Newswise — Olivia the Ovary and Timothy the Testis are the dancing, jaunty stars of The New You, That’s Who, a new series of animated music videos aimed at helping kids ages 10 to 14 understand puberty and reproduction.
The three videos are part of Reprotopia, a new site launched by Northwestern University that offers reproductive health education for all ages.
The videos fill a large void of engaging health and reproductive information for kids. There’s little offered on TV. Nationwide, most reproductive health information occurs in a short health unit, sometimes not until seventh or eighth grade.
The videos are produced with humor and a wink that acknowledges puberty is a little freaky but, hey, everybody goes through it.
“Timothy and Olivia are a neat way for kids to de-sensationalize the words ovary and testis,” said Northwestern reproductive scientist Teresa Woodruff, who created the series with colleagues. “If we can do that for these common terms, it will be easier for kids to access the information they need for their health as they get older. This removes the taboos to talk about it by giving the kids the terms early enough, so it doesn’t sound ‘dirty.’”
Woodruff is director of the Oncofertility Consortium and the Thomas J. Watkins Memorial Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
The New You, That’s Whovideos, set to catchy original pop songs by an award-winning songwriter, deliver detailed information from sperm and eggs to pituitary glands, underarm odor and opposite sex “cooties.”
“Once you hear the songs, they will stick in your head for weeks,” Woodruff said.
And the information sticks in the kids’ heads based on a study testing their retention of the subjects in the videos.
“It showed a huge effect,” said Lisa Hurwitz, a doctoral student who helped direct the analysis for the Center on Media and Human Development, the research lab led by Sesame Street trustee and professor Ellen Wartella in the School of Communication.
Kids who watched the New You videos showed significant comprehension and retention of the material, scored 75 percent accuracy on a multiple choice test about reproductive health compared to 50 percent accuracy for kids who watched a different set of videos.
“Usually educational videos have a much smaller impact on learning outcomes,” Hurwitz said.
The videos were created and tweaked with the ongoing feedback of the intended young audience and their parents.
“We wanted to know what concepts they were getting and what concepts they weren’t,” said Eric Patrick, the executive producer and director of the videos and a professor of radio-television-film at the School of Communication. He pulled together the curriculum and recruited Parents’ Choice Award-winning songwriter Robert Charde to compose the music. Both Patrick and Charde were animators on the Nickelodeon children’s program Blues Clues.
In a video about menstruation, a calendar popped up with a circled date, indicating the first day of a woman’s cycle. But when the research team tested it on the kids, they learned, “The kids thought every woman’s period started on the exact same day,” Patrick said. “They thought all across the planet earth, you had women getting their period on the same day.”
The animators solved that problem by showing three calendars with circled dates and shadow images of three different girls, so they could see every girl has her own specific day.
The songs had to be informative and fun without being cutesy.
“We wanted to make it a little tongue-in-cheek and not be too stoic,” Patrick said. “It is silly to show dancing ovaries. It gives them a signifier that it’s OK to laugh, even if it’s embarrassing. They are laughing at the same time it’s engaging them.”
The New You, That’s Who is for parents as well as kids. “Parents want to educate their kids but don’t have the terminology and don’t know enough about male and female anatomy and the menstrual cycle,” Woodruff said. “This helps them break the ice and start talking about reproductive health.”