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What is a KIDS FIRST® Juror?


By Christine. L. Pollock

What did we get? What did we get?” My son bounded into the house with a package from the mailbox. It was our latest batch of videos, CR-ROM’s, and DVD’s to review for KIDS FIRST®. Even though we’ve received similar packages at least ten times this year, the excitement of the shipments never waned-not for the children or for myself. It is one of the perks of being a juror for the Coalition of Quality Children’s Media.

What exactly is a juror? It is a person who critiques media. KIDS FIRST!® has jurors in Canada and the United States. There is at least one juror in almost every state. Soon there might also be jurors in Mexico, Colombia, and Chile. The jurors come from rural and urban settings. Many different cultures are represented.

The present list of jurors includes: child development specialists, teachers, librarians, and concerned parents. When KIDS FIRST!® began in 1991, there were ten jurors. The number of media titles submitted for review grew quickly and more jurors were selected to fill the demand. At this time, there are about three hundred adult jurors and three thousand child jurors. But with all the media being released, even more jurors are needed.

The critiquing process begins when media products (audio tapes, web sites, DVD’s, CD-ROM’s, and videos) are voluntarily submitted to KIDS FIRST!® by producers or suppliers. At this point, a Juror Coordinator checks a database to see which jurors might be interested in reviewing the item. Each product is reviewed by several jurors.

Michelle Roybal is the current Juror Coordinator. If the product is in Spanish, Michelle selects Spanish speaking jurors. If the title is related to music, Michelle chooses jurors with musical experience. If you have a special talent to lend to the process, great! But each juror’s unique outlook provides the feedback that KIDS FIRST!® needs.

The Juror Coordinator contacts the selected jurors to see if they are available to review the material, and to ask how many items they are willing to review. When asked about the jury reviewing process, Normajean Colby, a juror from the suburbs in Southeastern Pennsylvania, states, “It’s fun and the coordinators aren’t pushy. They always inquire if I can fit this in my schedule this week.”

If a juror has time to critique, the media titles are mailed. A juror can receive up to five or six titles at one time. Once the products are received, the juror previews them.

For each title, the juror fills out a feedback form. If the juror decides that the title is not appropriate for children, the title is thrown out and the reasons for the disposal are documented and submitted. If a title is appropriate, the juror gathers a group of no less than five children to review the product. This can be great fun. Get out the popcorn and watch the kids reactions.

The titles can be shown in many different settings. Sue N. Howard, a teacher and librarian from Memphis, Tennessee, frequently shows the media to eight to twelve children in a school setting. Sometimes she holds reviews at home. Normajean, a Registered Nurse, typically shows the titles at home, and, occasionally at school classes, daycares and church groups. Sandra Tritton, a private school teacher from a rural town in Northwest Minnesota, usually shows the media to the kids at school. She generally has around fifteen children acting as jurors.

Before a title is shown, the adult juror talks with the children jurors about things to look for. The adult might ask the children such questions as: Do the characters treat each other well? Does it make you want to learn more about something? Did you like it? Would your friends like it? Did you like how it looked and sounded?

As the children watch the title, the adult juror documents reactions and quotes from the children. The adult juror also observes the children to see if they become distracted or remain captivated by a product.

After the title is shown to the children, the adult juror asks specific questions. This can be a lively and entertaining discussion. The adult juror writes the children’s responses on a form. The form is sent via fax, internet or snail mail to KIDS FIRST®. The reviews must be completed within two weeks of their arrival.

At the end of the two-week period, when all the reviews are in, the Juror Coordinator tallies the results. They then review the evaluations and decide whether or not to endorse the product.

Why would a person want to become a juror? Aside from the obvious benefit of receiving hundreds of dollars of free, quality media? Sue found that being a juror gave her an opportunity to preview media even before it was released to the general market. Normajean became a juror as a community service – it sounded like fun and also helped increase her awareness of what her kids were watching.

Sandra was interested in finding, and helping others find, quality videos and games for children. She states, “As an elementary teacher, it is most frustrating to find a video that has wonderful content objectives, but yet is unsuitable for the age group intended.” Jurors for KIDS FIRST!® are always asked what age they believe the media is geared toward.

Jurors find satisfaction in seeing the kids respond as the juror had predicted. They also enjoy watching the videos with the kids. Experts cite that parents don’t spend enough time watching shows with their kids and talking about content. With the hectic lives we lead these days, it’s difficult to find the time to sit down and focus all your attention on your children. As a juror, you have a great chance to just watch the videos with them, listen to their reactions, and engage in lively discussions after the show. It’s a great way to bring the family together.

Another benefit of being a juror is having the opportunity to talk to the children about the criteria that are used in evaluating the titles. Their views are often very different from the adult view and can be very enlightening.

The kids love receiving the media in the mail and also enjoy knowing that their opinions are helping the whole country find better media. They take the job of reviewing very seriously. They are proud of the work they do.

Due to the tremendous amount of media produced and marketed, KIDS FIRST!® is looking for more jurors. They are seeking partners to host a KIDS FIRST!® Junior Film Critics Facilitator’s Workshop in communities across the country. In these workshops, KIDS FIRST!® will train local teachers, librarians, Girl Scout leaders, or other interested parents in how to use the critical viewing curriculum with children ages 8 to 13.

As Michelle Roybal sums up, “When I started, I thought ‘Great. My kids will get to see a lot of movies.’ Now I realize that not only do they get to see movies – they get to see and try some awesome children’s media, from movies and audio to software, and in the process, they are learning to become more aware of certain behaviors and the effects of media.”

If you are interested in learning more about becoming a juror, please check the KIDS FIRST!® website at or contact Ranny Levy at (505) 989-8076.

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