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Dora the Explorer: Preschool Geographic EducatorJames R. CarterPublished online: 26 Nov 2008.
To cite this article: James R. Carter (2008) Dora the Explorer: Preschool Geographic Educator, Journal of Geography, 107:3,77-86, DOI: 10.1080/00221340802419377
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Dora the Explorer: Preschool Geographic EducatorJames R. Carter
ABSTRACTDora the Explorer is a twenty-three-minutetelevision program for preschoolersviewed by millions every day in manycountries. These programs are alsomarketed as videotapes and DVDs.This seven-year-old Latina, bilingualcartoon character teaches many thingsby interacting with the young viewers.On every program Dora and friendshave to go someplace to solve aproblem. Map is a cartoon character whohelps viewers read the map and tellsDora where to go next. Some episodesare particularly geographic. Geographersneed to evaluate the contributions ofDora the Explorer to geographic educationfor preschool children, a little-studiedsubject.
Key Words: preschoolers, map-reading,Latina, television, bilingual
James R. Carter, Emeritus Professor, receivedhis Ph.D. from the University of Georgia in1973. He was a member of the Geography De-partment, University of Tennessee, Knoxvillefrom 19721990 and the Geography-GeologyDepartment, Illinois State University (ISU),19902005. Dr. Carter was the Directorof Academic Computing, ISU, 19901993,Chair, Map Use Commission of the Interna-tional Cartographic Association, 19911999,and corresponding member, Children andCartography Commission of the ICA.
INTRODUCTIONEvery weekday millions of preschool children watch the Dora the Explorer
television program and help the seven-year-old Latina cartoon character navigatean environment to reach some destination and solve a problem. Dora is bilingualand encourages her young viewers to call out English or Spanish words frequentlyas well as to get up and move to solve an immediate task. On every programchildren have to call forth a map and at many steps during the program thechildren view one or more maps as Dora teaches counting, colors, shapes,language, and, in the process, map- reading. I became interested in this programwhen a former student told me his eighteen-month-old son knew what a map isbecause he watches Dora every day. Then a colleague reported his three-year-olddaughter asked him about Tanzania after watching a Dora the Explorer program.A Newsweek article reported that a mother with sons ages two and three whowatch Dora . . . draws a mapthe bank, the grocery storeso they can tracktheir progress as Dora does (McGinn 2002). Obviously, the program Dora theExplorer is having an impact on preschoolers that should be of interest to thegeographic education community.
Dora the Explorer came to television in 2000 on Nick Jr., a commercialchannel on cable and satellite. Frey (2004, C01) reported that Dora is watchedby 21 million viewers (adults and children) each month . . . and, of that totalviewership, 3 million are Latino children ages 2 to 11. Derdeyn (2005) reportedthe program was viewed by 8.8 million children in North American and wasbroadcast in seventy-four countries in fifteen languages Siegel-Itzkovich (2007)reported that in Israel the program is in Hebrew and English and noted thataround the world it is broadcast in Greek, Indonesian, Malay, Portuguese, andother languages. Suffice it to say millions of children around the world watchDora the Explorer, which has garnered several daytime Emmy nominationsand has won two Emmy awards, including Outstanding Childrens AnimatedProgram (Guidotti-Hernandez 2007, 210). Dora has become a commercialenterprise, and a visit to a toy store or bookstore will demonstrate herpopularity. Doras face is found in grocery aisles, on parade floats, and onconcert stages. Caramanica (2005) reported that Dora the Explorer had generatedmore than $3 billion in retail sales, and certainly that figure has grown sincethen.
There are more than one hundred episodes of Dora the Explorer (TV.com 2007).Most are about twenty-three minutes long and are designed to stand alone ina half-hour time slot on television. A few episodes are about forty minutes inlength and are shown on television in two sequential segments. All single Dorathe Explorer episodes are shown uninterrupted and the longer segments are brokeninto two uninterrupted segments. NickJr.com (2008a) has an online schedule forthe week indicating when Dora the Explorer will be shown, but it does not listepisodes by name.
Many of the episodes of Dora the Explorer are available on video tapesand DVDs, making it possible for those without cable/satellite televisionto see this programming as well as making it possible for children towatch this cartoon character again and again at their convenience, or theconvenience of the parents. On a DVD viewers can control the presentationof the language; Dora may speak English/Spanish, Spanish/English, and French/English.
Journal of Geography 107: 7786C2008 National Council for Geographic Education 77
James R. Carter
DESIGN OF THE DORA THE EXPLORER PROGRAMAlthough Dora has become a commercial success, the
creators of the program argue they had educational goalsin mind in the design of the program.
Preschoolers are our least powerful citizens.They cant reach the light switch; they havetrouble pouring the milk on their cereal.Theyre faced with obstacles throughouttheir day and it can get pretty discouraging.Problem-solving strategies like stopping tothink, asking for help, and using what youknow are modelled in every Dora show.(NickJr.co.uk 2007)
Dora the Explorer teaches children basicSpanish words and phrases along withmath and music skills and physical coordi-nation. Children also learn with Dora howto observe situations and solve problems.(NickJr.co.uk 2007)
Dora was designed as a young Latina able to succeedin great adventures, an empowering model for thosewho can identify with her. Doras creators argue that ifchildren start speaking a second language by the age ofsix or seven they have a greater probability of achievingfluency. In addition, the use of a second language byDora might help Spanish speakers . . . take pride in beingbilingual (NickJr.co.uk 2007). While the program teachesa foreign language, text never appears on the screen; allof the vocabulary words are expressed verbally. In manyepisodes Dora teaches counting in English and/or Spanish.In a few cases numerals are shown but they are theexception.
It generally takes a year to produce a program frombeginning to end, including testing and retesting on largenumbers of preschoolers. The shows curriculum is
. . . based on Howard Gardners ideas aboutmultiple intelligences. In every episodewe incorporate 7 different learning "in-telligences such as logical/mathematical,musical/auditory, and bodily/kinaesthetic.We script the show so little kids actively useeach intelligence to help Dora and Boots.(NickJr.co.uk 2007)
Boots is Doras purple monkey sidekick. Although thecreators do not state spatial skills on their Web page, thoseare one of the intelligences articulated by Gardner (1993,21) who wrote Spatial problem solving is required fornavigation and in the use of the notational system of maps.The creators certainly give attention to spatial skills.
A major characteristic of Dora the Explorer is that childrenare encouraged to talk back to the television characters andrepeat everything three times. The talking map is very in-sistent on having viewers tell Dora time and again where togo to get to the destination. Nickelodeon first used this talk-
back with Blues Clues. They found great success in askingchildren to help, for youngsters do not get asked to helpvery often. More recently, other television programminghas picked up on this mode of interactivity (Toronto Star2005). An indication of the effectiveness of the interactivemodel of Dora the Explorer was captured by Jordan whointerviewed teachers in a child development center for two-to five-year-olds in a low-income environment to find waysin which they use various media. One teacher reflected onthe one-time use of a Dora the Explorer episode, noting thestudents related to the program, were quiet for some twentyminutes, repeated everything she said and kept doing so forthe rest of the day (Jordan 2005, 529).
GEOGRAPHICAL AWARENESS OF FIVE-YEAR-OLDSThis very popular television program in which maps are
employed in every episode in a systematic fashion musthave some impact on what preschool children know aboutmaps and on their readiness to learn more about mapsand geography. Catling (2006) provides a comprehensivesummary of what the professional literature tells us five-year-olds know about geography and maps. His articleis designed to help structure education programming inEnglish schools but his overview gives a framework forconsidering this specific program.
Catling (2006, 55) writes that
. . . children enter primary school at fiveyears old with experience in learninggeography . . . they have already brought. . . their developing geographical experi-ence from the home environment, theirlocal area and senses of places and liveselsewhere, drawn from family, friends andthe media.
He recognizes that childrens awareness of a wider worldcomes from a variety of sources including the story booksread to pre-school children and programmes on television(p.59) He also realizes that children learn by imitating thingsthey see on television in general (p.67).
Catling (2006, 5658) emphasizes the role of play in theintellectual growth of preschool children and notes thatthey have a very limited play range, as dictated by parents.A television program that attracts children falls into theplay range acceptable to most parents. This was addressedby Val, one of the creators of Dora the Explorer:
One of the things I love most about theshow, and something that makes it unique,is that viewers are asked to be activeparticipantsnot only by answering ques-tions, but by getting off the couch and mov-ing their bodies. Parents tell us they knowwhen Dora is on because theyll see andhear their kids playing along with the show:counting, speaking Spanish, jumping, row-ing, clapping, etc. (NickJr.co.uk 2007)
Preschool Geographic Educator
This programming of Dora the Explorer contributes to atleast three things that Catling (2006, 58) looks for:
1. young childrens language development and skill,such as whether they have the vocabulary toname/describe features;
2. young childrens spatial awareness, their sense ofdirection and their ability to map their familiarterritory in their heads; and
3. the physical skills that young children may havebegun to develop, including coordination.
Dora introduces many images of natural and man-made environments that many children would have littleopportunity to see or experience. The use of maps certainlycontributes to spatial awareness and the sense of direction.And, being told by Dora to get off the couch to saltan(jump) over melons rolling down the hill helps developcoordination.
Catling (2006, 6970) gives four environmental contextsfor place play:
1. Using real environments
2. Miniature environments
3. Toy environments
4. Virtual environments
His virtual environments are made up of computer softwareand Internet activities where children can explore or createtheir own environments. After examining the geographicdimensions of many episodes of Dora the Explorer and otherchildrens television programming, I believe the televisionprograms that get viewers actively involved with theprotagonists give a fifth environmental context for play,particularly for younger children.
Dora the Explorer is designed for the preschool childand by the age of five or six most children move beyondtelevision characters that talk to them and demand theirinput. But, for a few years Dora gave these youngsters manyconcepts, skills, and capabilities that are a foundation tolearn geography and for using maps and graphic imagery.
YOUNG CHILDREN AND TELEVISIONA comprehensive overview of what is known about
the broad topic of children and television was given byGuernsey (2004) in the Washington Post. Anderson andPempek (2005) summarize what is known about the impactof television on young children, particularly as it relatesto the 1999 recommendations of the American Academyof Pediatrics. While the American Academy of Pediatricsrecommended that children younger than two-years-of-ageshould not be exposed to television, Anderson and Pempek(2005, 505) recognize that in reality from birth childrenare exposed to television, at least as background. Whenchildren start to watch television and it becomes somewhatcomprehensible, these researchers think of television asforeground. They suggest that proper programming could
in principle be educational for very young children andhave positive impact in addition to or in...