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07 June 2017

Marsh Media Health {Crew Review}

Health Education Products for K-8 {MarshMedia }

When we were given the opportunity to review MarshMedia's health and puberty videos, which have been created for and marketed to the public schools in the past, but are now being offered to homeschool audiences through their Homeschool Special. When we were invited to participate I felt interested, but cautious: dealing with materials that teach about health and puberty is an area that we are just beginning to grow into, and it immediately brings up a lot of questions about what kind values the videos include, and if those values are a good match for our family's beliefs. It turned out that they offer a wide variety of videos, covering all kinds of things from nutrition and hygiene, to how various body systems work, and of course, puberty.

As I was setting up the account, the first video I picked to look at was a GO SLOW WHOA: Nutrition video, just to see what it's like. It's set up as a game-show, and is a touch cheesy, but Dragon(6) is the target age (K-3), and he was intrigued enough to come over and watch the whole thing just because he wanted to. Can't argue with that!

The concept was a good one: there are "GO foods" that you can eat almost any time, "SLOW foods" that are less nutritious, but not actually unhealthy, and "WHOA foods" that should only be eaten occasionally, if at all. I really like the way that they made it easy to understand and simple to explain, and the categories make it easy to remember and apply, going forward.

What I was less excited about was their treatment of fats: they're still working from the "all fats are bad" model, which recent research has shown to be problematic, so even natural fats like butter and cheese, which are minimally processed, were placed in in the same category as potato chips and soda, which seems more than a little problematic to me.

The concept of "Go Foods" and "Whoa Foods" proved to be pretty catchy, while the specifics of what was on the lists was much less so, which meant that this was pretty easily tweaked to more closely match our family's understanding of good nutrition, which centers on minimizing processed foods and preservatives, while maintaining a balanced approach (rather than a deprivation approach) to treats, and embraces healthy fats as a part of a good balance. I think that over all, this video will be a positive addition to the kids' understanding of what they ought to eat.  

We also tried a movie about dental hygiene and visiting the dentist. This was very timely, as we're due to for a visit soon, and Peanut especially will benefit from a thorough run-through of what to expect.

It covered some basic anatomy and care of your teeth, and also went over what to expect at a dental cleaning. It was, once again, a bit cheesy... but it's a health video. That's hard to avoid, and they did it in an amusing way.

Dragon(6): It's not the worst movie that I've ever seen, but it's not the best, either. I learned about how your teeth work, and how they're so hard. And I also learned about a few new tools, which it did not say the names of. One was for cleaning your teeth, one was for getting an x-ray of your teeth. That's everything.

Peanut(4): I learned in the tooth movie about the doctor. They telled me about the doctor, that the doctor helps anyone get their teeth clean!

Another movie that I watched was "Just Around the Corner -- For Boys". This is one of their puberty videos. It starts with addressing the obvious physical changes a boy can expect as he becomes a young man: growth in his genitalia, and hair growth on genitalia, arms, legs, and face. I was uncomfortable with the way that this was handled: they showed a naked boy, animated, rather than a diagram, which would have been preferable. And although the explanation of how genitalia grows was quite short and to the point, they stayed with the naked animation through the entire segment as they discussed getting taller, bulking up muscularly, and hair growth. After discussing this with my husband, we decided to not show this video to our son because of this section, feeling that the nudity went beyond what was necessary to explain the biology, and therefore fails to meet our family standards.

The movie covered the way that this growth often makes kids feel extra tired, emphasized that this is normal, and encouraged the boys to respond to their body's demand for more rest. It also went over the importance of exercise and good nutrition.

One thing that I liked was the way that they handled the discussion about the importance of good hygiene. They addressed the fact that little kids don't stink when they play hard, and then explained the biology of why it is that teens and adults do. They did this in terms that encourage thinking positively about the body, and also reminded the boys to drink plenty of water. The section about body oils and odors transitioned seamlessly into discussion of pimples, and how to reduce them by washing your face. They also do a good job here of talking about you may experience various changes either before or after their friends, and that this is normal and not of concern.

Next came a section on reproduction, with additional diagrams of the male system. One thing that I found weird here was they referred to the passage the sperm use to travel from the testicles to the urethra as a "sperm duct", rather than using the proper term of vas deference. This was disappointing; it's always good policy to use correct medical terminology, but this is especially true in educational materials. However, the rest of this section was well done.

The final section of the video talked briefly about emotional changes -mood swings, though it didn't use that term- and encouraged the boys to talk to a trusted adult about these and other things they experience, encouraging them to choose parents, emphasizing parents as the best option, and as someone who has the boy's best interests at heart, but they do also suggest or "a special caregiver". These other caregivers included school teachers and counselors or "someone at home" as potential options. This is one area where the video seems a little awkward for a homeschool student: there are no non-parental options that are not associated with the public schools: no mention of religious or other communities that the kids may be a part of, but this would be easily addressed in the conversation that should take place in conjunction with this kind of material, so I don't think that's a big deal.

One thing that I really like about this video is the way that they minimize the assumption that kids will not like their bodies. Many of the puberty education materials that I have looked at have seemed to operate on the assumption that kids hate their bodies, and I am concerned that materials like that may actually tacitly teach that the body is gross and awkward, rather than supporting the notion that our bodies are gifts, created in the image of God. This video, while acknowledging that there may be some awkwardness, is overall very positive about the body, which I very much appreciate. It also steers clear of the topics of homosexuality and other deviant behavior, only mentioning briefly that, "You might also become a little more interested in girls during puberty."  This is one area that I was concerned about as I previewed this, but it wasn't a problem.

Other videos that we watched included Blood vs. Germs and The Immune System: Doing Its Part. My six year old is fascinated by how the body works, and I thought these would be interesting to him, so we watched them together. These included more information about the risks of using illegal drugs and promiscuous sex than I had anticipated from the descriptions, which was ok, just surprising. I did have to do some reassuring that HIV is not something that you can catch by casual contact: the video talked about HIV, but did not really say that it's transmitted differently from colds and other ordinary illnesses, which left my kids with concerns that needed to be addressed, and I had to explain about the differences between germs that pass by casual contact and those that are passed by bodily fluids. This was not something that I had anticipated needing to discuss in quite such depth at this point with my younger children. However, we've had some conversations about what pornography is and what to do if they should (in spite of the protections we have in place) find some, and this video ended up continuing and building upon that foundation, so while I was surprised, and although I might not have shown him the video had I previewed it first, I felt that it turned out well anyway.

We found that several of the videos were useful, and that there were some things that conflicted with our family values. Additionally, the video descriptions cannot always be relied upon to cue you in to what topics may come up, so I do recommend previewing all the videos prior to showing them to your kids.

If you want to use the MarshMedia curriculum in your homeschool, click here for details. To read more reviews on Marsh Media, and to see how other families used it in their homeschool, please click the graphic below:

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