which transform into the ubiquitous tools of her trademark jet-setting. Hotel guests and staff provide inspiration for the characters she meets in her many travels.
Is it any good?
In theory, Ellen's adventures sound like lots of fun for kids -- especially those who like make believe themselves -- but some aspects of the series may raise parents' eyebrows. Though it's spun to highlight the advantages of imaginative play, Ellen's solitary lifestyle and complete lack of interaction with other kids (a la Eloise) is a little troubling. Because she's surrounded only by adults -- including parents whose involvement is limited to summoning her for an errand or responding to her tall tales with a distracted "That's nice, honey" -- Ellen is forced daily to create playmates for herself. Inventive and resourceful as she is, her actions seem to speak to an intense loneliness.
What's more, the constant transitions to and from the world of imagination add unnecessary chaos to the already jumbled show style, and Ellen's monotonous overuse of "actually ..." -- which cues viewers that she's taking them back to reality -- soon begins to sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard. Parents who watch with young kids may need to point out what's real for Ellen and what's pretend, since it's sometimes difficult to tell.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about imaginative play. Kids, what do you like to pretend? What toys or other objects do you use in make believe? Where do you get your ideas? Do you include your friends in your adventures? What do you like about playing with friends? What would you do if you didn't have any friends around to play with?
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