I have a problem with television. If there is one available, I will watch it. I used to have a great relief in Shabbat when I couldn't turn on the TV. In fact, this might have been one of the factors that led me to greater halachic observance. I fear that the computer and the seductive Internet has taken the place of television for me. It certainly has a special place in my son's life, ever since I made the mistake of showing him that we could find pictures and even video of anything we liked using the Google search engine.
First we looked for peachtrees and appletrees. Then I thought, "Wouldn't it be interesting for him to see photographs of all the animals that appear in Where's Spot?" The first animal we looked for was the penguin. What I didn't realize is that penguins are incredibly fun to watch, beautiful and elegant but cute and funny at the same time. Whenever he sees my computer, my son says "More penguins!"
This is a perfect example about what's right with the Internet. When I was a child, I probably could have told you that penguins were black and white and waddled. Now I know that there are 17 species of penguin living all over the planet, all different sizes. What really surprised me is that they have song! We always saw silent photos or film of them. Plus, you think, it's snowy, it's cold, it's quiet. Now, with a few clicks of the mouse, you can see and hear a family of rare yellow-eyed penguins of New Zealand in photos and video taken by a teacher from New York. (I really want to write to her and thank her, it's such a moving thing to see.) A French photographer and adventure hiker has made available his incredible photographs and sound recordings taken at the South Pole of Adelie and Emperor penguins. There are also several sites with information for children about penguins: this one has a 12 image penguin slideshow with text, which is just the right length for my two year old, and this page has another similar one, with even briefer text.
My son has learned that a penguin baby is called a chick and that when they want to eat they peck at their mommy or daddy and the parent gives them food in their mouth. ("Chick" is not the easiest word for him to say, it comes out "shick!") He can say the words "waddle!" and "rookery!" I am getting him some penguin children's books with actual photographs and not drawings, so that we can look at them together on Shabbat. I will let you know which ones I actually get and how they work out. With the long Shabbat afternoons in the summer, it may be a cooling and calming activity for us when we aren't on the swingset in our schul's backyard. I am kind of psyched that it's penguins for now and not trucks or dinosaurs...