Is Downton Abbey Educational?

My 6-year-old son loves Downton Abbey.

In particular he adores the character – Mary.

Downton Abbey returned to the UK, for its 5th series, on Sunday. But he doesn’t watch it as it is shown on TV – we catch up on Netflix (we haven’t yet started series 4 – and I am aware this  series caused some controversy in the UK press so we may skip it either wholly or in part).

He doesn’t watch as it is shown for 2 reasons.

1. It’s on too late on a Sunday night

2. I like to watch first so I can fast-forward through age-inappropriate scenes.

Why do I let him watch it? Another 2 reasons.

1. He enjoys it

2. I think it’s educational.

Now (and, please, I do not wish to offend any die-hard Downton fans) it isn’t going to win any prizes for literature (and this is not it’s aim). As a TV show it is, in my opinion, a great history lesson for Kids, as it’s working it’s way through the early 1900’s.

(For the record I also know I am not going to win any prizes for litertaure ;))

I can sit with the Kids and when they ask questions, we can discuss ‘how things were then’.

So, seeing there was interest, I decided to work our way through the classics on Netflix.

(Those following on Instagram will have seen many a photo of hot chocolates at the ready for our cinema nights)

We started with the BBC dramatisation of  Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Predjudice‘  then we moved onto ‘Sense and Sensibility‘. We attempted ‘Emma’ although the amount of dialogue (and lack of action) in this last one made it difficult for the kids to remain interested. Just last week we completed Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘North & South‘ (which, and I never thought I would say this has top-trumped Pride and Prejudice for me!).

There was also some DVD borrowing – My Mom lent us ‘Lost In Austen‘ that she picked up from a charity shop and my big sister threw ‘Wives & Daughters‘ in the mix.

lost

(Top tip – if you are a Pride & Prejudice fan, ‘Lost In Austen’ is worth watching – very entertaining!)

TV can get a bad rap in my opinion. See this old post where I defended it last time.

I loved literature as an older teenager, but it wasn’t introduced to me at an early age. I can understand why. Reading a classic to, or with, a 6-year-old or even a 9-year-old would be immensely difficult.

But by watching a dramatisation, the book can be brought to life. A 6-year-old may not understand everything that happens, but when he asks;

‘Mum why are there candles on the table?’, we can talk about the invention of electricity.

And maybe it will ignite their imagination to want to discover more about English Litertature, and not find it a chore when they HAVE to study it.

Just this week my daughter now is, as hoped, starting to read a classic novel. She is reading it with me and we are taking our time.

“It does not matter how slow you go, as long as you do not stop” Confucius

**Many classics are available free through iBooks**

{ 16 comments… add one }
  • EcoCatLady September 23, 2014, 7:08 pm

    That’s fantastic. CatMan – who is a science geek, mountain man kind of a guy, has developed an odd liking for all things Jane Austin. Emma is one of his very favorite movies (although I suppose Gwyneth Paltrow could have something to do with that one!) Not sure why, but I find it vaguely amusing how taken he is with films about young women making their way through the aristocracy.

    I watched the first season of Downton Abbey on Netflix and found it entertaining, but to be completely honest it seemed a LOT like a Mexican soap opera to me – only in English. The Mexican soaps are all set in giant haciendas and the major themes are things like who will inherit the family money and the lives of the wealthy family vs those of the servants – the similarities were quite striking. That’s not necessarily a criticism, because I have a thing for Mexican Soap operas, especially historical ones, I just found it interesting!

    • simplybeingmum September 24, 2014, 1:14 pm

      Hi Cat! Fantastic to hear Catman is a fan. I’ve seen Gwyneth’s Emma – the one we watched wasn’t that one – it was a mini-series made by the BBC. I think the film version may be better, as it is shorter in length, they will cut to the chase a little quicker.
      Intrigued now. Would like to watch a Mexican soap. Does sound very similar indeed!
      Interestingly, some of the Downton cast are in fact ex-Brit-soap-stars.

  • EcoCatLady September 23, 2014, 7:08 pm

    That’s fantastic. CatMan – who is a science geek, mountain man kind of a guy, has developed an odd liking for all things Jane Austin. Emma is one of his very favorite movies (although I suppose Gwyneth Paltrow could have something to do with that one!) Not sure why, but I find it vaguely amusing how taken he is with films about young women making their way through the aristocracy.

    I watched the first season of Downton Abbey on Netflix and found it entertaining, but to be completely honest it seemed a LOT like a Mexican soap opera to me – only in English. The Mexican soaps are all set in giant haciendas and the major themes are things like who will inherit the family money and the lives of the wealthy family vs those of the servants – the similarities were quite striking. That’s not necessarily a criticism, because I have a thing for Mexican Soap operas, especially historical ones, I just found it interesting!

    • simplybeingmum September 24, 2014, 1:14 pm

      Hi Cat! Fantastic to hear Catman is a fan. I’ve seen Gwyneth’s Emma – the one we watched wasn’t that one – it was a mini-series made by the BBC. I think the film version may be better, as it is shorter in length, they will cut to the chase a little quicker.
      Intrigued now. Would like to watch a Mexican soap. Does sound very similar indeed!
      Interestingly, some of the Downton cast are in fact ex-Brit-soap-stars.

  • Vee@VeesEasyVegan September 23, 2014, 8:31 pm

    Big fans of Downtown Abbey. I have always been a fan of anything British is this genre. I did not know there was controversy in Season 4 though not surprised. There often is when these subjects are given some space. For me I am always trying to imagine myself in this life. We watched the first one in the new series last night. Love it!

    • simplybeingmum September 24, 2014, 1:16 pm

      Hi Vicki – I think the general feeling was that DA were employing shock tactics. I haven’t seen it yet though. Need to watch before my little man. Glad you are enjoying the new series!

  • Vee@VeesEasyVegan September 23, 2014, 8:31 pm

    Big fans of Downtown Abbey. I have always been a fan of anything British is this genre. I did not know there was controversy in Season 4 though not surprised. There often is when these subjects are given some space. For me I am always trying to imagine myself in this life. We watched the first one in the new series last night. Love it!

    • simplybeingmum September 24, 2014, 1:16 pm

      Hi Vicki – I think the general feeling was that DA were employing shock tactics. I haven’t seen it yet though. Need to watch before my little man. Glad you are enjoying the new series!

  • Trish September 23, 2014, 10:55 pm

    I really enjoy Downton Abbey as well. I like that your six year old takes an interest and is being exposed to how people used to live. As a kid I loved books about the early settlers in this country, such as the Little House series, Caddie Woodlawn,and one in which a young boy came to America from England in the early 1700s as an indentured servant,called ‘Bound for Freedom’. It gives me such an appreciation for how comfortable our lives are now. I do question how authentic Downton is with regards to how the servants are treated – I read a book called ‘Below Stairs’ about a young woman who went into service at the age of 14 in the early 1900s (it is a memoir). She didn’t have the good fortune to be treated as well as the servants at Downton. But I do know that the writer of Downton, Julian Fellowes draws on his own experiences, and what he remembers hearing from his elderly, high born relatives.

    I LOVED Lost in Austen- what a fun series! Hilarious, and I love that Wickham turns out to not be so bad after all.

    • simplybeingmum September 24, 2014, 1:19 pm

      Hi Trish – the history of the early settlers sounds fascinating. I will have to investigate. I’d be interested to learn more. Our histories aren’t so far removed from one another really, are they?
      My Gran was in service in the 20’s, she didn’t have much pleasant to say about it 😉
      Agree ref Wickham – nice twist! And very watchable for those who know Jane Austen’s story inside out.

  • Trish September 23, 2014, 10:55 pm

    I really enjoy Downton Abbey as well. I like that your six year old takes an interest and is being exposed to how people used to live. As a kid I loved books about the early settlers in this country, such as the Little House series, Caddie Woodlawn,and one in which a young boy came to America from England in the early 1700s as an indentured servant,called ‘Bound for Freedom’. It gives me such an appreciation for how comfortable our lives are now. I do question how authentic Downton is with regards to how the servants are treated – I read a book called ‘Below Stairs’ about a young woman who went into service at the age of 14 in the early 1900s (it is a memoir). She didn’t have the good fortune to be treated as well as the servants at Downton. But I do know that the writer of Downton, Julian Fellowes draws on his own experiences, and what he remembers hearing from his elderly, high born relatives.

    I LOVED Lost in Austen- what a fun series! Hilarious, and I love that Wickham turns out to not be so bad after all.

    • simplybeingmum September 24, 2014, 1:19 pm

      Hi Trish – the history of the early settlers sounds fascinating. I will have to investigate. I’d be interested to learn more. Our histories aren’t so far removed from one another really, are they?
      My Gran was in service in the 20’s, she didn’t have much pleasant to say about it 😉
      Agree ref Wickham – nice twist! And very watchable for those who know Jane Austen’s story inside out.

  • Clare September 24, 2014, 2:23 am

    How cool that your son finds Downton Abbey interesting! If I notice my kids have an interest in something I encourage it (within reason obviously). Who knows where that interest is going to lead? It might be the spark that influences what they choose to do with the rest of their life! I love my TV and after not having it in the house for a year (2011), I noticed that I was not spending any of my evening time relaxing! The TV came back from the garage after that 🙂 Zoe developed a fascination with World War II after watching The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and watching Wall:E lead both of mine to an obsession with Hello Dolly. Intentional watching is key I find (I am planning a post on this in the future…great minds 🙂 )

    • simplybeingmum September 24, 2014, 1:21 pm

      Thats the key – intentional watching, rather than background noise.
      Netflix is great for this. We choose what we will watch and when. And if we get it wrong we move onto something else. I’m now reading North & South – but am sure had I not watched it first I wouldn’t have.
      It helps to be able to imagine the characters – as discussed 😉

  • Clare September 24, 2014, 2:23 am

    How cool that your son finds Downton Abbey interesting! If I notice my kids have an interest in something I encourage it (within reason obviously). Who knows where that interest is going to lead? It might be the spark that influences what they choose to do with the rest of their life! I love my TV and after not having it in the house for a year (2011), I noticed that I was not spending any of my evening time relaxing! The TV came back from the garage after that 🙂 Zoe developed a fascination with World War II after watching The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and watching Wall:E lead both of mine to an obsession with Hello Dolly. Intentional watching is key I find (I am planning a post on this in the future…great minds 🙂 )

    • simplybeingmum September 24, 2014, 1:21 pm

      Thats the key – intentional watching, rather than background noise.
      Netflix is great for this. We choose what we will watch and when. And if we get it wrong we move onto something else. I’m now reading North & South – but am sure had I not watched it first I wouldn’t have.
      It helps to be able to imagine the characters – as discussed 😉

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