PBS Kids’ ‘Work It Out Wombats!’ aims to help young children embrace diversity [interview]

PBS Kids’ ‘Work It Out Wombats!’ aims to help young children embrace diversity [interview]
via Work It Out Wombats!, TM/© 2023 WGBH Educational Foundation
Michelle De Pacina
March 10, 2023
The animated STEM series “Work It Out Wombats!,” which debuted on PBS Kids last month, follows a trio of marsupial siblings — Malik, Zadie and Zeke — who live with their grandmother in a diverse “Treeborhood.”
The episodes, which include two 11-minute stories, focus on providing opportunities for children to observe different members of a community working together to solve problems.
The series, produced by GBH Kids and Pipeline Studios, introduces computational thinking concepts that help preschoolers learn flexible thinking and expression while using the practices and processes at the core of computer science. 
In an interview with NextShark, Dr. Darlene Edouard, the show’s co-creative producer, notes that young children have the capacity to understand diverse communities and the nuances connected to these groups.

It is important that young children are provided a holistic engagement of group dynamics, which lets them see a full representation of how members of different groups and cultures share and engage with one another. If young people are exposed to diverse communities, they can welcome new communities and their perspectives. 

Edouard, whose expertise lies in cultural and visual studies, developed the culture and inclusion plan of the show along with Dr. Kareem Edouard. They worked with the production team to ensure authenticity in each animal character’s representation from their names to their spoken languages.
“We asked our team to reflect on their experiences, cultural backgrounds and identities as we worked together to create the Treeborhood and the stories the show told,” Darlene says.  
via Work It Out Wombats!, TM/© 2023 WGBH Educational Foundation
Darlene tells NextShark that she was able to share her Filipino heritage through the characters of JunJun, Kaya, Amado and Gabriela — a Philippine Eagle family.
JunJun and his family were inspired by the national bird of the Philippines. JunJun’s shirt boasts the eight-pointed yellow sun that is seen on the Philippine flag. His family home also features a big wooden spoon and fork hanging on the wall, which is similar to what may be found in many Filipino families’ kitchens.

I wanted to make sure that their Filipino heritage was integrated into the show in nuanced ways. To ensure their designs reflect their Filipino heritage, I looked back at my life and every Filipino in my community. I thought about what our homes looked like. I gave our design team various images of different Bahay Kubos. 

Furthermore, Darlene and her team include Filipino words and food in the show. 

We incorporated Tagalog in the show in a way that made it feel like it was a regular part of Treeborhood life. Characters hearing Gabriela or Kaya say “Kamusta” or “Salamat” was not out of the ordinary. I wanted to make sure that sharing my Filipino heritage on the show was not performative but informative and incorporated. 

via Work It Out Wombats!, TM/© 2023 WGBH Educational Foundation
Darlene hopes that Filipino children may see a part of themselves and their families on the show.
She recalls family and friends sharing pictures and stories of their children enjoying the series and relating to JunJun and other characters. She says this validates the need to share diverse stories and experiences with all children.

They may love ube ice cream like JunJun and I do! Or they live in a multigenerational household and know what it is like to have their grandparents live with them. As a creator of JunJun and his family, I hope these characters represent what I want to say to all those children: I see you. You are not invisible. You matter.  

As for the non-Filipino children, Darlene wants viewers to relate to the characters and understand their similarities and differences as a normal part of life.

I hope non-Filipino children watch this show, see the many differences in the characters and their experiences, and see that like the Treeborhood, their world is diverse. And that diversity, those differences they may see in the people of their everyday lives, is a normal part of it, just as it is in the Treeborhood. I hope that when they meet someone new, they can embrace those differences.

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