Do kids still watch The Lil Rascals? I’m not talking about the 1994 movie, but the series that ran for about twenty years starting in the 1920’s. Well, if not, they should. The Little Rascals should be required for every kid before they ever get their hands on a PSP or an iPhone.
Now, I don’t usually advocate parents to plop their kids in front of a screen, but I make an exception for this series. If you have never seen The Little Rascals, they are a bunch of rag-tag kids who have different strengths, and whose weaknesses are not masked. And, these kids are self-motivators. They make their own boats, produce their own musicals and build their own clubhouses.
But unlike today’s Disney shows and Nickelodeon series, these kids are driven to do, to make, and to create. Yet none of what they develop is perfect. Their signs have misspellings. Their stage curtains are sheets poorly sewn together, and when Porky serves a guest crackers at one of the shows, he dons a bow tie two-times too big that he apparently “found” in his father’s drawer.
And, I think these imperfections, along with the fact that these kids created without a parent holding their hands every step of the way, is what drew me to the series as a child.
When I was a kid in the ‘70’s The Little Rascals was already a classic series, but it wasn’t aired in my Northern California area. So, I would only catch it once every two years when I went to visit my grandparents in New York City.
After watching one particular episode when the gang made a boat using spare parts they had found around the neighborhood (including an old jalopy’s car seat, and a trash can with no bottom) I decided to design my own boat. The Rascals used a duck to power their vehicle, tying it to the boat, then using an ingenious crank mechanism to drop bread crumbs in front of the boat, the duck would pull it as it retrieved its feed. Knowing I had no access to ducks back in California, I designed my boat to be powered by the wind.
With papers strewn across my grandparents’ dining room table, I drew the storage compartment situated behind the driver’s seat, where the umbrella would be attached, so that when a breeze blew in, the umbrella would catch the wind and move the boat nearly effortlessly.
The beauty of The Little Rascals is that, like Fat Albert’s Gang, and Charlie Brown’s Buddies, adults were not all that integral in the series. The kids came up with the ideas. They found their own materials and created their own resources. The power of kid creativity is what drove these youngsters. But, what made The Rascals so special is that they were not animated, and there was something about them that made them seem like they were real, not Hollywood creations. Later, I was to discover that most were not trained actors and the scripts were very loose.
When I was in fifth grade, there was no basketball team at my school, but my friend, Eric, and I loved playing at recess and we thought there should be one. So, we asked, “Why can’t we start one?”
And, we did. We asked the fifteen best athletes at our school if they wanted to join our team. Every one of them accepted the invitation, and Eric and I set up practice times after school and started running drills and plays.
Soon, we realized we needed uniforms, which meant we needed money. We didn’t ask our parents to fund our outfits. Instead, we put together a fundraiser, a shoot-a-thon. Players found sponsors and we came to school one Saturday morning and shot, earning a penny or a nickel for each free throw made.
Eventually we learned that although we had a team, plays, and money for jerseys, we had no one to play against. No other school had a basketball team, so we had to pull the plug on our experience, but not before asking all of our sponsors if we could donate their jersey money to hungry children in Africa, which they all agreed was a good idea.
Looking back at that adventure, I’d like to think that The Little Rascals was our inspiration. I teach elementary school today and see that so many children don’t have belief in their abilities. They won’t blink without first asking Mom or Dad if it’s all right.
I’m neither blaming the kids nor their parents for this. Times have changed. Our kids don’t go and play; they have play dates. They ride their bikes wearing helmets, and skateboards with elbow pads. They sit in the back seat of the car, and wear seatbelts. We protect our kids more now than we ever have. And, that’s good for many reasons, yet, as a result, our children feel as though parents’ dictate everything, and until they grow up, they are supposed to stay in this protected world where they take risks only on screens, and creativity is what they see on TV.
Let’s keep them safe, but also let them know that we want them to be creative. We want them to come up with ideas and pursue them. We want them to try, not be perfect, but still have fun, to learn from mistakes, to find the joy in creation.
I never built my boat after I returned to California, and my fifth grade basketball team never played a game. But, if asked, I can find my boat plans from my attic in five minutes if you were to time me. And, that experience of creating a team, leading my peers, interacting with adults, and ultimately helping children on the other side of the world is a memory I am proud to take with me for the rest of my life. It came from the minds of children. It was kid-driven, and it gave me confidence that helped me later in life.
Find the time tonight to search YouTube for The Little Rascals series. Let your children see the potential within them through Buckwheat, Darla, Spanky and Froggy. Then, when it’s a rainy day out, instead of playing the Nintendo DS, see what they can create.