'Scout & the Gumboot Kids' marches on
It sounds like a contradiction in terms: inspire kids to explore nature by having them watch other kids doing just that on TV.
Scout & the Gumboot Kids is that one rare children's show that manages to bypass the potential contradiction. The Vancouver-shot series has even earned endorsements from venerable organizations like The David Suzuki Foundation and the UCLA Global Media Centre for Social Impact for its efforts to inspire kids – and their caregivers – to get outside and experience the natural world.
“We wanted it to be an inspiration, and treat it like a bridge from the living room to the outdoors,” says Eric Hogan, who created Scout & the Gumboot Kids with partner Tara Hungerford. “You watch the show, you get inspired, you go outside, and you can rejoice and enjoy the simplicity of just hanging out in nature and observing nature, as opposed to being really goal-oriented. You can just observe your surroundings."
Scout & the Gumboot Kids airs on CBC Kids and will soon launch its third season. Each five-minute episode features a mix of live-action and stop-motion cinematography.
The series is anchored by an inquisitive mouse named Scout (voiced by Adrian Petriw), who begins each episode with a question about something in the natural world (Why would an animal eat rocks? What kind of animal wears a raincoat?); the action cuts from Scout’s stop-motion world to our live-action one populated by gumboot-wearing children on a mission to solve Scout’s riddle. The kids' journey is accompanied by original music, written and performed by country superstar Jessie Farrell.
Scout & the Gumboot Kids won five awards at the 2017 Leos, including Best Children’s Program, and was also nominated for a 2017 Canadian Screen Award for Best Pre-School Series.
Now, the Gumboot empire is poised for expansion with a 20-episode digital series and app called Daisy & the Gumboot Kids (featuring a crafts-loving city mouse voiced by My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic star Ashleigh Ball), and 40 episodes of the music-focused Jessie and the Gumboot Kids, starring Farrell.
It’s a phenomenal moment of growth for a series that began “basically out of necessity,” says Hungerford.
“Our children loved being outside, and we were always looking for inspiration from the media, and we found there weren’t a lot of shows that were teaching new nature facts,” says Hungerford. “At the same time, we were really delving into the idea of being present with them, and mindfulness, so we thought, ‘What if we just start collecting ideas?’ And then we had a show.”
Hogan and Hungerford co-write the series with children’s television veteran Cathy Moss (Franklin and Friends; The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!). The series builds on an observation that Hungerford and Hogan noticed about their own family: “when we spent a lot of time outside, our family was healthier and happier,” recalls Hungerford.
“The kids slept better, and we, as parents, had to re-learn how magical nature is: a shadow, a ladybug, the snail in its little house." Thus, they wanted "to make a program that parents and grandparents and caregivers and teachers could watch to re-find the magic in the amazing, extraordinary things that we take for granted as we get older and forget sometimes" - unlike kids, who can be "completely blown away by a mud puddle."
Kids also love asking questions, says Hungerford, and through the character of Scout, they're able to “look beyond the surface, and ask questions and make observations, and not just with their eyes," she says. "Kids overuse their eyes because of things like media and because of how we’re living these days, so [the series teaches them to] use all their senses to explore and ask questions."
Scout & the Gumboot Kids is family-viewing in the truest sense of the term, says Hogan. “We’ve designed it for co-viewing,” he says. “We want parents to watch it with their kids. We want older siblings to watch with younger siblings." Between the stop-motion, the live-action, the music, the nature, and the mindfulness, "there’s something for everybody.”
On the live-action side – which requires the crew and the titular Gumboot Kids to shoot out in nature – it truly is a family affair. Hogan and Hungerford’s children are featured as Gumboot Kids, as are Farrell’s (another family connection: Farrell and Hungerford are sisters).
They typically shoot footage for three episodes over the course of an eight-hour day, and “it’s really fun for the kids, which is why they look so natural,” says Hungerford. “They never have to perform. Somehow we found a formula that makes this little village of kids get together, help each other out, and genuinely they are completely engaged in whatever we’re leading them on these mystery tours for. They often spontaneously will feel inspired about something and it works perfectly on camera.”
That’s the live-action side. On the stop-motion side, the production moves at a slower pace. With the character of Scout, “usually in an eight-hour day, we’ll get 12 to 20 seconds, and that’s if everything goes well,” laughs Hogan. Scout’s world is 1:6 scale; they purchase most of their props from the global community of miniaturists, and work with Vancouver-based set builder Peter Tucker for many of the custom items, most recently an airstream for Scout (who is now venturing beyond his home to ask questions; for its third season, the team filmed episodes in Kamloops and Salmon Arm).
Then there’s the upcoming Daisy & the Gumboot Kids, a digital series that features a city mouse named Daisy leading kids in crafts inspired by nature (Says Hungerfod: “It’s super simple. It’s all about the process for kids: collecting a little pinecone and making something with it and making a memory with it; it’s not about making something that’s perfect”). That's coming in the spring; this month, they'll begin rolling out 40 episodes of Jessie & the Gumboot Kids. “We both really believe that music plays a part in the experience of watching and consuming media, and Jessie’s music is so beautiful,” says Hungerford.
There's a hunger for this kind of programming all over the world, says Hungerford. "The show is really resonating with children in Australia, and it’s been playing in South Korea and also in the Philippines, and now it’s been picked up by Amazon on the Kids stream," she says. "It’s actually doing what we wanted it to do, which was connecting with children all around the world and reminding families to get outside and to have fun while you’re doing it by not trying to do too much.”