As a parent who returned to work six weeks after her daughter's birth, Karen Huybrechts saw the need for a different way to teach values to children who spend more time at day care than on their mothers' laps.
So Huybrechts and her husband developed a video - with original music and animated characters - to instill the values of cooperation, self-worth, politeness, self-control, dependability, loyalty and perseverance.The videos, distributed nationally, have sold more than 50,000 copies for use in classrooms, day-care centers and homes so far, Huybrechts says. A pilot television program also has been broadcast on cable.
The Huybrechts say they are launching a video curriculum with Scholastic Inc., with editions for preschool and for kindergarten through third grade.
"The parents traditionally in our country have instilled in children their value system," Huybrechts says. "They provide the emotional support and teach them the social skills they need."
But 10 million children under age 6 now are in single-parent homes or in homes where both parents work, she says. Teachers have told her they are expected to teach morals and ethics but have few tools to help them.
The video curriculum kit - including the music video, audio cassette, story cards and teachers' guide - relates to lessons normally taught in preschool and the early grades, Huybrechts says.
For example, teachers can assign third-graders to write a news story about one cartoon segment showing a group of ants putting out a fire. The same segment - which features the "Antrew Sisters" trio singing about cooperation - can be used to teach fire safety.
"It crosses over into everything from social studies to language arts, dramatic play, music and movement, and arts and crafts activities," Huybrechts says. The curriculum is unusual because it specifically "deals with behavior development, social skills and emotional development," she says.
The Huybrechts established their production company, UMA Mirage Productions of Austin, in 1984. Karen Huybrechts is president and producer. Her husband, Francois, a symphony orchestra conductor, is music director.
More than $1 million was invested in the 24-minute "Watchkins" video, Karen says. By comparison, a regular half-hour Saturday morning cartoon may cost up to $300,000 to produce, she says.