Tree House with Danny LaBrecque
Tree House with Danny LaBrecque is a classic live-action children's series that teaches social-emotional learning in the digital age.
A message from my friend and mentor, Eliot Daley
Why the retro 1950s look?
Sometimes to move forward, we need to go back. In addition to being heavily influenced and inspired by the work of Fred Rogers, I’m also an avid student of other pioneers of children’s television including, but not limited to, Burr Tillstrom of Kukla, Fran and Ollie, Frances Horwich of Ding Dong School and Bob Homme of The Friendly Giant. Each of the hundreds of hosts from the golden age of children’s television (of both national and local fame) were uniquely different in style and delivery, but they all shared certain characteristics that reflected this early period of children’s television at its best.
Each program listened to its audience and responded directly to the needs of that time. They were available to their audiences not only on screen, but also through live events and correspondence.
Drop-board openings, canvas sets, miniature dioramas, simple hand puppets and a real connection with the viewers at home through a single camera frame made for a level of sincerity that is difficult to find in today's commercialized, fast-paced, auto-tuned, animated bombardment.
Through consistency and repetition, trusting relationships were established over long periods of time. I believe that all of these factors lead to what I like to call “lasting emotional integrity” with the viewing family.
There was nothing to hide behind in these classics--what you saw was what you got. These were real human beings. They were trusted friends. I’ve studied the visual and performing arts, and I spent a period of my life as a stage actor, but I won’t be acting on this program. Like the television educators that I consider to be my predecessors, I will offer you my true self on and off the screen.
Bill Jackson, best known for his many local Chicago programs, including The BJ and Dirty Dragon Show and Gigglesnort Hotel, once taught me that the key to puppetry is respect. Respect the puppet as you would respect the child.
Why a Tree House?
My grandfather used to make treehouses--really, they were deer spots--but knowing what a sensitive child I was, he waited to tell me their main use until I was older. Together we spent hours high up in the trees talking and laughing, eating picnics and just listening to the sounds of nature. It was a safe place that I remember fondly. When I decided to make a children’s program, I knew that I would need a thematic environment that represented slowing down and connection with a trusted adult caregiver. What child doesn’t want a tree house to call their own?
I often remind children and adults that nature is everywhere--you just have to look for it. When we feel overwhelmed, no matter how old we are, our connection to nature can make us feel safe and empowered. This was a gift that my grandfather gave me and it's one that I try to share with every child I meet.
Every other Saturday morning, I’ll climb into my Tree House studio and introduce a topic inspired by a developmental milestone and/or current event. I’ll use the process of abstraction through play to safely and objectively guide your family’s examination of that topic within the guidelines of developmentally-appropriate practice. And then we’ll review our new-found strategies through an open-ended art project. This format isn’t complex. It’s simple. And there is no longer anything like it on commercial television.
In the tradition of Fred Rogers, I’ll engage through the passive screen to connect with each individual child, but I’ll also take advantage of the technologies that literally allow us to talk with each other through the screen. At the end of each program, I’ll invite parents and caregivers to sign up to participate in a sort of parent/teacher conference through Google+ Hangouts On Air, which will later be tagged on the corresponding episode. During this time we’ll discuss that week’s theme and objectives. You’ll also be able to compare experiences related to the featured theme with other parents and caregivers from around the country. I’ll act as the facilitator for this conversation. The discussion can be continued by other parents and caregivers well after the video has posted through the comment window. All of these interactions will guide future topics within the program.
We parents and caregivers and educators need just as much social-emotional support as our children do. In fact, without it, it can sometimes be very difficult to fully support our children’s needs. Tree House has the potential to become a community--an extension and reflection of each participating family.
With your support, over the course of 2016/17, I plan to produce and release 22 20-minute webisodes through YouTube with accompanying Google+ Hangouts OnAir "parent/teacher conferences". There will be no fees or subscriptions to view Tree House with Danny LaBrecque. Each webisode can be viewed in its entirety or as a playlist of 4 individual segments, including the conference.
Your donations will go toward proper production tools, like lighting and sound equipment, and build-out of a more permanent studio space. Funding will also be used for high-speed internet to support the parent/teacher Group Hangouts and materials to complete my set, props and puppets. And finally, I’ll need time. I don’t have a production team or a writing staff. I research and test the content in local schools, libraries and online. I write the scripts, design and build the sets, create and operate the puppets, write the music and host the program.
Not for sale
I will absolutely not sell you products or endorse products on or off the program. The only time that related “products” will be available to the public will be through this Kickstarter campaign as part of the established rewards/incentives system.
I feel very strongly that children should not be marketed to, directly or indirectly. In my mind, children and their parents and caregivers are not consumers that should be targeted through their media. I believe that lasting loyalty is built through trust and relationship--something that I will have to earn in time.
The puppets, games, and activities that will be featured on Tree House can be easily reproduced and/or built upon with items found around the house and/or outside.
June: Order and distribute rewards/incentives (time may vary depending upon response and demand)
May-July: Build studio, set, props and puppets. Install lighting and sound equipment.
August: Test Google + Hangouts On Air. Test and finalize first half of scripts. Begin on-set production and editing for initial episodes.
September: First episode is released on Saturday, September 3. New episodes (22 in all) released every other Saturday morning.
Over the years, within my limited means, I’ve been able to produce just a few programs ranging from my original concept, Danny Joe’s Tree House, to the more recent Emotional Guidance video tests for this new program. I encourage you to view those pieces on YouTube to gain a clearer understanding of my evolution in approach.
Emotional Guidance Puppetry, 2015 (24:19)
Emotional Guidance After A Tragic Event Through Dramatic Play, 2015 (19:11)
“Separation Anxiety” Hand Ballet, 2015 (1:51)
Danny Joe’s Tree House: Squirrels, 2008 (19:08)
Danny Joe’s Tree House: What is Nature?, 2010 (31:15)
Danny Joe’s Tree House: Little Bird Song, 2012 (2:01)
The two images above show a visual formula I started to develop during an independent research visit to The Fred Rogers Archive at The Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning & Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College the summer of 2014. My specific interest at that time was in facilitating conversations between young children and their parents and caregivers affected by first and secondary experiences with gun violence, without adding to or creating new emotional stress. The Emotional Guidance videos came out of this research.
A detailed podcast interview from 2013 about my history and goals
The Neighborhood Archive- All Things Mister Rogers
“For anyone interested in up-and-coming children's education, Danny LaBrecque is a name sure to become more familiar. He is the host of Danny's Joe's Tree House, an educator, a father, and a husband. Danny has his eyes set on making a difference in the lives of children through social-emotional education and carrying on the legacy of Fred Rogers in his own way.”
Thank you so much for your consideration of funding my mission to support the social-emotional needs of today’s young children and their parents, caregivers and educators through interactive digital media. Please feel free to contact me directly with any questions.
This is more than just a project to me--it is a lifelong commitment.
Risks and challenges
This is an ongoing experiment. Although, I stand on the shoulders of my predecessors (both on screen and in the classroom) and their time-proven methods in connecting with children and families, I am breaking new ground using the most advanced and accessible interactive technologies of our time.
I will adapt as our interactive technologies (that I feel are developmentally appropriate) evolve. The world around us, including our tools for communication, may change, but that which makes us human is eternal. I will remain true to our shared inner needs no matter what challenges present themselves.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)