As told by Butterfly Co-Founder Bradi Nathan
Four towns poured into Northern Valley Regional High School in Old Tappan New Jersey. There couldn’t have been more than 5,000 people in each town. Harrington Park was one of them- a sleepy little area in Bergen County that I called home. It’s the type of town where everyone knows one another with a single elementary school encompassing kindergarten through eighth grade. I fondly remember two sisters who lived in Harrington Park: Jennifer and Angela. They were kind and sweet and the type that you’d want your own daughters to befriend.
And now, thanks to Facebook, I have learned that they still are. Angela is not only kind and sweet- she is hugely successful. Your children may want to hug her for co-creating, producing and writing Nick Jr.’s Blue’s Clues and PBS KIDS Super WHY! You may want to kiss her for educating and entertaining your kids while you take a much need break!
Amongst her many accomplishments, Angela led the production and development of the Emmy nominated Blue’s Big Musical Movie, wrote two Blue’s Clues’ theatrical productions that played in venues across the nation and co-founded Out of the Blue Enterprises. As a pioneer in interactive children’s programming, Angela continues to educate and captivate our kids with Super WHY! And all the while, she raises two beautiful daughters. In an exclusive interview with Butterfly, Angela shares her innovative approach to children’s programming and parenting.
BN: You received a Master’s degree in Child Developmental Psychology. How did that help in the creation of Blue’s Clues and Super WHY?
My approach to children's television has always been from an educator’s point view. I actually created Super WHY as my Masters thesis from Teachers College, Columbia University! I’m interested in how children learn, think, feel, grow and develop. I also studied educational technology and media, which allows me to look at how children can learn from television. Because of my background I write shows that are truly from the preschoolers’ point of view - stories that they want to hear, jokes that are just for them, and a curriculum that has been proven to teach them through play!
BN: How does the Blue’s Clues and Super WHY format differ from other children’s programming? Is that the secret to their success?
One of my overall beliefs about children is that they are active participants in everything they do. Preschoolers want to help. They love it when you ask them what they think. I believe that all television is educational but the big question is: What does it teach? The interactive format that we started with Blue's Clues enabled us to create a show that asked young viewers to help solve the problems all the way through each episode, giving them enough time to answer our questions. We developed this groundbreaking interactive format to teach kindergarten readiness skills through Blue's Clues and literacy skills through Super WHY. The best thing is that we’re not only teaching kids these valuable skills but we are also allowing them to practice them! And, of course, we are building their self esteem every step of the way.
BN: What programs did you watch as a child and what do you believe made them popular at the time?
As a preschooler, I was a big Mister Rogers fan. I believe that it was the vision of Fred Rogers and the fact that he knew preschoolers and what makes them happy, sad, intrigued, or concerned are what made him and his show iconic, popular and evergreen.
BN: At what point in your career did you have children?
Blue's Clues was really my first baby. It took all of my time and energy and I wasn't sure how I would be able to be the type of hands-on mom that I wanted to be. When Blue's Clues was in its 4th Season and my husband and I had been married for 7 years we had our first daughter, Hope. Our second daughter, Ella, came 21/2 years later.
BN: How, if at all, did you alter your work schedule once you became a mother?
Because we had the most amazing team in children's television at Blue's Clues, I was able to be very flexible with my work schedule and tailor it around the babies. My husband also decided to leave NBC and start his company from home so one of us would always be around for the girls.
BN: What obstacle(s) do you face in juggling the demands of your career and the needs of your family?
I face all of the same obstacles as working moms everywhere. I live by my schedule. I'm "on call" all the time for my job and work at odd hours of the day to fit in all of my writing. I work on the train. I try to know, in advance, what is going on with school and family so that I can schedule accordingly. Because my business partner is also a mom we look out for each other and can cover each other if need be!
BN: Please share some advice with women who are trying to “do it all.”
I truly believe it takes a village! I’m really thankful for my husband every day because of all he does to make sure things run as smoothly as they can. And both of our families are also nearby and help out. I don't know how to "do it all." Exercise? Socialize? Sleep? Hah! But I do know that my priority is family and we do things as a unit much of the time. I need that quality one on one time with my girls and my family and that's what keeps us all happy.
BN: How would your girls describe your job to their friends?
My girls say that I “make” Super WHY and Blue's Clues (and that they want me to make Hannah Montana!). Once their friends started to see my name on books or in the credits of the shows, it made Mom so cool!
BN: What do they want to be when they grow up?
Hope, who is 8, wants to be a ballerina and a rock star. Five-year-old Ella wants to be a famous singer. Not just a singer but a "famous" singer!
BN: Where do you get inspiration from in creating storylines?
I'm inspired all the time by my girls and from kids in general. Also, I'm always interested in what moms are talking about. We did an episode for Super WHY called "Healthy Hansel" to speak to the issue of childhood obesity and teach preschool viewers about good nutrition. The witch in our retelling of Hansel and Gretel is really grumpy and tired because her house is made of sweets. We introduce healthy foods to her and she is so inspired that she wants a new home made out of broccoli and carrots!
BN: What is your, and your girls, favorite episode and why?
Hope and Ella especially like the "girl empowerment" episodes they themselves helped me to write. Rapunzel gets herself out of the tower (she doesn't need the Prince to assist her!) and Little Red Riding Hood confronts the wolf and tells him to stop upsetting her and her grandma! My girls love those episodes of Super WHY.
BN: Name a career highlight. Did you at that time think, “I have arrived?”
Whenever I hear someone sing the mail song from Blue's Clues or pretend to be a Super Reader from Super WHY, I cry. Also, letters from moms that tell me the shows are working and their kids are learning. There is nothing better for me than to know that I've made a difference.
BN: What type of role model do you try to be to your daughters?
I want them to grow up to know that women can do anything, and that we can change the world. That there are no rules in life and you create your own life every day with no "perfect" way to do it. I hope that I have shown them that you can be a loving mommy, wife, and have a job that you love.
BN: What mark do you hope to leave on the world?
I want to change children's television - one great show at a time. We have a responsibility to our young audience and I hope that I have shown by example that you can create educational television that can be an entertaining hit!
BN: If you could create one last character what would it be and why?
I cannot imagine one "last" character. I feel like I'm just getting started! There is so much that we can still do for children and for parents to make better use of television!
BN: How do you think a site like Butterfly could help women today?
Butterfly is "the village". It really is an amazing place where working moms can go to get the inspiration and ideas that will help us learn and grow as people.
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