Free-Range “Annedroids”

Readers sazreezhri
— Here’s a note about a show I had not heard of. This post comes to us from David Kleeman a “playvangelist” at the PlayCollective, a research and strategy company in New York. For 25 years, he ran the American Center for Children and Media.


Finally, North America has a TV series for Free-Range Kids kids. If you have Amazon Prime, run (carefully…and not with scissors!) to check out  Annedroids. In Canada, it will air on TVOKids.

Tween inventor and scientist Anne lives in a junkyard and fashions “droids” from bits and scraps. In the debut episode, she meets two neighbors – gamer Nick and irrepressible Shania. They become her collaborators in building and using droids and robots to carry out experiments.

There’s a social/emotional angle, as well. While Anne teaches science to Nick and Shania, they introduce the reclusive Anne to (as one of the young stars put it in an interview) “the science of friendship.”

That’s a triple threat: First, that a TV show lets kids explore unsupervised, use real tools, and figure things out for themselves. Second, that it shows cognitive and social-emotional engagement as inseparable. And third, that it  destroys the tired dictum that boys won’t watch girl-led (smart girl led) series.

I believe one reason we struggle to have Free-Range kids in the U.S. is because we lack models in popular culture. Kids’ television channels (not just in the US) have standards-and-practices executives who vet episodes for dangers, especially if these might be replicable. So shows depicting adventurous, unsupervised kids making and doing things are rare.

Those standards vary widely across cultures, though. We can debate why: whether supervision is different in other places, or parents have different goals for their children, or other reasons. Still, as I’ve traveled the world seeking innovative and outstanding children’s media (for over 25 years!), I’ve been drawn to programs that put kids at the center, letting them do things for themselves.

There’s no mistaking the determination seen in a child building something of her own design, the real learning embedded in taking something apart, or the pride of a child who’s been taught to do something dangerous but productive.

Let’s just hope that after the kids watch Annedroids they take to the streets — or garages.



7 Responses to Free-Range “Annedroids”

  1. annapascale August 17, 2014 at 10:32 am #

    I can’t wait for my kids to see this. I Googled it to see if I could find a clip and found this instead
    “A recurring plot point is the kids’ effort to keep their activities secret from adults in their lives (particularly from one curious parent), but there’s good reason behind it, and they’re never in danger because of their stealth. Nonetheless, it’s a good idea to point out to your kids that the scope of what these young characters do without supervision (such as building a giant android, for instance) isn’t realistic. The upside? This gives you plenty of opportunity to hash out your kids’ own creativity together in a secure learning environment of your own making.”

    It struck me as so typical of N. American parenting fears. The horror, that the previously safe and uninspiring practice of watching kids TV could inspire and influence your children to experiment and experience their lives without complete parental control.

    I would never tell my kids their great ideas aren’t realistic. I have no idea what the limits of my children’s genius may be when left to their own devices. (Hopefully somewhat better than their father’s who electrocuted his sister with a home made shoe polishing machine). And a “secure learning environment of my making”…well, doesn’t that sound exciting.

    It’s an uphill battle to free-range though. My 7 yr old is terrified to even go around the block by herself because the messages she gets from school (where the doors are locked all day) and her friends parents are contradictory to our own. We’ve just sent her to Europe to stay with her grandparents for 2 weeks in the hope that she’ll see kids there on their own and be inspired. My parents can at least tell her, that “Mom did this when she was your age, and mom did that…”

    Thank you for Free-Range Kids. I try to keep spreading the word to other parents and it’s a great resource to direct them to.

  2. Caiti August 17, 2014 at 11:46 am #

    @annapascale- I deal with the exact same thing with my extremely capable 5 1/2 y.o. son. He’s always asking me if this or that is safe, things like jumping from the bottom rung of his bunk bed ladder to the floor. Unfortunately the overly safety consciousness comes from his dad and step mom so it’s a battle I’ll always have to fight. But the hardest part is there just aren’t any other kids around his age who play outside. One time he tried to play with some older kids and they told him he couldn’t because he might get hurt. Maybe it’s a generational thing.

  3. Papilio August 17, 2014 at 12:48 pm #

    @Caiti: Years ago I found a book with ‘smart’ stories to read to and talk about with toddlers. One of those was about a boy who was terrified to get hurt. He’d do anything to avoid any possible danger. Then one day as he opened the front door to go to school (ehh, yeah, on foot, by himself… Don’t know how old he was though), a motorist who had lost control drove right up onto the sidewalk and hit him, breaking his arm. So he had to go to the hospital, where he ate a lot of icescream, met a lot of other kids, many of whom had far worse illnesses than he. Then he realized he was lucky that he was healthy and he shouldn’t be so afraid all the time because he missed out so much.

    I guess the American equivalent would lead to another conclusion…

  4. Ariel August 17, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

    I think I’ve seen the commercial for this on the Hub Network (the former Discovery Kids channel)for the rest of US’ers!

  5. Stacy August 17, 2014 at 2:17 pm #

    We don’t have Amazon Prime, but this sounds like something my science and engineering loving daughter would really enjoy. I would love to see it on U.S. television.

  6. Reziac August 17, 2014 at 2:51 pm #

    A learning environment is by definition “unsafe”. It contains stuff previously unknown (if you knew it, you wouldn’t be learning it). In today’s OMG-HELP-SAVE-ME mindset, anything unknown is dangerous. Therefore… learning is dangerous!!

  7. Lex August 17, 2014 at 5:00 pm #

    I don’t think that any parent who teaches science, or knows much about science, could bear to watch this show for long. It’s hard to bite your tongue through so many basic mistakes. I didn’t know whether it was written for children or written by children.